Cry Like a Man

I have a lot of sympathy for how difficult it must be to be a man. Even though I was really hurt by Auden Boy’s rejection and disrespect, at least I was allowed to cry about it and be supported by my friends. Men have been told that it is weak to cry. Men have been told that they should be able to take care of themselves, that they don’t need people to support them. This is not true, and equally as destroying as what has been told to women.

I will never be able to know what it feels like to be a man. I will never be able to empathize, but I can sympathize. They are very different things, even though people often mix them up in conversation. (As a lover of words, it kills me!)

Instead of pretending I know what it feels like to be a man, I’ve asked a man, the writer Adam Durnham, to share with you his experience with crying. He has given his story to us so that we can learn from his experience, and for that I am grateful. I hope it resonates with you the way it has resonated with me.

It’s been four years. Four years since I heard my mother’s voice. Four years since I watched her, glass of liquor in hand, giggling so hard at one of my stories that her drink spilled onto the carpet. Four years since I repeatedly watched my mother go to rehab and dual diagnosis treatment for her alcoholism and mental health issues. Four long years since I’ve heard her tell me that she loves me and that she’s proud of me.

Most days, if you met me, you’d never guess that I’m grieving my mother’s death. I go to work, I go out to the bar with friends, I date, I have fun. Days go by where I don’t think about my mother’s death or about growing up with an alcoholic parent. If you met me, you would never see the heartbreak.

I guess my stoicism is genetic. My mother raised me as a single parent and I don’t think I ever saw her cry. I certainly didn’t see men cry. Somehow, I grew up understanding that boys don’t cry. Crying was for girls, and not even all girls. After all, my mother didn’t cry.

I don’t remember how I learned that boys don’t cry. Something along the way engrained in me that crying was for the weak and that as a man, I couldn’t let my weaknesses show. I very distinctly remember one day after my mother’s death. I got this strange feeling in my chest–almost like pressure building up. It’s hard to explain the feeling.

Perhaps it was a feeling that people have before they cry, but I didn’t cry. Nothing came out. While I guess I didn’t feel weak that day, I certainly didn’t feel strong. The pressure of everything was painful. My mother’s death was painful. All of that pain and pressure was just trapped inside my body.

I continued this way of dealing with my grief for three years. I just continued to let that pressure build while I did other things. I buried myself in my work. After all, nobody sees a workaholic as weak, or so I thought.

To keep from thinking of my mother, I made sure I was always busy. I went out with friends and I traveled to new places. I even bought bonsai trees so I could give them my attention. According to my logic, having something to care for would keep me from falling into depression – after all, those trees depended on me for water and survival.

Throughout it all, the pressure in my chest continued to build.

What I think nobody tells you is that grief doesn’t just magically go away. There is no timeline for grief. You can go about your life for weeks, months, or even years and then it hits you so hard, it practically knocks you to the ground. That’s how it happened with me. I could ignore my grief most of the time, but sometimes it just hit, and when it did, it hit hard.

Growing up, I never really learned how to handle grief and sadness. I heard the usual things like “toughen up and be a man” and “don’t be a sissy” when I fell and hurt myself or when I was angry about being teased at school.

To “toughen up and be a man,” I didn’t open up to people about my mother’s death or about the trauma of growing up with an alcoholic parent. After all, men should be able to deal with these things on their own, right?

No matter how hard I tried, for those three years after my mother died, I felt like I was a walking time bomb. I had so much pressure built up and no good way to release it. I became angry and resentful. I stopped feeling like myself.

One day, I met a wonderful woman who happened to be Wiccan. She told me that this pressure in my chest was overwhelming, pent-up energy.  Energy wants someplace to go or it builds and creates harm. The woman was the first person in my life to tell me that crying is beneficial – it releases energy before it can do harm.

Suddenly, everything made sense. All that pressure inside of me needed to be released. Knowing that was the easy part. Putting it in practice was harder.

I finally sought out the assistance of a therapist. He helped me recognize that I had so many pent-up feelings: grief about my mother’s death, anger at her for her alcoholism, and sadness from a childhood spent watching my mother suffer.

My therapist also helped me realize that humans have emotions and humans sometimes need to cry to release them. Men are not special in that regard. They aren’t superhuman. Men have the same need as females to cry and it doesn’t make them less masculine. I wish I had known that a lot sooner.

It took me a while to understand, but crying doesn’t make you weak. My therapist taught me that it makes you stronger. It requires a great deal of strength to acknowledge your grief and emotions and work through them.

Reacting to your own life experiences, and especially painful ones, is healthy and normal. Shutting down your emotions and numbing yourself to your pain can even be harmful.

Crying doesn’t make you less of a man. Crying makes you human.

Read the next post in the series, “Ghosting”

Read more of Adam Durnham’s writing.

Read more about how I learned to value my own thoughts.