Last week, my first nephew was born. I didn’t expect this, but when I saw my sister holding that beautiful boy for the first time, I started to sob. And I did so once again when I held him in my own arms.
I hadn’t experienced tears like this in ages, and those salt-water runners felt like a magic elixir.
And the little boy nestled in my arms? Pure beauty. Pure bliss. He was one day into this life and already I knew I’d love him deeply for the rest of mine.
On the way home from the hospital, as I practically skipped down the street with an enormous grin, I started to think about the act of crying.
I mean, there’s nothing like a good, cathartic cry, right? You know, those let-it-all-out sob-fests that leave you feeling oh-so-much better once you’ve purged yourself of pent-up emotions. I remember having such soothing feelings of calm after one of these, as I wiped away those purposeful tears, like I’d just cleaned a ton of icky gunk out of myself in one big, emotional spring cleaning.Crying kept me human, and I was beginning to realize deep down that the more I drank, the less human I became.
But it occurred to me that, since getting sober more than two years ago, I’ve had only a handful of these cathartic cries. You’d think it would be the opposite, right? Since I am no longer numbing my feelings with vodka, vodka, olives and vodka, it would make sense that I would cry often, and hard, each time I get in touch with a new, bona fide emotion; each time I access a memory or sensation that had been previously sealed off for years due to my drinking.
However I’m finding the opposite to be the case. Alcohol is a depressant, so even though it makes people feel quite merry at first, if you overdo it, you will eventually feel like shit. For most non-alcoholic drinkers, they’ll experience a hangover the next day, and might feel a little sad or depressed, but after resting, eating and replenishing key body fluids (good ole Gatorade!), they’ll most likely feel better fairly soon.
However, if one drinks regularly — or eventually daily, as in my case — and builds up a tolerance, those initial pleasant feelings become more and more fleeting, and the excessive emotion and sadness (at least in my experience) becomes pretty much all-consuming.
When I was active in my addiction, I would cry all the time. At almost anything and everything. The final montage of the Six Feet Under finale had me weeping uncontrollably in front of the TV; a homeless person on the street would send me into a muted sobbing fest on the subway; any kind of mistake, shortcoming, or belief I had that I had failed at an endeavor would devour me and I’d crawl into bed as soon as possible and bawl for hours.
Now I’m not saying these are not valid things to cry over (that Six Feet Under scene still gets me every time), but my blubbering fits were excessive, extreme and disproportionate to their triggers. Was I really crying over what I believed I was? It certainly felt like it at the time, but now I’m seeing that, when filled with a substance that can rewire your brain and essentially fuck up your central nervous system, I’m not so sure.
The thing is, my tearful hysterics were out of control and unpredictable. Not to say that any human can control their emotions 100%, but my fits got ridiculous. And annoying, I now know, to my family and friends, whom I’d often call crying and inflict my “pain” (i.e. whining) upon. Plus nine times out of ten, what I said made little sense.
In some ways, I think I had reached a point where I wanted — and in a sick way, enjoyed — breaking down and blubbering, because at least then I was feeling SOMETHING. Happiness (that wasn’t faked) had more or less been sucked out of me. Crying kept me human, and I was beginning to realize deep down that the more I drank, the less human I became.
So after my third (and, God willing, final) rehab stint, I emerged a very delicate, very sensitive creature.
For the first few months, it was all about avoiding the booze. I went to 12-step meetings, group therapy, and a daily freelance job, but in between, life felt like like a real-life game of Frogger — Susan dodging every inviting bar, every shiny Ketel One bottle in a liquor store window, every outdoor café — every one of what felt like a million opportunities to drink as I walked the streets of Manhattan.
Eventually, I was relieved of this obsession. (It took months, however, so if any of you out there are getting sober and still feeling those urges, hang in there. It will lift, or at least I can say that it did for me. But I had to be painfully patient.) And that’s when the real work of unburying those buried feeling began. Uncovering feelings and issues, which still unfold for me every day.
While I have had a few therapeutic cries over the last two years, none of them compare to my drunken fits; no sobbing hysterics over things I often forgot about by the next morning. No nonsensical weeping over the death of Lucille Ball 25 years ago.
Now, as I learn how to become a more genuine person and live life on life’s terms, I cry when it’s warranted. Like when I met my newborn, sweeter-than-ever nephew for the very first time.
Those tears were so wonderful, simply because they were real. And as a result of my tears now being true, they come less frequently. They’re precious, because they aren’t amped up or influenced by any kind of substance. They are mine, released when needed, from still developing feelings and realizations. Plus they are sober, just like me.