Finding Support Through Support Groups
It’s Okay to Feel Nervous at Your First Support Group Meeting
The first time at a support group, you may pause at the set of double doors leading into that small conference room, a room that is new and unfamiliar to you. With a deep sigh, you remind yourself that all you have to do is place one foot in front of the other, and then repeat to gain momentum. Although, this is a task that should be clearly mastered by now, for some reason today it just seems so foreign and difficult.
In an attempt to make headway though, you distract your thoughts by entangling the fringe of your scarf in and around your fingers, pulling gently to feel the slight embrace before the strands falls free and you begin again. The soft texture of the fabric provides some distraction from your nerves, but you may still wonder, “What am I going to say? Do I even have anything of value to say? What will they think of my story? What will they think of ME?”
As you lift your eyes from your enmeshed scarf to the taupe walls, you notice a scattering of people throughout the room with a dozen or so chairs being occupied by strangers. Your eyes dart from one area to the next hoping to claim a seat quickly and remove yourself from the spotlight of the door frame. It is then that you feel a slight pressure on your lower back from your husband urging you to take a step forward. With pursed lips, you look to him for encouragement. He sees your anxiety and nods as if to say, “It is going to be alright. I am right here with you.”
Taking the First Step Can be Intimidating
Standing side by side, you take solace in the situation and decide to enter together. After locating two adjacent chairs in the corner, you find refuge and take a seat. Hesitantly, you watch the clock tick by as the group waits to officially begin with just a few minutes left and counting. The noise is then interrupted when a gentleman clears his throat in a boisterous manner. “Thank you all for coming tonight. I am glad that you are able to be here for the support group.”
“Wait, support group?” you question yourself again. “Do I really need to be a part of a support group? Certainly, my life is not grand right now, but have I really gotten to the point where I need support? And more importantly, support from a stranger?” Your mind stumbles over these questions and you lose sight of the conversation occurring around you. That is until you hear a lady ask, “And what is your name?” Quickly you take notice of the many sets of eyes that are upon you. She asks if you want to share, and you pass your turn with a strong wave of relief.
Many People Have Similar Stories
You then hear others speak and you realize that their stories mirror yours−stories of frustration, stories of fear, and stories of struggles. They are repeated time and time again, just in different accents and in different tongues. In your heart you find comfort knowing that you are not alone. You find strength in knowing that there are new ways to cope, and you find hope in knowing that life can truly be better than what you are experiencing presently.
The following week, as Thursday rolls around again, you elect to attend once more. This time though as you approach the double set of doors, things feel a bit different. Your find that your head is raised a bit higher as is your confidence. You feel more prepared to share and more willing to listen. You start to find a community to help overcome your struggles and realize that maybe you too have something to contribute to the conversation.
As week two turns into week three and you continue on with the support group, you find that these people make a greater impact in your life than you ever thought possible. They become your friends, confidants, and allies. They support you through your struggles and celebrate with you during your successes. These individuals also become a sort of family to you, and you realize that you become a better person for it.
Positive Attributes that Support Groups Provide
Accountability to Ourselves and Others
We all have commitments in life that we must accomplish; responsibilities at home or at work that others expect for us to complete and to complete well. Some of these tasks may seem easy to accomplish independently while others may seem daunting and overwhelming to do alone. For these more difficult tasks, it is helpful to find a community of support. Individuals who will be there for you to push you forward when all you feel like doing is standing still.
Advocacy for Important Causes
Having the ability to speak up and promote a cause is helpful in our day-to−day lives, especially for causes that impact our lives so greatly. When we feel heartache or pain, we often find greater incentive to make changes. We speak louder and with more clarity on the issues. We find increased unity and with our combined strength discover that the challenges we face daily are manageable and can be overcome.
Encouragement From Those Close to Us
One of the biggest challenges for individuals and families facing obstacles in their lives are the feelings of being hopeless, defeated, and possibly forgotten. Your traditional supports, including family and close friends, may do their best to motivate you, but sometimes their support is not enough. Learning from other individuals who have shared experiences can provide you with knowledge of new treatments, connections to new professionals, and confidence in the fact that you can overcome the challenges you face.
Knowledge From Others
If you find yourself in a difficult situation, please realize that you are not alone and others have walked that path before you. Take advantage of their experiences and learn from their successes and struggles so that you can create an easier journey for yourself. You have heard that knowledge is power, learn something new and see what you can do.
Another important aspect of a support group is the realization that you are not alone in the journey though you may feel isolated and abandoned at times. Through heartfelt conversations with other participants, you begin to see that you are not that much different from those around you. You find acceptance, community, and self-worth. You also discover that your struggles are not what defines you and that you are truly a person of value and substance.
Maybe you can relate to this story. Maybe you have a struggle with a medical or mental health issue or care for someone who does or maybe there is addiction or trauma in your family. Regardless, seeking the support and encouragement from other individuals who are or have been in a similar situation can be very beneficial and rewarding. Look online for support groups, CHI Health has many. You can also check with your ask your medical provider or local churches. There are always those willing to help you get through the tough times, you just have to start by asking. You got this! You can do it. Just take that first step.
Tracy Glantz, MS, is an Educational Therapist at CHI Health.