By Troy Headrick
Those of us who write autobiographical pieces have one thing in common. We are willing to open ourselves up, to expose our inner workings to the public because we understand that doing so is cathartic. We know, deep in our bones, that this kind of sharing helps, often in the same way one is helped by confessing a long-held and weighty secret. When pressed to explain why this catharsis takes place—to describe the exact causal relationship between the telling and the feeling better afterwards—we may find ourselves at a loss. Writing produces a kind of release that we experience but can’t easily analyze or explain to others.
Psychoanalysts understand this too. They help their patients by having them open up and tell stories about their upbringing and subsequent lives, about their relationships and hopes and fears. Often, once this telling begins, the words pour out like a torrent. It seems that those things which remain unspoken hold a kind of power over us. The telling of the once-unspoken breaks the spell.
I’m saying all this as a way of introducing COME AS YOU ARE (CAYA), a self-help group I’ve started with students who come to the writing center I manage at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas.
CAYA gathers once a week, and we spend our meetings just talking openly about things we’re bothered by and preoccupied with. Sometimes, during these sharing sessions, an individual will confess something he or she has never shared with anyone—not even with family or friends—ever before. We often make surprising discoveries about who we are while self-exploring and self-reflecting in such a public setting. I’m happy to report that we in CAYA feel like we’re members of community, like we’re interconnected citizens of a village we’ve built with our own hands. And we demonstrate our connectedness by being fully present at meetings and by listening to one another with open ears and minds. I’ve notice that I feel freer and happier after our meetings, like a heavy load has been lifted from my shoulders, and other participants have told me that they’ve had similar experiences. I know that everyone who attends is deeply committed to the group and its members.
The CAYA rules are very straightforward: We don’t judge others no matter what they say or how emotional they become while speaking. We promise to be fully present and to listen with open ears and a caring heart. We promise to be authentic and honest. We promise to try to help those who ask for help and to be silent when silence is called for.
Our group is based on the “Council” program that is presented in this fascinating TED Talk. (I highly advise you to take the time and watch the video.) If you’d like to learn more about how to start such a self-help group, leave a comment and we’ll find a way to connect and correspond.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy: Blog & Art.