My cheeks began to feel moist. My nose wrinkled and I inhaled deeply. I shifted in my seat, scooting all the way back allowing my back to feel the soft cotton fabric of the cream and tan speckled upholstered sofa. All the air I inhaled came rushing out of my mouth at once. There was silence briefly, my eyes shifting towards the clock on the windowsill. We still had plenty of time in our session. In my mind, I tried to pull myself together and stop crying but I was shocked that I was unable too. I had been meeting with my counselor for over a year now and for the first time in her office I broke down in tears. I had shared plenty of things I am sure most people would think were worthy of tears. Heck, things worthy of screenplays that could win Oscar awards (yep, that deep).
She didn’t pass me a tissue and I didn’t want her to. I was “tough”. Instead, I used the back of my hands. I sent up a “Thank you Jesus and thank you Covergirl” for wearing waterproof mascara. After another slow deep breath and robust exhale, I kept talking. I knew my tears would turn into sobbing if I didn’t keep talking. She didn’t say it was okay to cry. I didn’t want her to say that either. She knew that I knew if I needed to or wanted to just cry I could. I didn’t say I hate crying. I don’t. I don’t love it either. But I have surely learned that sometimes…tears are necessary.
How had I spent over a year in her office taking about the dysfunction of my family, history of abuse, history of cutting, relationships gone awry, the history of mental illness in my family and its impact on me and family dynamics today, vicarious trauma and horrible nightmares, the racism, sexism, and discrimination I’d encountered in places of employment, institutions of higher education, and churches, self-centered people I had the nerve to call friends, and never once cried? I think it was because that Wednesday evening in particular I had had enough. So I cried.
Tears are nothing to be ashamed of. They are far from a sign of weakness. If anything they are a sign of strength and wisdom. Tears say if I am going to live my best life I need to release some of the toxicity that has crept into my life. Tears are actually one of the ways the body detoxes. When crying stems from anxiety, frustration, disappointment, and other painful emotions it actually releases stress hormones. Tears literally relieve us of the pain we were so bent on holding in to save face. And, speaking of face, crying is one of the few exercises that naturally relax the muscles in the face. Think about that for a minute. When you cry, you give yourself a mini-face massage and you rid your body of unnecessary stress hormones.
I also want to emphasize “unnecessary stress”. As women we are experts at attempting to have and do it all. However, that often comes at a high price: ourselves. Instead of coming to terms with the enormity of the false reality that such a life is possible (it’s not possible because as humans we have limits and limits inherently mean you can’t have/do/be everything) we keep trying and we ignore the warning signs that say enough (you do/have/are enough). We keep pushing ourselves to lose even more weight, work longer hours, get that second master’s degree before 30, be the perfect partner and parent, be the “strongest” sibling when a parent dies, open up that fourth franchise, be in every sorority sister’s wedding — all with a smile that ultimately welcomes toxic lifestyles and unnecessary stress. We were never meant to do and have it all, only to do, expect, and be our best. It’s when we create false standards that we have attached to our self worth that we deny ourselves the human right to say enough, cry, regroup, assess the unnecessary stress, and move forward as capeless women no longer hiding behind the self-stamped Superwoman “S” on our chest.
The next time you want to cry, do yourself a favor and cry. The next time one of your girls looks like she’s about to cry, give her the permission she’s not giving herself and let her know it’s okay to cry. A little crying never hurt anybody.
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