Less Is More When It Comes to Crying in Recovery

There’s nothing like a good, cathartic cry. You know, those let-it-all-out sob-fests that leave you feeling so much better once you’ve purged yourself of pent-up emotions. I used to have such soothing feelings of calm after one of these, as I wiped away those purposeful tears, like I’d just cleaned a ton of icky gunk out of myself in one big, emotional spring cleaning. But today, crying in recovery does not come easy — I’ve had only a handful of these cathartic cries.

You’d think it would be the opposite, right? Since I am no longer numbing my feelings with vodka, vodka, olives, and vodka, it would make sense that I would cry often, and hard, each time I get in touch with a new, bona fide emotion; each time I access a memory or sensation that had been previously sealed off for years due to my drinking.

Alcohol is a depressant, so even though it makes people feel quite merry at first, if you overdo it, you will eventually feel like shit. For most non-alcoholic drinkers, they’ll experience a hangover the next day, and might feel a little sad or depressed, but after resting, eating, and replenishing key body fluids, they’ll most likely feel better fairly soon.

However, if one drinks regularly — or eventually daily, as in my case — and builds up a tolerance, those initial pleasant feelings become more and more fleeting, and the excessive emotion and sadness (at least in my experience) becomes pretty much all-consuming.

When I was active in my addiction, I would cry all the time. At anything and everything. The final montage of the Six Feet Under finale had me weeping uncontrollably every time I watched it, which was often. A homeless person on the street would send me into a muted sobbing fest on the subway. And any kind of mistake, shortcoming, or belief I had that I had failed at an endeavor would devour me and I’d crawl into bed as soon as possible and bawl for hours.

Now I’m not saying these are not valid things to cry over (that Six Feet Under montage still gets me every time), but my blubbering fits were excessive, extreme, and disproportionate to their triggers. They were also self-seeking — was I really crying over what I believed I was? It certainly felt like it at the time, but now I’m seeing that, when filled with a substance that can rewire your brain and essentially fuck up your central nervous system, I’m not so sure.

The thing is, my tearful hysterics were out of control and unpredictable. Not to say that any human can control their emotions 100%, but my meltdowns got ridiculous. And annoying, I now know, to my family and friends, whom I’d often call crying and inflict my “pain” (i.e. whining) upon. Plus nine times out of ten, what I said made little sense.

In some ways, I think I had reached a point where I wanted — and in a sick way, enjoyed — breaking down and blubbering, because at least then I was feeling SOMETHING. Happiness (that wasn’t faked) had more or less been sucked out of me. Crying kept me human, and I was beginning to realize deep down that the more I drank, the less human I became.

But something has shifted since getting sober in 2020. I still cry, don’t get me wrong, and it’s still not always appropriate. But it is genuine and not fueled by a substance that hijacked my brain and turned my emotions against me.

I’ve had a few therapeutic cries over the last three years, but none of them compare to my drunken fits; no sobbing hysterics over things I often forgot about by the next morning. No nonsensical weeping over the untimely death of John Ritter 20 years ago.

Now, as I learn how to become a more authentic person and live life on life’s terms, I cry when it’s warranted. I don’t spin wildly out of control. Like when I think about my mom, who died last year. I miss her terribly and I am still so fearful about living my life without her, but I don’t get hysterical every time I think about it. I don’t tumble down a tunnel of self-pity and despair that takes me hours to crawl out of. I just cry. And mourn. And feel all the things I need to feel without turning those feelings into an excuse to lie in bed all day and feel sorry for myself.

And I guess that because my tears are now much more true, they come less frequently. They’re precious because they aren’t amped up or influenced by any kind of substance. They are mine, released when needed, from still developing feelings and realizations. Plus they are sober, just like me.

Is crying in recovery difficult for you? Or does it come easy? Share your experiences with us in the comments.


1 Comment

  1. Loving this insight. I think my over-sensitive emotion-trigger caused unpredictable weeping (at the end of my drinking certainly) in order to somehow express some kind of message to the other part of my brain that the body had had enough. It was as though weeping was the start of the surrendering process……

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