For all of my adult life I have had a notion that I would benefit from group therapy, but somehow, despite searching for a group and requesting the help of my therapists, I did not come across any for many years. When the 12-step movement became wildly popular some years ago, I found my way to 12-step support groups for people suffering from codependency and eating disorders. However, I felt somewhat out of place in these groups, as much as I enjoyed the group experience, since the subject matter and life experiences of the participants did not address the core of my struggle.
One night, an idea occurred to me that perhaps I needed a group that specialized in child abuse. Living in New York City, a center for psychotherapy, I thought that finding a support group for survivors of child abuse would be a breeze. But it wasn't. I searched the papers and the web. I called clinics and hospitals and all sorts of social service organizations. Eventually, I found a group for female survivors of sexual abuse and later on a group for male survivors. However, I sought to discuss a broader range of child abuse issues and simply could not find in Metropolitan New York City, home to nearly 20 million people, a support group for survivors of child abuse in general.
I was exasperated and frustrated. As I started to dwell in feelings of bitterness that the world was once again letting me down, another idea occurred to me: start your own group. How hard could it be, I wondered.
I figured I could use the 12-step format, the only one with which I was familiar. Other than that, I needed some people and a room. I really didn't know where to start for either task so I just took shots in the dark. I asked around. I tried the phone book and the Web, specifically Craig's List, in search of rooms for rent. I phoned Churches, Synagogues, and community centers. I was surprised at first that these public service organizations required rent, sometimes sizeable sums for an hour of room space. In thinking it over, however, I realized that maintaining a room for the public carries an expense. So I set about finding one in the thirty dollar range for an hour or so of time.
I went to Craig's List looking for people too. My advertisement asked for people who would be interested in helping to organize a group. In the end, I didn't find anybody interested in forming the group, but there were a few who said they would come to the first meeting once it was all organized. I could live with that. All of my life, I have had to take care of myself, and I could do it here too. What I needed from other people was for them to show up at the meetings and share.
Several people inquired as to the group format. I told them it would be run like a 12-step group, but I experienced trepidation that I was working with only adumbrations as to the actual workings of the meetings.
At some point in all of this organizing work, somebody (might have been two people actually, my wife and one of my correspondents) referred me to the Morris Center website. I could see instantly that I had stumbled on a storehouse of great material for my goal of starting a support group for survivors of child abuse for such is their specialty. The meeting format document was the best find of all since it scripted the entire meeting and helped allay my fears regarding the running of meetings.
I also took instantly to the 21-step program in its design specifically for survivors of child abuse. As I mentioned earlier, the 12-step programs, as much as I appreciated them, never seemed ideally designed for my issues. For one thing, forgiveness, a staple of the 12-steps, is a much more complicated issue with trauma survivors. Also, while I believe in God, religious belief is a more complicated issue with many survivors of child abuse since religious abuse is a common form of child abuse. The 21 steps do not demand forgiveness or reliance on a higher power (not that they discourage them) and address instead matters more relevant to recovery from child abuse, such as recall of memories, reclaiming of one's life from dominant personalities, and building of personal strength.
With the ASCA material in my possession, I felt more confident in my organizing efforts. While still looking for a room, my wife came to the rescue again by finding something in Tribeca, a neighborhood in downtown Manhattan. It was a fairly well maintained basement room in a synagogue and the price, whatever we could afford at first and $25 per meeting after we established ourselves, seemed reasonable. With the room, the format, and a few interested parties in place, I settled on a meeting time that was agreeable to everyone and announced the first meeting a few weeks hence.
Naturally, I was excited and nervous on the day of the first meeting. But I felt enormous pride that I had taken an idea from germ to event. For much of my life, I had lived in a state of helplessness and hurt, and here I was taking charge of my emotional destiny. As I set up the room for the first meeting, I wondered who would show and what we would talk about. I was anxious to meet people with childhood experiences similar to mine. I sat down and waited. But nobody came! I waited an hour. I went upstairs to see if anybody was lost or locked out, but didn't find anybody. I couldn't believe it. All this work and nobody came. But I didn't despair. I believe that my proactivity boosted my faith in my self and the world.
I advertised some more and went to the second meeting. Again, nobody came. I waited an hour.
It occurred to me that my choice for a meeting place might be hurting my recruitment efforts. The building was not centrally located within Manhattan. Also, a basement room might be off-putting to some people for a variety of reasons. So, I researched some more and found a place at the Children's Aid Society in Greenwich Village. I visited the room and loved it. The neighborhood was much more popular and maintained. I notified my mailing list of the location change and tried again. This time, five people showed up, and I had my first support group meeting. It went surprisingly well, thanks in large part to the ASCA format document, which I followed closely.
Well, ASCA NYC has been holding meetings now since 2003. We have some regulars, some people who came but once, and others who come periodically. If I had a dollar for each time I have been thanked profusely for starting the group the sum would more than cover my share of the rent. But equal to my joy in having given something to the community and to survivors of child abuse is the psychological benefit to me of having a forum for sharing my story and hearing those of others like me. Group support is a powerful device, in some ways a perfect antidote to a lonely childhood. Starting a group took a bit of work and patience (although not excessively so), but it has been undoubtedly worth it.