Laugh and Cry Your Way to Recovery from Addiction Part I

In a society that has traditionally suppressed open crying and placed heavy restrictions on humor and “appropriate” laughing, it may seem odd to think that these two emotional responses can help addicts get clean and stay clean. However, of all the ways that a person in recovery could react to the stress and pressure of everyday life AND staying sober, a good cry and/or a healthy laugh just might offer the most healing power possible. Understanding how crying and laughing affects recovering addicts is critical to ensure that proper emotional responses are encouraged and indulged in.

The Emotional Implications of Crying

People cry for a variety of reasons, but ultimately these episodes are triggered by intense emotions – both good and bad. For instance, people cry when they are scared or angry, but they also cry when they see something beautiful or witness a positive emotional gesture or statement. What this tells us is that during these intense periods of emotion, our bodies undergo a physiological reaction that we are often compelled to attempt to control. Logic tells us that if crying indeed is a physical release for emotional stress, then holding it in doesn’t seem like a wise idea.

Interestingly, even the actual tears produced during an episode of crying are thought to have real stress-relief value. In an article for the New York Times, Jane Brody writes about the only real study ever done on human crying (research carried out by Dr. William H. Frey), and how others have claimed the uselessness of tears in the past:

“Although Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, thought the crying process itself relieved suffering, he regarded emotional tears as an incidental and purposeless secretion. ”This is not an easy view for me to accept,” Dr. Frey said in an interview here. ”Darwin himself showed that evolution doesn’t favor purposeless processes.” (1)

Therefore, if crying is an emotional response to stress, then it seems prudent that addicts and alcoholics in recovery should permit themselves to cry when they need to, and not hold these feelings back. If the theories about crying are correct, then holding back tears is the same as compressing and storing stress in the body. Even without a significant amount of scientific data or research at this time, it seems that most people would agree that they feel better after they cry about something. Many people refer to a feeling of relief or “release,” and strangely enough, stronger periods of crying often end in laughter of some sort – especially if the person crying is being comforted by a friend.

This indicates not only that crying should be a part of a healthy recovery program, but that it also might be related to another purely human function: laughter.

In the second part of this article series we’ll discuss the relationship between crying and laughing, and how both can benefit people in recovery. But if you or someone you love is struggling with a drug or alcohol problem and you need help right now, you can get it just by calling the number at the top of your screen. We’re here to provide you with a free, confidential consultation 24 hours per day, no matter where you are or how bad the problem is. And if you feel like crying, then just let it out, because we understand just how important that is.


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