I learned how to cry when I was 26.
I had cried before in my life, but it was just “crying.” The kind of crying you do when you don’t get your way or when you are scared or when your just plain feel sorry for yourself. This kind of crying didn’t solve any problems. It was a momentary release of raw, unfiltered emotion, but it wasn’t productive. Over time, I began to catch on. I began to realize that since it wasn’t really solving any problems, then what in the world was I doing wasting time doing it?
Eventually, crying became a waste of my time. Instead of crying, I became resolved. I taught myself how to rise up and change a situation myself. How to control things. How to mitigate these intense feelings of disappointment, fear, sadness or frustration by just knocking them in the face or ignoring them all together. In psychology, we call these coping mechanisms. Things we do and create to keep from feeling the stuff we don’t want to feel. There are a whole host of them that I won’t get into here, but suffice it to say I employed quite a few to avoid feeling emotional pain.
But when I was 26, I finally learned how to cry. Crying that produced healing, growth and change. Change that I wasn’t manipulating or controlling. Change that would last.
Individual Therapy: Breaking Bad Habits
My therapist, at the time, was one I found through my graduate degree program. Most of the professor’s would recommend that we go through the process we were going to be facilitating and I took this charge seriously. That doesn’t mean I had any idea what in the world I was about to get myself into, but if anything I was pretty good at following directions – okay, that’s only a little bit true.
My first therapist was a woman. Maybe in her young thirties. She was very smart and she knew all my tricks. She didn’t let me intellectualize or talk my way through my sessions – believe me I tried. She guided me through my process and let me know that I would be completely exhausted when I left. She was right. For someone who had stopped crying years before I walked into her office, the spilling of tears for an hour once a week made me more tired than any of my athletic pursuits had ever made me. I never missed an appointment. Surprisingly, unless it was a planned vacation or time off, neither did she. Consistency. One of the amazing blessings of the therapeutic relationship.
My therapist taught me how to cry. The kind of crying that healed me. The kind of crying that cleansed me.
I still remember the time I actually cried for the first time. Ugly cry in all it’s glory – and I didn’t cover my face. She said “You are crying, and you aren’t covering your face? What changed?” Through sobs and mucus and a pile of tissues I replied “I don’t need to hide anymore.” I mean, are you serious? Who wouldn’t want me as a client? But I was speaking truth. She had guided me through a process where I didn’t need to hide my swollen crying face anymore. I didn’t need to hide what I perceived as ugly, weak or less than. It didn’t stinkin’ matter anymore. It was about me and I was more important than my perceptions.
We eventually reached a place where we thought it was a good time for me to stop therapy and move on. Basically, I was graduating and couldn’t afford it anymore without the discount for graduate students. Sliding scale. Another blessing of the therapeutic relationship.
Marriage and Family Therapy: Love, Marriage and the Baby Carriage
When I got married, my husband and I also did couples therapy for about a year. Not because we were in crisis, but because we had the time and we knew the first year of marriage can be difficult. When I say therapy, I am not talking about the lollipop “pre-marital counseling” the churches offer to young engaged couples before they tie the knot. I am talking about Therapy with at big “T”: hot seats, empty chairs, cradling, boundary setting, communication skills, family of origins, genograms, Meyer’s Briggs inventories, marriage assessments…you name it.
It was intense. We cried a lot. But we grew.
When it was time to start a family, we were in a pretty good place. New home, new state and a healthy pregnancy. What could possibly go wrong? I read all the books, had our babies room all set up and we were ready to rock and roll. But, postpartum depression does not give a crap about any of those things. So, I did what I knew what to do. I headed back to therapy. My therapist was awesome. She let me cry my face off, and then we did some work. She told me that I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself because I had a child now. She was not mean about it, she was matter of fact. She was right. It was a defining moment for me in motherhood. That is not to say that I cannot take care of myself or do things that fill my buckets, but wallowing in a “thing” because it isn’t going my way – whether with my child or not – was not going to be productive for anyone in my family. Including myself.
We worked the process. It wasn’t all crying though. There were sessions when I knew I had made progress. We celebrated that.
We stopped therapy and agreed that I would call her only if I needed to. I didn’t need to for a long while. Then I had my daughter.
Once again, I marched myself into her office once a week to work the process. It was hard at first. Crying. Fear. Postpartum depression doesn’t care that you got better the first time.
I showed her pictures of both kids and we talked about how much the older one had grown and how cute the little one was. We discussed parenting strategies for the three year-old and how I was going to implement these strategies with very little sleep under my belt. I started to go longer periods between seeing her. At first it was every two weeks and then under her direction it was just when I needed her. Needed her. I had grown so much, but I still thought I needed her.
A few times, when I thought I couldn’t process something on my own, I’d call her up to set an appointment. Most of the time her schedule was full and I would have to wait several weeks to get in. While I waited for my appointment, amazing things started to happen. I began processing things on my own. I began having these scary, personal conversations with people in my actual life. I began to trust my own growth and the friendships I had made. I began to leave the security of the shoreline and wade out into the shallow waters where my feet could still touch. Eventually, I could wade way out into the deep and guess what? I was okay. I had taken what I learned in therapy and was using it on my own. That’s called internalizing.
When we would finally meet for our appointment, it wasn’t process and crying. It was me sharing the growth I’d experienced while I waited for the appointment. Again, we came to a place where we stopped therapy and I went on my way.
My Therapist Retired
At the beginning of this year, I got a letter in the mail from my therapist. She was announcing her retirement. I felt an initial twinge in my gut.
Oh no! She is retiring. What if I need her? Does she know how thankful I am for her guidance? I should send her a note. No that would be weird.
I remembered the intense, gut-wrenching first sessions with her after having my son as well as the more intentional sessions after I had my daughter (it wasn’t my first rodeo after all). I remembered the time I joked with her about therapy costing the same as getting my house cleaned, but that cleaning out my soul was a way better investment than cleaning my floors.
I processed all these thoughts as I poured over the words in her letter and then I tucked it into my desk. For some reason, I just couldn’t throw it out just yet. It provided some sort of comfort.
About three weeks ago, I finally put that note in the trash. After lots of therapeutic experiences, I know that I can always go back if I need to. There will always be someone to see if I need them. Until then, I am grateful for the wonderful people and great experiences I had in therapy. I stand on the healing, growth and lasting change I have experienced. I feel overwhelmed by the friendships I have formed, the relationships I have secured and the community I have built…
And that is worth crying about!
*As always, if you need therapy. Go get it. There is no shame in growth, healing or silencing the thoughts that hold you captive. I have Jesus. I have a lot of Jesus, but I still needed therapy. If I ever need it again, you bet your bottom dollar I will go marching into another therapy practice and get my cry on.