Crying in Cars

photo by me

I started seeing a therapist recently, and she wants me to practice feeling and expressing my challenging emotions. DAILY. Every single damn day, I’m supposed to conjure anger, sadness, or fear, and act it out.

I know this is a good idea. Like running and ayahuasca, expressing my emotions feels mostly pretty awful while it’s happening, but I feel better afterward.

I found my therapist when I agreed to be a guest patient on her podcast, and we went so deep that I cried most of the 45 minutes. I had an immediate desire to keep going, waylaid by two months of telling myself that therapy was unnecessary, because me and my ayahuasca/breathwork/dancing/friends/everyeventinSanFrancisco were doing just fine without her kind. I rehashed all the useless therapy I’ve expended resources on (not you, Julia, in case you’re reading this. Couples therapy is a different beast).

But I said fuck it, and now twice a week or so, my neighbors can probably hear me beating my couch with a towel, yelling at an ex-boyfriend or the guy who wouldn’t wait for me to back out of my driveway.

Last year, I started making my friends with my anger. Now when I recognize it, when I’m not still pretending I’m always kind, compassionate, understanding Rachel, I actually look forward to expressing anger, either by myself or to the object of my anger when it feels right and necessary.

But sadness? Sadness feels like a potentially endless abyss of pain. I’m afraid that if I start crying, I won’t stop.

But I paid for this advice, and I’m a good little student who worries when she hasn’t done her homework. So I’ve started catching myself when I want to stuff down my emotions.

I spend a lot of time now wondering when, where and with whom it’s safe enough to cry. (During a recent NyQuil stint, I had vivid dreams of wandering around a big park, looking for a quiet place to cry. I kept stopping somewhere thinking I’d found the place, then people would show up. Frustration and anger welled up inside me, and my wandering continued. The end.)

I have trusted friends who can hold my tears. But crying alone is a risky business. Every time I try to cry at home, a few meager tears roll down my cheek. I know there’s a lot more where that came from. But my home is my oasis. What if I cry so many that I can’t escape the memory of them? What if I taint my home with too many tears?

Yesterday morning after I dropped my daughter off at school, I needed to cry, because though I’ve managed to create a barrier between myself and much of the pain in the world, I haven’t been able to (and shouldn’t?) separate myself from my children’s pain.

I reached for my current favorite dance song to “put myself in a better mood,” a/k/a repress my emotions. Then I thought of my therapist and my assignment, and backed away from the iPhone. I drove in silence, and I cried. A lot. Because my car feels like my own private space, but it’s on a journey that ends. When I get out of the car, I can leave my tears behind too.

Maybe someday I won’t need to run away from them. But this works for now.