Crying in Rehab – The Emotional Thaw

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It’s springtime in Michigan. Early yet – the trees are budding, but there is still snow on the ground in places where the sun doesn’t reach. We all tiptoe around, hoping it isn’t a false spring, but knowing there will probably be at least one more “surprise” snow storm between the Ides of March and the sunny season…


It is the perfect time of year to talk about the emotional thaw that happens to many in early sobriety. Remember the scene in The Grinch where the long hardened monster begins to cry and doesn’t know what that wet stuff is? He touches his face and says, “I’m leaking…” That’s how it is for those who are new to sobriety. Once the numbing, from years of substance abuse begins to wear off, the thawing and the tears will follow. And sometimes, like the Grinch, the feeling is unfamiliar and unpleasant.


Emotions and crying are essential on the path to healing…


Emotions are essential on the path to healing. Crying often happens because a person gets in touch with pain, loss or frustration: a triple whammy when feeling vulnerable or in a group of strangers. Sanford House founder Rae Green says, “A gender specific environment like Sanford House is more conducive for men and women to reach down-deep, work through the shame they are feeling and begin the healing process. Folks in treatment tend to be nurturing, so when a member of the group breaks down and cries, they circle the wagons and protect.”


There are some positives to crying:

  • Crying releases tension
  • Crying can be a powerful tool to ask for help
  • Showing vulnerability can form a bond between those who participate, creating intimacy
  • Crying can lead to a much deeper understanding of the underlying issues of addiction
  • Crying releases the pain, loss and frustration felt during detox and early recovery
  • Shedding tears can actually lead to lasting changes in thought processes and actions.


According to The Huffington Post, “New research shows that while shedding a few tears leads to a dip in mood immediately after the crying jag, about 90 minutes later people report feeling even better than they did before they had reason to cry.” So another benefit to letting your guard down and sobbing is an overall boost in mood.


Sanford House Clinical Director Emeritus, Christine Walkons says, “When clients arrive at Sanford House, their self-esteem is low. We work to alleviate shame and build confidence through the sharing of stories in a group setting. Everyone has an equal voice, and if someone cries it is because they are feeling more uninhibited and secure in their environment.”


Early recovery in treatment is a time for knocking down walls and allowing feelings to surface. After long held patterns of padding emotions and anesthetizing sensation, when feeling for the first time, it is natural to cry. At Sanford House we make sure there are lots of tissues. It’s a great equalizer in rehab – passing the box of tissues…

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Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit