I just finished co-facilitating a support group for young women recovering from eating disorders. Having suffered from them earlier in life, I thought this would be a good experience for me to give back to “my people”.
It was without a doubt one of the most powerful experiences for me. My role as a facilitator was simple: listen, support, and listen some more. As a result, I learned so much about them and myself through them. The funny thing was as a facilitator I barely said much. It was if they were the teachers and I was the student. Once I got the group going each session and opened the floor up for people to check in about how they were feeling or what was going on for them that week, the group ran itself. It was an incredible community of young women bravely and openly sharing their personal lives with others in a safe and non-judgmental place. It was powerful to experience what on in that room each week.
What I found most amazing was that by the sheer act of listening I became much more empathic. At first, it was hard and I was not prepared for what started to happen. I started to feel my own pain again, and could really relate to what these young women were going through. It felt like someone spilt open my wound and poured salt on it. I started to relive it all over again and it hurt, a lot. Nevertheless, each session got better and better and ironically ‘the salt’ became the remedy and cleared out the remaining debris. By the third session, I was there in the trenches with them all and at the end of each night, I wanted to hug each one of them before they left and give them the strength to go on.
I was so proud of them and felt it was my obligation to encourage and support them for all their hard work, because I knew exactly what they were going through. I had been there myself and had not forgotten. These young women are already hard on themselves, hence their eating disorder, I thought. Moreover, they know what they need to do. I thought what they really needed was more encouragement and positive affirmation in their lives. I know how hard it is to be objective with yourself, so positive reinforcement could mean the difference between them feeling good or feeling bad. So, I continued to tell these amazing girls how wonderful they are and commended them on their continued commitment to themselves. I pointed out how far they have come and what a great job they were doing, and how much I learn from them. I meant every word I said, and saw the hardwork, frustrations, tears and triumphs in them each week. Wow, it takes tremendous strength and support to unravel and understand your self. It is true when they say, it takes one to know one. What a determined and amazing group of young women they are!
Each night I walked out teary eyed, humbled and honored to be there for each one of them. I thought this it; this is what it is about. We are all hurt and wounded in our own ways, which can create a lot of shame. The more we hide from our feelings about anything, the more power we give them and therefore the more pain we feel. In order for us to move on in our lives and be the amazing person that each of us is, we need to have those ’safe harbors’ in our lives with people we can really open up with and be ourselves. This allows us to keep our hearts open, even if it means we may feel more vulnerable, and the more we do this we learn that there is strength in our vulnerability, since it allows us to stay connected and find the support and love we seek.
This experience has been invaluable to me. I thought I knew a lot, but what I found out was that I don’t know what I don’t know, and that you stay the course in life by keeping an open heart and mind and by using your ears and mouth in the right proportion. When you trust that, each moment is exactly the way it is supposed to be and that you are doing the best that you can, only then can you let go and trust that you are right where you are supposed to be.