Moved To Tears: Joy and Pain

“I’m such a baby, yeah the Dolphins make me cry” –Hootie

I recently admitted something embarrassing to my fiancee. Maybe I’m not so embarrassed. It was embarrassing to admit at the time, but if I was truly embarrassed, would I really be writing about this publicly on a blog? Perhaps a better way to put it is that I’m a bit embarrassed, but not ashamed. What I admitted is this: sometimes when I watch an audition for the Voice or American Idol, I cry. I cried during the Live Aid performance of Bohemian Rhapsody; an awkward situation when watching on a plane full of people who were focused on the quality of their inflight wi-fi and a bit perplexed by the man with the aisle seat and tears in his eyes. Sometimes, I’ll watch musical performances on Youtube and just well up. And by well up, I mean cry.

It’s definitely not a sad cry. While I do sometimes reflect on the somewhat bleak outlook for this incredible performer who’s shining moment will be the audition footage of a reality television show, I’m not crying about that. I am crying first and foremost out of appreciation for the beauty of the expression. I am also crying tears of joy that this person who could easily be the person on the plane next to you struggling with their w-fi has this incredible expressive capacity within them and they, even if for one brief reality television moment, are able to showcase that ability to the world.

After having these tears in private for a while, I am growing out of my embarrassment for probably two reasons. One, I’ve admitted it in the open and once you have been vulnerable in some capacity in public, it’s simply easier to do so in the future. The initial fear is gone and you know that such a public admission won’t lead your fiancee to return the engagement ring. Second, I’m actually quite grateful that I can be moved to tears through appreciation of the beauty of artistic expression. 

I’ll go one further on the scale of embarrassing male (there is certainly a gender component to my embarrassment) crying: I’ll cry at the sports clips of the team manager with a developmental limitation that gets to go in to the game and live their dream of scoring a basket or touchdown. I’ll cry when I see a video of a senior dog who was passed over for year is finally adopted and lives a happy life with their new family. I’ll cry, and this may be the most embarrassing revelation of them all, when Will Smith or the Rock goes out of their way to be nice to a fan and the person is overcome with gratitude. Not every time I see one of these clips, but it’s always a possibility. I wasn’t always this way, but I might now be a bit of a crier.

Again, I’m grateful that this is the case for me and I almost feel bad for people who are not so profoundly moved with these displays of humanity. This could be the result of my personal history. At this point in my life, I have a job I love, am getting married to a woman I love, and feel respected by my friends, peers, colleagues, and clients. There was a point in my life, however, where all this seemed not only far away, but impossible to attain.

I drank from age thirteen to twenty six. Aside from the first drink being on the early side, I thought my drinking progressed early on in fairly typical ways: parties in the woods with my high school friends in Maine, frat and house parties with my college buddies, and hitting the clubs and bars in my early twenties. I did have periods of drug use and a marijuana habit that bent towards the extreme, but while I knew that my consumption was heavy, I was also able to keep up performances in school and some work where I felt that I was at least able to hold it together. This was the case until I started drinking alone and drinking every day. A full account of the progression from that point is outside of the scope of this writing, but suffice it to say there were many moments and periods worthy of tears.

For quite some time, perhaps three years, during the latter part of my drinking, I knew I was an alcoholic and that my drinking was beyond salvageable. This was akin to hearing of a death sentence. I had a few half hearted attempts at getting sober during this time. Once one has tried to get sober and then gone back to the bottle, the drinking takes on a solemn isolation that is particularly wrenching. For myself, this period consisted of benders for undefined periods of time that rotated from not wanting to drink, to convincing myself to drink one more time, drinking in pursuit of oblivion, regretfully regaining a dried out consciousness steeped in self-pity and dreading that whole wheel had spun again. 

On one day or night (I can’t remember which) towards the end of my drinking (I’d love to say the last, but, again, I can’t fully remember), I was sitting with some pretty terrible thoughts. Thinking of the futility of my existence at that time, I certainly thought that my death would be preferable to the repeatable pain of regret and remorse I was caught in. The thought of suicide was not new. However, I always guilted my way out of the endeavor by thinking of the family, particularly my parents, that I would leave behind and how sad they would be. I didn’t want to die and be mourned; I wanted to cease to exist, be wiped away. In my self-pitying, remorseful way I reflected on what a said state that was and I began to cry. Crying felt in line with my appraisal of myself, so I continued to cry and, of course, continued to drink until blackout.

Upon awakening I was struck by, in addition to my usual physical hangover, distinct feelings of self pity and self loathing. I was reflecting on my personal sad state of affairs: sitting in my room alone drinking and crying. That action, crying, felt incredibly fitting. Of course my life was tear worthy. So, I set out to simply dwell on my distinct sadness and have a good cry to myself again. Wallow in my isolation and loneliness. I dwelled and dwelled, but I could not be moved to tears. I knew why. It was because I was dry. When I was drinking, I wanted it all to stop so I could only cry. When I was dry, I wanted to cry but couldn’t, so I wanted to drink.

A short while after that emotional crash, I was able to get sober. The process of getting sober is just that, a process. There are times early on where a cascade of dread is followed promptly by an eruption of hope and joy. The Twelve Step process that I underwent certainly had transformative moments. Due to the tumultuous internal dynamics of a newly recovering alcoholic, many of the real life changes are subtle and go unnoticed in the beginning. Some of the moments, however, were clear revelations. I was able to see that my life was not a series of personal catastrophes, but choices of how I chose to meet my circumstances. I could see the personal injustice and unhappiness or opportunity for spiritual growth. With each step forward I tried to move towards that growth and away from the cycle of self victimhood. This process opened me up to possibility and purpose. 

I don’t know exactly when it was that I started to be moved to tears so easily while sober. I don’t remember what it was that caused those first tears to fall. I know that now, when I watch those audition tapes of artists who were previously shrouded in obscurity and seeing the public expression of their beautiful work brings me to tears. I can be fully present in love and appreciation. I hope that I am able to keep that openness and the ability to be so easily moved to tears.