This week I went to an anonymous support group. It had been on my radar for about three months, but on any given night that I could have gone, I lacked either the free time, the energy, or the courage. That being said, if there was one thing about me that I don’t mind sharing it’s that I believe that we are always growing and learning and stretching, and the absolute best way to face a challenge is dead on through the eye of the storm.
Say what needs to be said, fix what needs to be fixed, own your stuff, grow, move forward. As much as it depends on you in any situation, be a decent human. Not to be confused with being a doormat, and definitely healthy boundaries are a must-which means people are still going to be unhappy with you-but again, as best you can, navigate forward.
So, a local support group was recommended to me, and finally, everything aligned and I was able to go. What I was expecting, since I’ve never been to a group like this, was pretty much a mixture of what I assume AA or and other anon type group is like from watching old tv shows and the Adam Sandler movie Anger Management. And for the most part the evening followed the predictable, safe format:
- Old, slightly dank smelling church basement-check!
- Everybody gets a name tag, first name only-check!
- The chairs are hard – check!
- Cookies and stale coffee-check! But you have to stay until the end and mingle.
- The people there represent every walk and talk of life-check!
- Some people will want to talk a lot, and some people will just want to listen-check!
- At the end of it, it was helpful and exhausting at the same time-check!
The evening started with me scoring my favourite seat in any room gathering ever-last row end. The introvert in me wants to be close to the exit at all times so I can make a break for it if needed. In my whole life I’ve never had to make that break anytime ever, although there were a few times I wished I had, like the two hours I lost and will never get back for from watching “Dude, Where is my car?”. Once comfortably seated, or at least as comfortable as possible for steel chairs, their guest presenter for the month spoke about the markers of grief which was fascinating to me. I knew all about the five stages of grief, but up to now in life didn’t really need to learn any more than that, so this was new information, incredibly relevant and helpful, and made the evening worthwhile even if that had been the whole thing. Here they are, from my shorthand, for reference:
- Disturbed sleep
- Disturbed appetite
- Lack of interest in social activities
- Lethargy and low energy
- Shock, denial, anxiety about the future/decision making
- Reviewing/preoccupied with trying to make sense of the lost relationship
- Waves of intense emotion
- Irritability with others, especially advice givers
- Hold tight to/get rid of reminders
- Feeling out of sync
- Seek distractions/self medication
I have touched on most if not all of those things over the past number of months and of course they make complete sense but seeing them in writing was reassuring that this is normal, there is nothing new under the sun. I’m holding fast to the hope that being a cranky and tired will not be my new default. Pretty sure my husband is too 😉
After the presentation the larger group of at least 80 people split into groups covering different lost relationships:
- Loss of sibling/friend
- Loss of parent
- Loss of child
- Loss of spouse
- Loss of infant/pregnancy
- Loss by Suicide
- Loss by Medical Assistance
The group I ended up with had about ten people along with a facilitator and seemed to be both casual and structured. We went around the group twice and talked about who we each lost and when, and then about how we were managing. At this point II want to respect people and their stories, as it was meant to be a safe environment, so all I will say is that some people were working through old losses and some people relatively new ones. Some people had lots to share, some people didn’t. Some people had friends/support come along, some came solo. At the end of it it was time for the cookies and coffee I mentioned earlier, and a chance to look over a long table of handouts talking about every aspect of grief you can imaging.
In the opening remarks the coordinator mentioned, before introducing the speaker that hit was going to be exhausting and in some ways make you feel worse for a few days because of the discussions, but that ultimately it would help. Not unlike going to physiotherapy for an injury, the healing process can hurt a little bit, but it’s the best route to recovery.
For sure I was exhausted for a few days after, but also I came away feeling better. Talking to people who knew exactly what you were feeling and understood the same sense of loss, the same feelings, and “got it” was reassuring and comforting.
Worth it? Absolutely. Will I go again? Probably. Do I recommend it for others? I think so.
Just don’t sit in my seat.