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Monday, April 15, 2013

When the Tough Cookie crumbles...

tough cookie (tʌf ˈkʊkɪ) 

Definitions

noun

  • (informal) if you describe someone as a tough cookie, you mean that they are unemotional and are not easily hurt by what people say or do ⇒ She really is a tough cookie

This weekend I came home to visit my family in Maryland and as soon as I walked in the door I was greeted by my parent's dog Ginger. Poor little Ginger. She's not even four years old and yet somehow two weeks ago she went to the doctor with a swollen belly and came home with a horrible prognosis:  Stage 4 liver failure and "weeks- not months- to live". As she jumped up, licking my face nearly tackling me to the ground all I could think was wow...what a tough cookie. My next thought was, where in the world did this phrase come from? What was it's origin? Wikipedia and Google couldn't give me much insight ($5 to anyone who can give me a satisfactory explanation) but most sources just say that a "cookie" is a word used describe a woman that originated sometime in the early 1900's. I guess because women weren't generally considered "smart" or "tough" during those years, the phrases tough cookie and smart cookie became titles of distinction.

I can't remember the first time I was referred to as a tough cookie but I'm sure it was very early on - while my personality and definition of self was still forming. I remember at 7 years old walking around with a broken wrist for 4 days before telling my mom it hurt bad enough to merit a trip to the doctor. She felt guilty but it wasn't her fault. I was a tough little cookie with a poker face. Didn't want to stay home from school or skip dance practice. Not until she saw me walking around holding up my left arm with my right hand did she suspect I had more than a standard childhood injury that a kiss from Daddy and a good cry would cure. I don't think I even cried...I was that tough.

My whole life I've had a commitment to keeping all my problems a secret and dealing with them solo. Eventually they always went away so I figured the less I had to involve other people in my accidents, suffering, failures and injuries, the better. On the one hand this means I'm strong, tough and independent but as in the definition above, it could also imply I'm "unemotional". I know for a fact that is not the case. I cried listening to freaking Justin Timberlake yesterday and don't get me started on those ASPCA commercials. My family and friends would unanimously agree that I'm an empathetic shoulder to cry on. I treasure my ability to comfort and console others and feel that making others happier and less anxious to be my "dharma" or life's work. Whether that be through helping them plan a party, teaching them yoga, or just dolling out advice- I seek out opportunities to listen to problems and never judge my companions for shortcomings that I would never admit to possessing myself.

What this really boils down to is suppression. Why don't I allow myself to release, to emote, to be vulnerable? Why am I more worried about how my problems will affect others than how they affect me- the one that is actually experiencing them? Sure, it's good to be tough and I'm glad that I am but sometimes you just have to let that guard down and admit it: you're scared! Something is wrong with your heart and you can't fix it and you can't even really deal with it that well. You are worried, and having bad dreams and sometimes you start crying at the drop of a hat and wish you could just press pause on your adult life and lay your head down in your mommy's lap and just stay there?  You can tell everyone "it's a routine procedure" or "I'll be fine in 2 months" but deep down you want to let them hold you and have them tell YOU it's going to be ok. I wouldn't fault anyone else for feeling this way and for once, I'm not gonna fault myself either.

Tonight, in the midst of such acute tragedy in Boston, I think we should all allow ourselves a good cry. I did for about 45 minutes on two separate occasions today. My throat's a little raw and my eyes a little puffy but I am quite certain it did more good than harm and was long overdue. Tomorrow I'll put on my big girl shoes and board a train back to my big girl life and resume my role as a tough cookie. But today, it felt good to just let go.