A few weeks ago, my counsellor and friend Guillermo asked if I’d like to collaborate on a program with him, working with men who are looking to reform their lives. In short, it’s a two month program for a men’s group to support change in their behaviours and beliefs. The group of men have struggled in their lives with anger and abuse, similar to me. I was incredibly honored and flattered and accepted without hesitation. He even introduced me to them as the author who wrote about his struggles and has managed to reshape his life. I’m still getting used to idea of being referred to as an author, but I admit I like the sound of it! My role in the program was to help Guillermo and give him ideas afterwards on what worked and what didn’t. In addition, my role was to share my experiences with the men to make it easier for them to share about their struggles.
The group meeting was on Wednesday evening and throughout the entire day, I felt a little off. By mid afternoon, I realized that my silent demeanor at the office was because I was feeling anxious. My anxiety about meeting new people started to kick in again and especially men (which is related to my past abusers). I had a few thoughts entering my mind:
“I’m not important enough to speak to these guys! Who am I to think that I’m worth paying attention to!”
“These guys are going to be rough. If they’ve been abusive like me, they’re going to be angry, stand-offish and guarded.”
“Maybe Guillermo will tell me the evening is cancelled or not enough people will show up!”
Clearly, this was my anxiety talking.
While driving to the group meeting, I needed to keep reminding myself of a few certainties:
- This is just anxiety. These thoughts aren’t necessarily true. Be aware of this.
- I AM important and worthwhile to be heard. I have gone through a lot in my life and have great insight and can relate on how to support others.
- How is this related to my past? Dad used to frighten me and was an abusive man. Is it possible that meeting guys in this environment is a possible trigger? (The answer was a resounding, yes!)
- Stop judging these guys! I don’t know them and remember that I too was once an angry and abusive man.
- Slow down these thoughts. I hear and acknowledge my feelings, and I understand where these fears are coming from. Remember what Elise said, “It only takes 20 seconds to be brave!”
- Breathe. Remain present and mindful of my bodily discomfort. Be mindful of what I’m doing presently.
- Acknowledge myself for being aware of my anxiety and I shouldn’t be too hard on myself.
I eventually made it to the session and was early. I was greeted by Guillermo and one other gentleman sitting at the round table. By the time the evening started there was a total of six of us, including Guillermo and myself. I introduced myself and began speaking about my experience with anger, abuse and change. I also explained how I’ve written a book and that it’ll be published in the upcoming months.
I can’t tell you enough how great these men were in the group. They listened attentively, courageously shared their stories on anger and abuse, and were so driven to talk about their feelings on wanting to change their behaviors and beliefs.
Like me, these were just everyday guys. They were friendly, funny, caring and approachable. They were fathers, family men and husbands. I applaud these guys for being so bold to want to seek professional help. They actively participated in sharing their thoughts and feelings about anger and how they failed at certain points in their lives. I felt compassion for them and empathy for their situations. I felt moved and teary eyed even at times when they shared some of their painful experiences.
Overall, the evening turned out wonderfully for me. Nothing that my anxiety was telling me earlier on came true, so I hope this is yet another positive experience that will short circuit any future anxious thoughts I might have about meeting new people.
The evening was also wonderful because of the four other men and Guillermo for being vulnerable in sharing their feelings and struggles. I want to honor them for being there because it’s immensely brave, admirable and more than what most other men would do. These truly are men in change and I’m honored to be part of that.