December 31, 2017, was my very final day as president of DBSA Albuquerque. I’ve drawn a line in the concrete. I’d been president three years longer than I wanted.
What an E Ticket ride it’s been. If you are unfamiliar with the “E Ticket” metaphor, google some Disneyland history. It is not printing your Green Day tix at home or showing the Live Nation app at the gate of the venue. Silly millenials.
I figure sharing some of the stuff I did and was part of as president of our chapter over the last six years would be fun and sometimes not fun because, heck, six years is a big chunk of my Recovery Journey and being with a group of peers that long … there are plenty of stories.
A good jumpimg off point is my first “executive order”, which oddly and seemingly hypocritically was to abolish a “sub-group” called the . . .
Go ahead and suspiciously question my leadership acumen. Do it.
Now I’ll give some backstory that fulfills the logic behind my decision.
My first DBSA support group was in October of 2010. I gave myself the choice that night of killing myself (I won’t soften it by saying “commit suicide”) or go to a peer support group.
I cried the whole first group. I couldn’t even get out my name. I was crying, not sadness tears or depression tears. They were tears where I finally felt I belonged. I was with people who lived as I did. Peers. They were tears of relief, joy, and belonging.
Being at a peer support group gave me insight and a chance to see how others coped and managed their symptoms. And after a few months of this, I started feeling better. Not everyone did, though, and quite often those who felt the worst and could use peer support the most just faded away, never to return. I understood the sentiment. The first five weeks I forced myself to go back.
Coming on Christmas, I was feeling so much better. I had my Mom, Dad and Scott, and I began falling in love with a lovely lass, Carlee. Truth told, I felt so good I was thinking about not returning to DBSA after the holidays.
It was a conversation with Carlee, hiking out around Placitas, that got me thinking about the peers who participated at DBSA.
It’s a solid solution series, with one end member being peers who can barely drag themselves to the shower much less a support group; this was me the first five weeks, and I consider this end member being “Peers Who Need Peer Support The Most.” We don’t see many of these peers, for how can we know . . . other than by comparative motion of my own experience.
The other end member is comprised of those peers who are enjoying an excellent sense of wellness in their recovery journey, and often they leave group. These are “Peers Who Feel So Good A Support Group Doesn’t Feel Necessary.” This is someone like me a couple months later for the holidays. And I considered not going back, like many other peers who start “feeling better.”
The peers at group fell neatly betwixt.
Here’s the rub, something Carlee said so easily and simply.
So true! And I made an announcement after the holidays emploring those “feeling better” to stick around, sort of as role models or proof that significant recovery is possible.
Grumbling, a few “feeling better” peers said they’d stick around, and next week they returned announcing they were meeting outside for their new “Feeling Better Group.” Why this new, separate group? One peer said . . .
That first night with the newly formed “Feeling Better Group” was tense and uncomfortable for all. Conversation was clipped, and the open, welcome feeling of our peer support was noticably lacking. As newly elected president, I broke the tension and asked, “What’s up, guys?”
Here are a few of the responses that came freely and unhindered:
- What are they doing here? Can’t they go to Starbucks?
- Do they think they’re better than us?
- Sure, rub it in our faces they’re happy and we’re struggling.
- I don’t feel it’s fair they get to meet outside.
- Was this your idea, Steve?
Yes, it was my idea in a sense . . . and definitely my responsibility to address with our chapter board.
If the idea was for folks “feeling better” to show the group significant recovery is possible, creating an entirely separate sub-group had an opposite effect. Whoops!
I took the issue to the board, presented my mea culpa, and asked for a vote on keeping a separate “Feeling Better Group” meetimg elsewhere . . . like Starbucks. It’s fair to feel staying at DBSA when feeling good can affect your symptoms negatively, and it is equally fair to feel having a separate “Feeling Better” group outside can also affect your symptoms negatively.
I learned one of those important life lessons. I wanted peers who felt better to stick around as an example of what peer support can do for peers. Yet, asking peers to do something they don’t want can have an adverse effect on a group of peers. Seems like a simple concept called “human nature” that was lost on me.
Peers know what they need best for themselves. So, I stuck around even though I was feeling better. And a few months later my Mom passed away. And, I wasn’t feeling better.
In time, many from the “Feeling Better Group” returned because their symptoms took a turn and a peer support group made sense again.
Peers know what’s best for their own wellness and recovery. The “Feeling Better Group” was abolished. Lesson learned.