So your boyfriend left you, your career is in a cul-de-sac, you’ve put on 10 kgs and you just lost all your numbers on your phone. Life is less than perfect. You feel lonely, you think therapy might help but you just can’t afford it. Have you ever noticed that the thing that is most likely to make you feel better in these moments is a really thorough rant session with your girlfriends? It is a form of therapy all by itself. But is also has a dark side: things said in confidence may get around town. There are jealousies about who earns more, who looks better, who has the best relationships and who is generally the most fabulous. What if we could combine the ideas of the code of conduct and confidentiality of professional therapy with the laughter, the informality and the strong sense of sisterhood that you have with girlfriends? Welcome to the Goddess Group.
Renowned Sexologist Dr Elna McIntosh invited me to a Goddess Group workshop that she was running for a period of 6 weeks. I initially saw my role as that of a facilitator or catalyst to help the “patients” relax and open up. But before the first meeting though, I realised that I was getting more out of the experience than I could ever have imagined. All of us were therapists and all of us were patients.
Remember the movie “Fried Green Tomatoes?” Remember the scene in the movie where Kathy Bates is going to a self-actualisation group and all the women are in various bizarre postures trying to look at their genitals with hand mirrors? Just in case you’re wondering, (because I know you are), that is not what the Goddess Group is about.
The difference between one on one therapy and this group dynamic is that the levels of trust are different. In the group, everyone speaks. Everyone has trials and traumas and beliefs that they are somehow not “enough.” It is a space to be normal. It is not a place where you go to express your abnormality in front of a cold, silent therapist who refuses to give any solid advice, (lest they be held responsible for any potentially disastrous outcome) which only ends up making you feel as though you are the perverse dregs of humanity. No. This is different. This is a place where you express your deepest and darkest fears and insecurities, and there is usually someone else in the room who will go “Me tooo!!!” There is a code of conduct that actually never has to be enforced. The environment of the meeting is called Las Vegas. What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Nobody will ever know who said what. It is a sacred space.
A burden shared is a burden halved. That’s what they say. The thing is that when the burden is shared with people who said “me too!” you feel that the burden is chopped into squillions of tiny pieces that you can toss to the wind like confetti. When the burden is shared with one person who says, “how does that make you feel?” sometimes your only answer feels as though it should be “like slitting my wrists.”
The Goddess Group is an amazing space. It is not a book club. Here you cannot hide behind the cabinet and the Camembert. Talk if you would like to, don’t if you were not ready. We talk softly about hard things and freely about issues that have had us in knots for eternity. Each meeting is a time to call a truce with our inner demons. It is open, trusting and warm. For the first time, all of us have found a place where we are free to be all that we are. Loud, entertaining, opinionated, funny, sad, pretty, fat, intelligent, skinny, tearful, encouraging, warm, dismissive, overwhelming, kind, sexy, badly behaved, trustworthy, loyal, fun and gorgeous. It is a huge exchange, my soul for you help, and your soul for my encouragement. The best part is that it works.
Over a couple of sessions something started happening. The quietest girl started to talk, the sexiest one spoke of her physical inadequacy, and the oldest woman became rapidly more youthful and radiant. The combination of having fun with a group of girls, along with the security of the input from down-to-earth health professionals (a Sexologist, a psychologist and a GP), is a wonderful tonic.
There are roughly 12 – 15 women in the group. Every conceivable female issue is represented by one or more members of the group: abortion, divorce, obesity, bulimia, adultery, sexual health, single parenthood, physical abuse, diabetes, menopause, cancer, virginity, troubled children, career quandaries, fertility treatment, depression, romance trouble, low self-esteem, drug abuse, financial ruin, commitment phobia, floundering sex life, a struggle to find great lingerie and interior decorating issues. You name it, we got it. By the same token, every member of the group is attractive, humorous, intelligent, successful, healthy, sensitive, supportive, generous, and above all, normal.
It’s not all serious and it’s not all about psychological issues either. Each session starts with a specific focus on an area of sexual health. The list of subjects is interminable: anatomy, sexuality, body image, erotic massage, exercise programmes for the pelvic floor muscles, breast health etc. Even if you think you are well informed about this stuff, believe me there is a lot you don’t know.
Perhaps part of the success of a group such as this is that none of the participants knew each other previously. In fact, we know very little superficial detail about each other. Where you live, what you do for a living, how rich or poor you are; none of these things matter. There is no competition, no bitchiness, and no gossip. We have no past together and possible no future either. But in the here and now, the bond of trust we share is sacred.
Everybody wants to be normal. We all want to be extraordinary and ahead of the crowd in some sphere of life, but mostly we just want to feel that we are okay; that we fit in. That is what this group is; a place where you realise that whatever your burden, you are not alone and you are normal.
Written by Boo Prince.