published Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Upton: Finding acceptance, power, healing in groups

Imagine being left on an island all alone. Think Tom Hanks in the movie "Castaway." Think of how desperate he became -- talking to balls with smiley faces on them -- just to feel a connection to something. We humans were made for relationships, and without them we become desperate.

On the other hand, there is great power in healthy groups. Some groups of people may hurt us, but others heal us. Groups stimulate change, stem the pain of loneliness, increase joy and help us all produce more than we ever could have alone. Writers and artists gather and share ideas. Inventors often don't work alone.

I can honestly say that the many groups I have belonged to have helped shape and make me who I am and have created a stabilizing force in my life that makes me want to weep with gratefulness at times.

Let's start with the earliest group, my family. There was my father, tall and gregarious, a lover of stirring the pot. He was a strong-willed little boy who gave his mother such grief, the other women in the community came to console her. When he became my father, he continued his streak of shock and awe. I remember him cooking dandelion flowers in skillets to show us kids they could be eaten. He tricked us into eating groundhog and chitterlings.

My mother was shy but strong and bold -- all at the same time. Gentle yet full of surprises. My sister was the companion I talked with at night, my brother the one with whom I played "War." Life was tumbly and active, and I still like it that way.

Then there was camp. I attended one on a gorgeous lake in the middle of tall, green trees. When I was old enough, I became a "Leader in Training" and hung out with other teens from various parts of the country who had come to spend their summers the same way. I still feel a special connection to them. I can't say all the things we did, but I distinctly remember taking horses on night walks through the woods and discovering that they liked to swim in the moonlight. Wow. That group was a motley crew of mischief.

At my 10-year high school reunion a few years ago, my classmates stunned me by voting me "Most Changed." I treasured that award. It felt good to have the group of individuals with whom I'd graduated high school notice and applaud my metamorphosis into womanhood. They would know. They knew me in my awkward coming-of-age time of pre-braces and my own brand of nerdiness.

And I am so thankful for the groups I belong to now. Time won't allow me to name each one, but I deeply appreciate the group I meet with most weeks to eat, laugh and discuss spiritual things. They have been like a life force, breathing hope, acceptance, enjoyment and love into me. The support is genuine as we all keep up with our unique struggles and triumphs.

Several of the women are entrepreneurs and businesswomen, inspiring me greatly. Most of them love to travel, as I do. There are ways in which we are distinctly different, but that forces us out of our comfort zones and into each other's.w

There are those who would love to join such a group, but don't want to let their guards down to trust. Just know that relational pain, false starts and betrayal are not uncommon when dealing with man and womankind but, for the most part, being part of a group is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself.

Tabi Upton is a counselor, speaker and freelance writer. Contact her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net.

about Tabi Upton...

Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.

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