I mentioned before that I’ve been in counseling for almost 5 years. For the past 3.5 years, I’ve attended a women’s counseling group (hereafter Group). Almost every Tuesday since October 26, 2010 that’s where I’ve been from 3:00-4:30.
Today was my last day in Group…
I’d been considering leaving since early in the year. Nothing was really wrong. I was happy to support the other members, but I wasn’t really receiving what I needed. Yet I also couldn’t quite figure out what I did need. So overall I felt I was just hanging out, and that feeling persisted as I assessed whether I should go.
When Jill, the founder and co-facilitator of the group, announced she was leaving over Spring Break, I realized that it was time for me to leave too. Jill’s leaving was a catalyst that helped me to see that I didn’t really need Group anymore. During sessions we would sometimes talk about the idea of graduating from Group. During my 3.5 years in Group, no one had ever graduated themselves. People had, of course, graduated and left USF. Others had removed themselves from Group because it was a poor fit, or because they had conflicting class requirements. But during my time there, no one ever said, “I don’t need this anymore. I learned what I came to learn. I’ve graduated from Group.”
It was rather shocking to have this realization. But I’m proud of myself, because it is true!
For a long time I did need Group. At first I needed the support of Group to give me a place to talk about those hard things when I didn’t have many friends. When I moved here, I was still dealing with the trauma of my divorce, with my dad being diagnosed with cancer, with death after death… The idea of dumping all of that onto new friends wasn’t appealing, so I’m glad I had Group to turn to instead.
About 8 months after starting Group, I had a breakthrough that changed me and how I approached future sessions. During a session in July 2011, I completely broke down and shut down. During that session I got very frustrated, because I had a very strong emotional reaction to what was going on in Group and what was being said. But I was unable to identify what I was feeling! Emotions were pouring over me and out of me, but I didn’t have the vocabulary to begin to describe what or how I felt. It was completely overwhelming. So much so that I barely talked during the entire session, though I spent a large portion of it sobbing (yes, sobbing). After that session, Jill scheduled a meeting with me to talk about the session and to make sure I would return the following week. During that meeting Jill introduced me to Brené Brown’s (a vulnerability researcher at the University of Houston) great TED talk on the topic of vulnerability.
Everyone should watch this… Go ahead, click on the link. I’ll wait a few minutes… Got it? Good.
Brené Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.”I would modify her definition a bit: accepting uncertainty and risk when interacting with people, while still expressing your true self. In other words, you take risks when expressing yourself, and you never really know how someone will react, but you should still be honest and genuine anyway…
After experiencing that session that felt so terrible and watching Brené Brown’s TED talk, I realized that vulnerability was a big thing missing from my life. In fact, I realized that by not being vulnerable I was holding myself back in many ways: in friendships, romantic relationships, work relationships, family relationships, etc… So I started investing energy in being more vulnerable in Group and made increased vulnerability a goal. I tried to describe my feelings when I was able, but I also didn’t shut down when Jill and the other Group members asked me what or how I was feeling.
Let me tell you, it’s hard! Talking about feelings is something I’d never really done before unless it revolved around some sort of trauma (e.g. death, divorce, illness). In fact, in my family, it was frowned upon. Crying? “I’ll give you something to cry about,” my dad would say. Anger? “Go to your room.” If I cried around my husband, he would get defensive. I think he felt like my tears were his fault, but I wouldn’t know for sure because we didn’t talk about it. If we did talk about feelings, it was usually already in the heat of a fight.
Group gave my feelings a voice. I am better able to express why I’m upset if I am, or if I can’t express it right away I can sit with the discomfort while I figure it out. I can better communicate during conflicts without blowing up or shutting down. I am more comfortable being my true self, as fiery and gritty as I can be, in more situations, even the tough ones.
Am I perfect? No. But I reached a plateau of the lessons I could learn in Group. Now it’s time for me to take the lessons I learned outside to the “real world.” Many of my Group lessons have already entered into my real world, but now I need to reach out to my tribe and try to be fully vulnerable with its members (i.e. my friends, family, etc…). Group gave me the tools I need to have positive, healthy, happy relationships, and I will go forward and use all of them to create and maintain those relationships. I will use them imperfectly sometimes, but that is Ok.
Group has not made me perfect. But that’s just it. That’s the real lesson. I’m not perfect, and I’m still enough! Group gave me the tools to finally accept that.