Growing up in working class east London, a melting pot of races, cultures and backgrounds, as a young boy, there was a heavy requirement to not cry. It wasn’t pride. The idea of the ‘stiff upper lip’, prevalent in the British Commonwealth, played no part in this. This was survival. The result is scary. There are many men like me who just can’t cry.
I’ve come to see myself as having a Joker Face. It’s somewhat different from a Poker Face, where there is a deliberate attempt to hide intent. A Joker Face can only be described as the calm smile on a peaceful face that conceals an empty vessel, filled with tears never set free. Tears of happiness, tears of frustration, tears of laughter, tears of sadness, tears of hurt.
The tears eat away at this vessel, I’m sure they do. But the mechanisms set in place, from the earliest of ages, just prevent the success of any erosive activity. Bottled emotion, a.k.a the ticking time bomb. This is why the result of our learned survival instincts is so scary. We are surrounded by, I am a part of, an ever-growing group of emotional time bombs. As men, the explosions usually result in outbursts of rage. Verbal, sometimes physical. But rage all the same. Sadly, there are very few of us trying to free ourselves from this disease. However, suffering from this disease myself allows a high level of empathy for those that can’t choose to escape. You see, the only escape from this flaw is to be broken but this is where the problems lie. When you choose to allow yourself to break, what breaks you will make you.
I’m doing what I can to allow myself to be broken by Love. I’m trying to build a relationship with Christ because that is the standard I have chosen to be judged by. I can’t lie, though. It’s hard to let go. Control of myself and my environment has been paramount for so long, it’s just not easy, man. It’s just not easy.
Some may question my chosen ‘escape route’ but that’s debate for another day. In the meantime, men just like me are choosing to channel their emotion through drugs, alcohol and other seemingly non-beneficial channels and the sad thing is, as is the norm in western society, the method of help is usually limited to a jail cell or labelling with a medical condition, in order for us to pretend that problems are never caused by society. The blame is always on the individual.
In honesty, I hate that I can’t cry. I hate that it is so hard to let anyone in. I have more trust in panty elastic, over an open fire, than I do in the intentions of people and so I’m seen as aloof, cold and often zoned out. Totally separate from whatever emotion is round about me. This causes me to be frustrated with myself. Somewhat of an island, I wish I could love myself as much as I love others. You may never see it but, believe me, that’s how it is. I would love to hit the reset button on my emotions.
I think the beginning of my problem is more than likely the same as many others like me. “What happens in this house stays in this house.” One of the most heavily enforced rules of many working class homes provided a level of security, integrity and pride but the lock-down on expression, I feel, has been the cause of creating millions of social islands. An entire demographic unable to express emotion. In my own experience, I also feel that incorrect Christian doctrine was also a cause.
One thing that I greatly appreciate about my church is that there is a forum to express one’s self, within reason. My Pastor is approachable and understanding. However, that cannot be said of all churches and Pastors. Growing up, we were taught not to question and whatever came from behind the pulpit was expected to be accepted as truth and you were considered a renegade and a rebel. There were many occasions when I felt that I was trying to express myself to a tall, dense brick wall. Eventually, it leads to giving up. In my favour, I never lost my love of reading and I never lost my love of reading and studying my Bible, regardless of how my lifestyle was at the time. Others haven’t been so lucky.
The brain learns by repetitive exposure. By the time I was a teenager, as much as I questioned and as much as I bubbled with ‘rebellion’ inside, I was well-versed in the art of Non-emotion. This was now bolstered by peer pressure. I mean, no one cries in front of the man dem, do they?! Helped along by the social systems in place, fear of expression and a spirit of rebellion began to bolstered in place by pride. A sprinkling of desensitization by some violent social experiences almost made me the stereotypical working class, black teenager. I honestly believe it was my love for reading my Bible that kept me from tipping over the cusp and kept me a tongue-in-cheek rebel. However, the part of me that was never allowed to have questions answered left me with a very cold and sometimes very dark side. Pretty much, I became the brick wall I often tried to express myself to. Herein, I believe, lies my inability to cry. Incompletion, almost having it, seeing it but unable to get it. Those things became the norm. Interestingly, those that are actually IN my life, unguarded, have all been there from before the wall grew so tall. Very few others have been able to join them. If I’m honest, it gave me a way with women that I’m not proud of. A blog for another day – perhaps.
Going through my 20s and early 30s, the Pride-bolstered fear of expression and semi-controlled rebellion was then cemented with time in the military. “Keep calm and carry on.” Also known as “Forget yourself and keep your focus on what needs to be done.” As a result, I’ve become an extremely task-oriented character, often unable to experience the emotion of the moment at hand. Quite frankly, I was in a position where I was unable to deal with my past because there was always something I saw as more important in the future. It made me a high-speed train, hurtling through life and through people, at times, in order to get somewhere I didn’t know of. When I look back, it’s probably one of the weirdest times of my life, as much as it is one of the best. The positives of spending time in the military, I feel, have far outweighed the negatives, in terms of basic life experiences.
Finally, I migrated from home to the States. All the chickens of my past came home to roost at this point. Who I am, what I am and how I can be. It was in November 2013 that I took a good look in the mirror and decided that I needed to undo 33 years of poor character and make way for a character founded on Love. I decided to start by looking for forgiveness from anyone I had ever hurt. A humbling experience that would require an entire blog of its own but an experience that has allowed a lot of growth and a lot of undoing.
The process of removing the Joker Face, though, is long, patient and I’m discovering that, in today’s must have it now society, a lot of people don’t have the patience to wait for it to be removed. I’ve found myself dealing, heavily, with people coming and going as I struggle to let down the trust barriers. I’m still hurt easily and close right down quickly at times. I’ve noticed that I’m very selective with what people know about me and I’m quick to spot ill intention of people around me. The downfall of that is, I’m quick to emotionally cut anyone off for certain things. Inconsistency and lying being the key protagonists.
In a nutshell, people that choose to remove the Joker Face become like individuals transitioning to being sober, after being alcoholics. Suddenly, I have become exposed to emotions and feelings that I need to deal with from a loving base, as opposed to the tall, dense wall. The journey is tough but progress is being made – but I still can’t cry.
The journey has been hard and I wish it would just be done. It’s uncomfortable and the experiences aren’t all a bed of roses, unless you want to include the stems.
Walls coming down isn’t the great hooray that people might think. I just want to be able to cry.
So much more to say…;