The card was kind of dumb if you ask me; it read: “Name the animal you most identified with before getting help for your problem.”
What are we, 12? I thought, but then again, I’d chosen this exercise for our discussion group, I really had no one to blame but myself.
“Come on Miss Rachel, you have to pick another one, that one doesn’t work for people whose problems are more about their cars breaking down than anything else.”
I wasn’t hurt, I understood where he was coming from, but I also knew he was wrong.
I hesitated. “I umm…well…I have had bigger problems than that.”
“Oh yeah, tell us then; if we have to share, you have to share.”
To be honest, I’d never really been intentional in withholding any of my past struggles with substance abuse from my residents. I mean, there are obvious boundary issues that I am very aware of and remained steadfast in even in my sharing, but in that moment, my gut told me that my opening up, even if just a little, was worth the risk.
And what I experienced in those moments confirmed that feeling. As I shared and answered questions I noticed a wave a relief and empowerment lightly graze the group. I didn’t fully grasp it until one gentleman stated, “This may be the first time I’ve been able to say ‘me too’ to someone who wasn’t also in my shoes. I mean, Miss Rachel, you’re kinda giving me hope right now.”
Me too. I’ve always stood by the notion that those two words are arguably the most powerful words in the English Language. Who of us hasn’t felt relief when hearing the stories of someone who has been where we are and has made it out the other side? I can think of several relationships I have that would have quite possibly never been had we not bonded over a shared experience or struggle. There is power in those two little words and yet I so often hoard my stories, my experiences for fear of giving away too much or ruining my perfect image. (Because up until now you all thought I was perfect, right? RIGHT?!)
The group ended but not before I made it clear that my story is my own and theirs are theirs. No two individuals are the same and even in my own struggles I cannot claim to understand each person’s pain. In fact, I shared with them how lucky I was (am) to have parents that relentlessly loved me and wouldn’t have given up on me if I begged them too and the monetary ability to ensure that they wouldn’t have to. I hesitated to share this, knowing that very few of them could say the same, but it’s true – I was lucky. Not better, not worse, just lucky.
I left the group a bit emotionally hungover, sharing your
weaknesses shit is hard, you guys. But I also left lighter, encouraged and gob smacked that my story from years ago could directly impact the lives of the folks I care so much about today. So often I think my sharing is all about my healing, which is probably why I’d never talked about this stuff with them before, but in that group I was reminded that the power of vulnerability and storytelling goes both ways. And that day it was my honor to hear those two words muttered back to me by a group of men whose lives have looked very, very different than mine and yet, “me too,” they replied.