Sunday, October 23, 2005

Disclosure

Being the caring and sharing kinda male that I am, it has never, of course, been my fault when one of my relationships, or my two previous marriages, have soured. Still, my involvement in these relationships has driven me to a myriad of counselors, thousands of hours of worrying and wallowing in a mire of self pity, dozens of break-up songs, even valium. And in each and every case, I have been TOTALLY INNOCENT!

About 1992, I was involved in a particularly heinous relationship, one that included much yelling, late night squabbling, and a million letters of complaint and hatred lying in wait for me on my side of the bed, and one night, during an especially angry outburst........broken glass. I knew I had to do something.

I kid, above, when I say nothing is ever my fault, and to be honest, I have tended, over the years, to blame myself for everything. And during that relationship, I felt as though I had better do something to change my evil ways, improve, make things all better by being a better partner, more generous, nicer, all that. I felt terrible that my partner was so unhappy, I decided I better go, yet again, to counseling.

And in addition to the counseling, I thought, maybe I should look in the local alternative newspaper and see if I might be able to join, for the first time in my life, at 40 something years old........A MEN’S GROUP! I had read with interest an article about men’s groups, how popular they had become in some parts of the country, men becoming “sudden brothers” as the article said, at about my age, to explore issues like relationships, family, work, health, aging, money, even sexual identity. I thought, “I’m fucked up, maybe this might help”.

I picked up the classifieds for our Willamette Week newspaper, and began to look for a listing for a men’s group. Lo and behold, there was one entry, and only one, listed for a men’s group start-up. I scribbled down the number, and called later.

The guy who answered the phone was very nice. We chatted a bit, and he invited me to the first meeting at his house, in the near future, and said that others had also called. And so, at the appointed time, I showed up.

For the next five years, I attended men’s group once a week with a core group of 7 Portland Men, including me, all in our forties. A few others came and went, but 7 of us were extremely consistent. I guess we all must have been fucked up. I kid. The truth is, it was one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences of my life, meeting with those guys every week, to talk, laugh, sometimes cry.

There are many different ways in which men’s groups operate, and some are founded on a more ancient approach, the “wild man within” movement, the beating of drums, meeting in the forest and having huge bonfires and jumping naked into rivers and lakes, etc. I admit that I find that style of group a bit contrived and silly. But many in that movement have sighted the lack of ritual in our society as the basis for their activities, and who am I to suggest it does not hold value for others, just because it does not for me.

But more than anything, in my men’s group, I relished the opportunity to get together with some guys and talk about shit. We would start each session, which lasted about four hours, with a “check-in”, where each guy would speak for about 5 minutes, tell what’s going on in his life, what his thoughts and concerns were at that moment. Usually, by the end of “check-in”, we knew who needed to talk.

Several months into our group sessions, after we had gotten to know each other pretty well, we decided to embark on a several week course of telling our life stories. Each guy would get a chance to tell his story start to finish. I owned a beach house at the time, and we even went there for a weekend, and did several there. For me, it was a watershed moment.

There is something comforting, something liberating, listening to another man, who has experienced much in life, who has been through a lot, speak openly and honestly about his life, and tell his true life story without reservation. First of all, I felt honored to be in a room listening to another man honestly tell the story of his life, to let me in on that. Secondly, hearing someone openly disclose the true stories of his struggles in life had a huge impact on me, and we are talking deep truth, every last bit of joyous or shameful truth that made you feel like a star, or an idiot, or stupid, or worthless, or invisible, or special, or inadequate, or about the time you had cancer, or drove the getaway car, on and on. It made me, as a listener, midst laughter, and tears, feel so compassionate and close to the person, and grateful for his act of honesty and disclosure. Listening to these guys, every one of them, admit the truth, to hear them tell not only the stories of their childhoods, and later, but also the stories of their acts of questionable purpose or value, of foolishness, or danger, made me realize, when it was my turn, I was gonna have to tell the truth, show these guys, for the first time in my life, the real Ric Seaberg. At the end of each life story, we would all sort of fall into a lump of caring and love and encouragement for each other, which made the prospect of honestly telling my life story much less scary.

So I did it, and I told the truth, and it was a huge moment in my life, to share that way, with other guys, and to be listened to and accepted, and loved, for just being me, and for having the guts to tell my true story. It changed my life, made me feel much better about myself, more confident, worthwhile, strong. I owe you boys a lot, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your ears and input during those years. You know who you are.


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3 comments:

Annalee Blysse said...

Sounds very interesting, this group. Probably be good for many of us, to join groups where we get to know others.

Annalee Blysse said...

PS - Nice website. Second reference I saw to FreeGeek stuff from Portland today. ;) Love the handbags.

Anonymous said...

As one of the seven men in the original group, I offer a hearty "me too" and endorse the value that we created together. What I learned about myself was not always nice, presentable or happy, but it was and is helpful.

Moreover, I was so relieved when you announced the end of your "heinous" relationship. Whew, sometimes we just have to move on!

Marty