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How to Exercise Your Crying Muscles: A Story & Exercises for You to Practice at Home

I have needed to cry for weeks now.

I know this, yet I struggle to give myself what I need.

When I was a girl, I cut off my crying muscle impulses, especially in public.

Growing up, empathy and compassion were absent and vulnerability was frowned upon. There were no healthy models of adults functionally feeling and moving their grief. Instead, the subliminal messaging was that it wasn't okay to cry.

My instinct, when I feel tears rising into my eyes because of the pure emotions that I am feeling around my heart and inside of my body, is to I swallow whole, all of it. I do not allow the purity of my innocence to rise and be fully felt, expressed and then let go of.

My holding in, and withholding from myself and others, results in emotional pain. Feelings of sadness, shame, embarrassment, and more, get trapped in my body, and I begin spiraling downward into sensations of less motivation and more apathy, less feeling and more miserably existing. Along the way, I have less patience, am quicker to frustration and lack presence with my child. In other words, I behave like a complete and total bitch.

I don’t want to be this way with my son, and I most definitely don’t want him to end up with friends, lovers or a partner, who treat him this way. It is imperative that I take care of myself to shift my mental wellbeing so that I am emotionally available for my son. “I need to cry,” I tell him. I have been establishing this pattern for a year now in which I tell him that I need the space and time to grieve, mourn, release my tears and more. “You know that how I am behaving has absolutely nothing to do with you, right?” I ask him. “Yeah, but you can’t just say ‘Sorry,” he responds. “You have to change your behavior,” his inner sage dictates.

My grief isn’t just about Burt’s death, however.

It’s about the violence and trauma I experienced as a child, the lack of safety I had growing up and the absolute loss of innocence that comes with hopelessness.

My grief was an iceberg long before Burt and I became lovers.

Early on in my primary years, I stopped hoping that the True Love that I knew I was so worthy of living within everyday could be a reality and, instead, I accepted pain and fear as normal. Discomfort, tension and anxiety were to be expected here, in my body and in my life. As a result, these sensations are now my most comfortable states of being. I don’t know who I am without them.

It’s the tears.

Like a baby and young children, we all need to open ourselves up to the purity of feeling and allow it to move through us - however it deems fit.

Sometimes, laying on our backs, kicking our legs and pounding our fists on the ground, like a child having a fit, can promulgate a deeper emotional release of stored tension. Too frequently, we adults admonish and chastise our children for this behavior but it's only because they are showing us what we need but are too afraid to give to ourselves.

We fear the loss of control and what lies on the other side of our being comfortable with our regular discomfort. I know I sure do. Usually, what lay on the side of letting go is deep sleep.

Got insomnia?

Then try this.

If I don’t do this emotional tending to myself, then it is no longer just me who suffers.

For decades, I accepted my own suffering because it is what I have always known. Even though I unconsciously caused harm in many interactions that I was having with others because I either could not see my own shadow or I was running from it, today I am 110% committed to not handing this legacy down to my child. So, I must do my work.

I stand up, and my bare feet pad across the cool floor to that blue table where my cell phone sits. Connecting my wireless speaker to it, I scroll through Spotify and locate the playlist I made for exactly this purpose. (Naturally, it is called “The Mama Caravan.” Get your copy of it here.) All the while, Mandango - the Sleeping God - silently lays on his mountain perch in the near distance just outside my cocina (kitchen) window.

Familiar voices begin belting out the lyrics that I know by heart as I work all of my practices. Sitting cross legged in front of our altar, I drop my shoulders by rolling them down towards my belly and I begin fake crying sounds. “Uhhugh uhhugh uhhughuhuhuhuhuh huhuhu huh uhhhhh hughhughhugh.” I feel my chest and belly vibrate as I make sounds that mimic crying. (Fake it ‘till ya make it, ya’ll! ;) ) I cross my hands on top of my heart and allow these sounds as well as their accompanying movements to be brought forth.

Usually, I can have a real cry from this starting point. Not always though, like in this moment when my tear ducts refuse to open. So, I position the back of my body on the floor as I give in to a child-like fit. The music keeps playing but I cannot tap my grief.

And then, song number 5 comes through the speaker with Paul Simon singing “Father and Daughter” and it takes me right back to a memory. Burt and I were in the first trimester of our pregnancy when we would go for joy rides with the top down in his forest green, convertible Mini Cooper with Bud, the blue-eyed and Merle-coated, Chihuahua, hopping around the leather seats.

A decade previously, Burt had driving lessons where he would practice speeding his blue sports car around a homemade track that had orange cones for delineating lines on the black asphalt found in the voluminous parking lot at Jack Murphy Stadium. Years later, and comfortably leaning tightly into the curves of the undulating hills found in Rancho Santa Fe, Burt masterfully handled our small car at a fast speed as Paul’s unforgettable tenor voice sang out, “I’m gonna watch you shine, gonna watch you grow. Gonna paint a sign, so you’ll always know. As long as one and one is two, whoo hoo, there could never be a father who loves his daughter more than I love you.” The unforgettable first bars of this song, strummed on an electric guitar, striking a deep emotional chord in my body.

Choking back tears, I sense my layers of grief due to my own father wound - having had an alcoholic and emotionally unavailable father who was, at times, physically absent and who was permissive to the abuse and toxicity of his wife. There is this profound, gaping hole inside of me for not having ever known an all-loving Father-figure who loves himself and his daughter(s) as equally as he loves his son(s).

My heart is broken, and has long ached to know and experience this Love. Yet, there I am, sitting in the passenger seat beside a man who embodies it. First for his daughter, which attracted me to him in the first place (and then made me feel very jealous that she has what I have never had), and then for me. As I replay this scenario in my mind while sitting and singing at the altar - Burt driving, me holding back my true feelings and, still, the depth of Love that he and I shared - my emotion breaks through and I release those tears that have been stuck for too long now.

I cry and sob and let go of my emotional pain - for now.

Baby step by baby step.

"Buenas noches!" (Good night.)

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