By Troy Headrick
Those of us who write autobiographical pieces have one thing in common. We are willing to open ourselves up, to expose our inner workings to the public because we understand that doing so is cathartic. We know, deep in our bones, that this kind of sharing helps, often in the same way one is helped by confessing a long-held and weighty secret. When pressed to explain why this catharsis takes place—to describe the exact causal relationship between the telling and the feeling better afterwards—we may find ourselves at a loss. Writing produces a kind of release that we experience but can’t easily analyze or explain to others.
Psychoanalysts understand this too. They help their patients by having them open up and tell stories about their upbringing and subsequent lives, about their relationships and hopes and fears. Often, once this telling begins, the words pour out like a torrent. It seems that those things which remain unspoken hold a kind of power over us. The telling of the once-unspoken breaks the spell.
I’m saying all this as a way of introducing COME AS YOU ARE (CAYA), a self-help group I’ve started with students who come to the writing center I manage at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, Texas.
CAYA gathers once a week, and we spend our meetings just talking openly about things we’re bothered by and preoccupied with. Sometimes, during these sharing sessions, an individual will confess something he or she has never shared with anyone—not even with family or friends—ever before. We often make surprising discoveries about who we are while self-exploring and self-reflecting in such a public setting. I’m happy to report that we in CAYA feel like we’re members of a community, like we’re interconnected citizens of a village we’ve built with our own hands. And we demonstrate our connectedness by being fully present at meetings and by listening to one another with open ears and minds. I’ve notice that I feel freer and happier after our meetings, like a heavy load has been lifted from my shoulders, and other participants have told me that they’ve had similar experiences. I know that everyone who attends is deeply committed to the group and its members.
The CAYA rules are very straightforward: We don’t judge others no matter what they say or how emotional they become while speaking. We promise to be fully present and to listen with open ears and a caring heart. We promise to be authentic and honest. We promise to try to help those who ask for help and to be silent when silence is called for.
Our group is based on the “Council” program that is presented in this fascinating TED Talk. (I highly advise you to take the time and watch the video.) If you’d like to learn more about how to start such a self-help group, leave a comment and we’ll find a way to connect and correspond.
Troy Headrick’s personal blog can be found at Thinker Boy: Blog & Art.
26 thoughts on “Come as You Are”
I love this idea
A lot of the students I work with struggle but not because they are incapable of successfully completing their studies. They struggle because they’ve had hard lives, are carrying a ton of baggage, and feel alone and maybe alienated. Our little group helps them (and me) on many fronts. It feels so good to speak what has remained (for too long) unspoken.
Man, I wish something like this existed when I was younger. Although, who knows if I would have taken advantage. I’ve only recently become truly willing to be really honest and open about my feelings. Vulnerability is a scary thing. Kudos to you!
Thanks to all those who are reading my blog and liking it. I highly recommend that you watch the TED Talk I’ve linked to. It’s super interesting and the speaker has a lot to say about how we’re not paying enough attention to other people when they speak. The speaker argues that we’re losing our ability to really pay attention and the negative consequences that will come as a result.
It’s good that your helping your community with its health.
Thanks for the comment and it’s good to hear from you. By the way, when I have my CAYA meetings, I feel that the students help me too! The key is, we help each other. It simply is so healthy to open up and to be honest and authentic. In this difficult world we live in, we have so few opportunities to be truly ourselves without reservation.
Wonderful! We all have stories. It truly is important to share with others, both for the benefit of ourselves and for the listener. Carry on with your admirable work, friend.
Those us who’ve studied literature at an advanced level (or even those who simply like to read great books) understand, in a deep, visceral sort of way, that storytelling has the power to heal. It can heal those who tell their stories and it can heal to be present when others tell theirs. That explains the popularity of memoirs and other autobiographical kinds of writing. Thanks for the comment. I do feel that I’m making a difference in my students’ lives and that they are making a difference in mine.
I wish this was a thing where I am at. Cool idea for the fact I love listening to people be open and I love being open myself. I think it’s incredibly beautiful and a big reason I got into blogging. I also tend to only want to read books that are biography or sound like they could be.
Thank you very much for your comment. Perhaps you should start your own storytelling group? If you’d like suggestions on how to do so, please let me know and we’ll talk. Like you, I am very much drawn to autobiographical writing. There’s something so powerful about being present when someone opens up and shares his or her life and feelings and thoughts. By the way, keep on blogging and post a link to your blog here so I can check it out and others can too.
It does help to write. Thanks for your blog.
Thank you for the encouragement. Do you blog? If so, why not post a link to it here so we can check it out?
Sounds like something the RiverBats need to implement…. You’re great at what you do!
Thank you. You are an educator, right? Tell me about the students you work with? What’s difficult about your work? What do you like about it? Why are educators so underappreciated?
What a fantastic group you’ve made! I hope you can hear my applause from there as I think it’s so important to share, to learn and to listen. May your CAYA continue to expand to other universities and to help others!
Thank you so much for the kinds words and encouragement. Now that I’m a “senior” educator, I find the most compelling part of teaching and working with young folks is hearing their stories and being able to share mine. There is so much more to education than simply reading textbooks and taking exams. Some of the most wonderful learning opportunities come in informal and nontraditional educational settings, settings like our CAYA meetings.
I heartily agree with you. As a former teacher myself and someone who loves connecting with others, I think sharing our experiences and stories helps to unite people as well as help them along life’s journey. Great job Troy! I’m sure you make a difference every single day!
Once a teacher, always a teacher. I find it hard to let go after years of learned behaviour. I still take notes in new activities so that my brain structures the new skill set. This could be the Over Thinker. Going back to my ancient crafts helps me to just let go. Thanks for your words.
Like you, I am a lifelong learner. I don’t know how to be any other way. I can’t be any other person that the person I am. Thank you for your service, and thanks for reading my piece.
Reblogged this on ram H singhal note book.
Thanks for reblogging “Come as You Are.” I see you have a book coming out and have created a YouTube channel or two. I’ll check all those out.
indeed come as you are is inspiring just to be open and be yourself. Not letting people or situation control you
Thanks, Edith Wanjiku! I really appreciate that you took the time to read my piece and comment.