When I was growing up, I was taught that crying was weakness. We were not weak, we did not show weakness, we did not cry. It’s not to say that I was someone who has never cried, but I rarely do. And even when I need to, want to, or actually do, I shed the tears reluctantly and quickly, even when alone.
I can vividly remember being just a small child, maybe four or five years old, and crying. Really crying, the kind of crying that only a small child can achieve, unabashed. I also remember getting in trouble for crying, being told that I did not get to cry, which usually only made me cry harder.
It has become a conditioned response in my life. Crying is not allowed. The tears you shed must be silent and no one must be around to see them. But really, you just don’t. I so often say, “If I were a crier,” or “I don’t really cry, but…” The truth is, I might have been a crier. I might have been a girl who could cry when it was stressful, or when I had my heart broken, but I was taught that crying was never the right choice and only served to get you into more trouble.
I have been quoted as saying that I cry in my car when no one is looking, or that I weep when no one is near. Both of which are exaggerations to what you might actually see, but not so much in comparison to my usually stoic way of being.
I have been written to and praised by readers for being raw, honest and emotional. And it is only in my writing that I am so. I laugh readily when others are near, but rarely when they are not. I sometimes feel that I spend more time and energy faking the standard human emotions than truly feeling them.
When I am alone, in my home, the blinds are usually drawn. I prefer not to have to interact even visually with humans unless forced to. It is part of the culture I was raised in, not just because of my parents, but their heritage. Both sides of my ethnic background are groups known for stoicism and looks of approval that are rarely warm. I was taught that congratulating myself in anything was prideful; thank you Catholic guilt. And kind words of encouragement were often set aside, in favor of words of pragmatism and realism.
I was taught not to dream too big, never to fail, and that emotions make you weak.
I love deeply, I hurt even more so. I can write you a poem about the loveliness of my husband’s smile, or a blog post about the inner most thoughts of my heart. But I do not cry, even tears of joy.
I have never had issues expressing who I am, and for all of the traditions in my family, I have bucked, kicked, and fought back against nearly all of them. I married a Marine after being raised in a deeply anti-gun, anti-war, and not so patriotic family. I refused to go to college for something I didn’t want to do, in spite of the backlash faced from a family that feels that college is the only thing that will ever make me worthwhile. And the degree I did get is still met with skepticism and indifference because just about ANYTHING else would have been better.
But I am not weak. And I was raised not only to be strong, but never even offer the appearance of weakness. And while I can artfully spill the contents of my heart on paper, written under a tongue in cheek pseudonym, I cannot cry. Because I am not strong, but the world must never know that. And of all the lessons I learned in my life, weakness was never tolerated and the most deeply punished if shown.
To this day, officially a grown woman who can’t even kind of claim to still be a child, I have taken that lesson to heart. My husband rarely sees me cry. The only exception to that rule are tears of anger that burn like fire and are more a sign of the fury about to be unleashed than the pain I might be feeling. And even when I am alone, lying in bed, my husband gone for this military reason or that, I shed only one or two tears, take a deep breath and remember that weakness isn’t ever acceptable, not even when you are alone.