In Support of Support Groups

January 20, 2016

Over the weekend, I did tea leaf and tarot readings for a group of women who get together once a month to enjoy each other’s company and try something that their guest has to offer.

Before I left, I told the group members that I thought it was a good thing that they were doing to gather in this way. It reminded me of the support group in which I was a member in the 1980s when I still lived in Winnipeg.

Like the women, I gave readings on Saturday, on Vancouver Island, we in the 1980s support group shared our joys and sorrows, found out from each other what was going on in the community and occasionally went with other members to other events in the city.

When we give and receive in this way, our lives are more balanced in mind, body, spirit, emotionally and socially.

After all these years, I am still in support of support groups. Here is an article I wrote about why they are good for us:

HERizons

May, 1984

In Support of Support Groups

by Tanya Lester

Around this time, last year, I was in a really bad frame of mind. I had recently come back from working on a small newspaper in southern Saskatchewan where I had felt quite isolated as a feminist and was feeling in need of a lot of support.

I immersed myself back into the women’s movement but I felt like a robot. I was going through the motions of fighting for women’s equality but I had lost the feeling for what I was doing.

Only one an intellectual level did I know why I was working for better conditions for women. Attending meetings to plan protests against sexism was no longer enough for me. I was ‘burning out’, as they say, but I felt more like my head was going under for the third time.

I considered going back into group therapy. It didn’t take me long to decided against it. My experience in group therapy had helped me in some ways. But it had been a mixed group of women and men. Certain topics, such as sexuality, had been more or less taboo. Also, the group had lasted for six weeks after which time I had to decide if I was still ‘sick’ enough to join the next six-week group or if I was ‘cured’ and did not need therapy any longer. Meeting in a hospital didn’t help matters.

While I was thinking about how I could get some emotional support, I was inspired by two women. One was a feminist therapist who helped lead a workshop at the “Ending the Silence” conference in Edmonton last spring.

This woman said she regretted that younger feminists had missed out on the consciousness raising groups where were part of the women’s movement when it was being revived in the 1960s.

Consciousness raising groups? When I became an active feminist, I had already been conscious of why I was becoming involved. It was simple — women are not considered to be equal to men in our society. This was what I wanted, and still want to change. But, at that time, I was not conscious of the fact that learning about women and our oppressions is an ongoing process.

The other woman who got me enthusiastic about joining a support group was a friend, Joan Winslow.

“I think it’s viable to say that feminists need ongoing love and support,” Joan told me recently, when we got together to talk some more about support groups.

Her philosophy is that consciousness raising is not something to go through and get over with in order to get into political activities for the women’s movement. Consciousness raising is not a process that women grow out of.

The Cronys is the support group of “family” to which Joan belongs. It evolved, like many support groups have since, out of the women’s community, not out of a psychologist’s or psychiatrist’s office. The catalyst which brought the group together was a brunch at Crony member Lynne Gibsons’ place. It was a bringing together of women actisits so they could get to know each other better.

The group’s name was something that just seemed to come about naturally as the women continued to meet. “Crones has to do with witches and hags,” Joan said. “They’re angry, yet they have fun and they love women. They are women who are reaching their spiritual peaks.”

They are also women who are sharing their feelings. Joan thinks some of their best gatherings evolve around the ‘circle’ when each woman has her turn at saying “I feel…”. In Cronys, the women are not analytical. According to Joan, they are not condemned for voicing thoughts that might not be considered ‘politically correct’ by others or in places like business meetings within the women’s movement.

For Joan, the Cronys is where women can work out ideas. This is one reason why the Cronys and many other support groups are closed to new members after the first couple of meetings. This gives the women a chance to get to know and trust each other.  Except for generalities, what is said at the meetings is kept condidential. Joan also believes a commitment, similar to that made between two people in a relationship, is needed. And most do see the group as one of the priorities in their lives.

The Cronys’ structure is stuctureless. In a support group, there is no need for a president, vice-president, and a meeting agenda. (In fact, some of us, who are support group members, are starting to wonder whether hierarchical structures are necessary anywhere). As a result, “manipulation and the use of power is very apparent to everyone” when it happens within the group. Sometimes, there is still a hierarchy although it may be “invisible”.

But even when some Crounys are not feeling too good about the group, it would be rare for any one of them to consider quitting. “I sensed the first time I met the Cronys that there was a special feeling that I hadn’t experienced in a group of women,” Joan said. “I guess the major lesson that I’ve learned so far (although the group is still always growing) is that I can care and it’s safe to care. I’ve been able to transfer that to other activities and other relationships that I have.”

Joan is aware that these are her (and in some cases my) impressions of the Cronys. Other Crones might feel differently about their group. And each support group is the special creation of its members. Comparisons really should not be made.

Other support groups are the same, and at the same time different from the Cronys. The support group I belong to is a mixture of feminists, who were on the verge of ‘burn out’ or otherwise, women who are getting interested in the women’s movement, and women who might never want to become active.

We call ourselves: Aspasia. She was a Greek woman represented in artist Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party”. Aspasia “stood as a lonely woman in an environment which systematically isolated women”. We feel that our support group is helping to overcome our own isolation as individuals. We even have Aspasia sweatshirts to symbolize our coming together…. to be continued in the next post….

For more about Tanya go to teareading.wordpress.com , Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google or contact her directly at tealeaf.56@gmail.com or 250-538-0086

 

 

 

 

 

 

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