What Groups Continue To Do for Me
I’ve been part of support groups that help men who are attracted to men since 1994. After twenty-two years, you’d think I wouldn’t need them anymore. Most people’s attitude about support groups is that, if you join one at all, you should stay just long enough to get your life back on track, and then leave.
I spent the first thirty-eight years of my life in hiding from everyone, including, in many ways, myself. Finding support groups saved me and helped me see that there was no real reason to hide, especially from myself. (See Knowing Worth and Worth Knowing: What Support Groups Did For Me.)
With the new confidence I gained from coming to understand that I was not alone and that I had great worth in the sight of God, I probably could have stopped going to support groups at some point. Many people think I should. I haven’t and I’d like to explain why.
Not only have I not stopped going, I have also not stopped needing what they offer me. I’ll be specific about that. I am still same-sex attracted. It doesn’t represent a big challenge for me. I tend to not say that I still struggle with it. I think of it more as that I experience it.
It is a hard thing to describe and there are many who have made the claim that they completely eliminated it from their thoughts and feelings. No only do I not claim that, I have come to accept that same-sex attraction is pretty much a fact of my life. I say that I don’t struggle with it, because groups have helped me not feel a need to constantly battle something that in many ways has turned out to be a great blessing.
It is not really the point of this essay to explain that enigmatic statement, so I’ll leave it at that and share why I keep going to support groups and what blessings I get from it.
My attitude about it comes down to the story in the Gospel According to St. Luke of when Jesus was traveling through Samaria and Galilee. He encountered ten lepers. He healed every one of them and told them to go show themselves to the priests where they could be pronounced clean from their leprosy.
Nine of them went, but the tenth, a Samaritan, fell at his feet and worshiped him, giving thanks for the healing he had received. Jesus asked those around him, “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?”
In my many years of being in support groups, mostly as a leader in the organization, I’ve seen a lot of men come and go. Many decided that they didn’t want to struggle any longer and chose to leave the Church and pursue same-sex relationships. Many decided they would continue to strive to stay faithful to the Church but on their own without the support of others like them. Some decided they were doing so well they didn’t need the group anymore. Others wanted to just come back occasionally, if they felt they needed it. A very small core decided to stay and continue to work on learning more about themselves and being there to bless others.
Without commenting on what became of them, I’ll say that those of us who have stayed with it have found it to be a blessing as we navigate through the sometimes confusing paths through life as a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and dealing with same-sex feelings.
People who think it is OK to just come to a support group meeting until you feel better do not really understand the idea of a support group. A support group is differentiated from a therapy group in that a support group is for peers who face the same issues together, whereas a therapy group is usually based on some theory of treatment and once the treatment is done, the need for therapy is over.
A support group has no professional that moves members of the group toward some definition of “done”. Everyone in a support group is equal. It is more accurately thought of as a mutual support group.
Even though I was most often the designated leader of the support groups I began, I could approach my time in group meetings from a position of being the one with all of the experience and all of the answers. It wouldn’t work that way.
I approach my time in group meetings as being there both to receive and give support. It requires me to be willing to be vulnerable. I could hardly be vulnerable if I thought of myself as the example that everyone else had to catch up to. It also can’t be a false vulnerability where I only pretend to need the support of my peers while secretly believing myself to be better.
I have much to work on and I believe I will always have much to work on. The way that I continue to benefit from support groups is that very crucial thing where I admit that I always have needed and always will need to be willing to look at my life and ask myself what I need to do to be better, and not only ask myself, but ask others who can relate to the things I experience.
Before support groups, I tended to think that I could solve things myself and didn’t need any help. In groups I came to know myself and found myself to be worth knowing. In continuing with support groups, I continue the discovery while at the same time turning to thank God for the healing that knowing myself brings.
I want to be like the tenth leper who stayed to give thanks. I give thanks by being there for others and I thank God by serving those who still haven’t discovered their own worth.
I am grateful that when I needed a support group that I found one where those who had fought the fight longer than me were still there, willing to show me how to look honestly at myself and recognize where I needed to improve.