Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Don't cry

When you go to any Twelve-Step group meeting, you notice something.  The room has a box of Klee--  oops, sorry, shouldn't use trademark as generic term -- a box of Facial Tissues located in some sort of central spot.  And if someone bursts into tears, which has been known to happen, they go grab a handful.  Nobody gets up or hands it to them or comes over to hug and pat and say "There there."

The idea is both that the person needs to cry, and that the rest of us need to not impede it by rushing over and "helping them" get back under control faster.  That's not as harsh as it sounds, since sympathy and empathy are fine in 12-step, but comforting can too often be a way to get you to stop crying before you're ready.

12-step is absolutely not comfort-less.  A lot of good "I understand" and "I've been there" happens and it helps you get your mind and heart working together instead of at cross-purposes.  But breaking that traditional rush to console is one of the many lessons in living and thinking differently, which 12-step programs are trying to teach.   There are things normal people can do that alcoholics/addicts just cannot, however unfair that is and however much that sux.  Things like: have a really hard gut-wrenching day and say "I wanna tie one on."  Or, indulge in self-pity.

And say, or expect to hear, "Don't cry."

The program can occasionally sound absurd, like, is every freakin' ordinary little thing wrong now?!  One friend actually felt guilty about doing crossword puzzles because she was using them to "avoid her issues."  Sheesh.  I mean, come on.  But the thing about this new way of thinking is that it asks only that you look at your coping mechanisms, not that you dump them entire.  You see plenty of people smoking multiple packs a day to stay off the sauce.  It's only about how some overuse of innocuous comforts can slow your progress.

What we learn is that a lot of us have done too much of the not-crying thing, under parental or cultural pressure to not express sadness, to not grieve, to Man Up, stop being childish, etc etc.

So one of the 12-step things you hear is that "Don't cry" can be part of that, and is awfully tempting to say as a false show of caring and support,  when somebody's crying makes you squirm and want to bolt.

True.  True true true,  I have to acknowledge this before I complain about it, because dismissing 12-step wisdom (or saying a teaching doesn't apply in this or that situation) is like a writer breaking grammar rules.  You have to master the wisdom and work it awhile before you have the discernment in place to legitimately discard it.

One of my favorite parents'-generation relatives ran a daycare when I was a teenager and hired me on as a classroom assistant, and I recall some of the lessons she was trying to teach kids about not getting hysterical over a scrape or bump or altercation with another kid.  I remember one little girl who was on the edge of a giant meltdown over a banged knee and my cousin talking her through it while she bandaged the scrape, distracting with sympathy and kindness until the wailing danger passed.

When does "Don't cry" prevent us from processing feelings, and when is it teaching us to shift into reasoned problem-solving mode?  To apply it takes that discernment.

But "Don't cry" becomes one of those Old Behaviors that I'm willing to say I miss.  I miss the days when collapsing in tears brought a heartfelt and caring "Don't cry."  I miss the comforting version, the one that means "It's going to be OK.  It's not a disaster.  You don't need to be so sad."  It's been tossed along with the "Stop sniveling" version.

Like wrecking my blood sugar with stress eating, or shrieking "Screw everything!" it's one of the old behaviors that I can't say is always bad, much less possible to completely overcome.  Nobody would expect that, but what I sometimes miss are the days when i didn't have to think about it.  There's something about the default "Don't cry" that I miss as much as I miss or embrace other comforts that range from unrealistic (and embarrassing) like J. D. Robb mysteries and Eight Is Enough, to downright harmful, like the days of being a young child on car trips without being trussed up in a car seat.

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