Unfortunately, many men you know can relate to this experience:
“I tried everything I knew and things still fell apart, I reached my bottom – that’s when, only when I was finally able to ask for help.”
They also tell us:
“I wish I knew about this sooner!” “I could have saved my marriage”
We know real change is possible, we see it every week with the men we work with and they tell us reaching out made a big difference.
Everyone’s experience is different – it may be depression, job loss, a separation or divorce, sometimes it’s an unhealthy relationship, or becoming controlling or violent. Over the years, at the City of Edmonton, we’ve heard from a lot of men who have shared their experiences with us. We’ve been providing space for men to gather and find support for nearly 30 years. The stories and experiences get passed from group member to group member, facilitator to facilitator. This post is a reflection on the learnings that have come about through the experience of working “with” and not “on” men in times of crisis and change.
When you feel angry, sad, depressed, frustrated, upset to the point of possibly harming yourself or others, you are not alone. You do not have to go it alone.
Men are often taught to think that feeling or expressing emotions beyond anger or frustration isn’t what men are supposed to do. From childhood, boys are often expected to be independent, resourceful, strong and emotionless, to stand on their own, to do what needs to be done and be in charge, to be embarrassed or ashamed if you are not, because you are less-than, a failure, a loser.
This may not be every man’s experience, but it’s all around us in subtle and blatant ways – it plays out in our families, friendships, TV, movies, the news. The confines of some of these socially-constructed masculine traits are often the biggest cause and barrier for men to reach for help.
It is hard to ask for help and when ready, many men often don’t know where to begin, or find themselves struggling to explain what’s happening, not having the words. Seeking support long after they have tried everything on their own, relationships have fallen apart and they find themselves not who or where they want to be. Isolated and alone as they deal with such things as separation and divorce, unemployment, parenting. Mental health suffers and there are few positive role models around.
Anger, sadness or depression become the new normal, and destructive beliefs can take hold. These beliefs take many forms – you may feel like you don’t know what went wrong, you did what you thought you were supposed to do, no one will understand, you can’t explain it, you don’t have the words, and you think no one cares anyway. These thoughts can amplify an unhealthy downward spiral.
We have found that although asking for help is difficult, once it happens, men find relief connecting with other men in a safe, supportive, understanding and accountable space. When men are provided with a chance to talk, to be listened to and explore their various pains, they offer each other alternatives to self-medicating behaviors (addictions), depression (and other mental health challenges), acting out (harming themselves or others) or giving up (suicide). They learn tools and skills to improve their relationship with themselves and others. They learn self-compassion and compassion for others. They learn that they no longer have to stay within the confines they have grown up with, they don’t have to pretend anymore, they don’t have to force things anymore, they can make a choice about who they want to be, and how they want to act in their relationships.
Real change is possible and real change can happen before you hit bottom!
Reaching out can change things sooner!
These examples of commitment and perseverance are what has us as facilitators coming back week after week, and year after year. With support, men we know have become more comfortable and fluent with their emotions, they have found purpose again and it’s absolute proof that it’s possible to change your life.
If you want to know more about our programs for men, please contact us at 780-496-4777 and inquire about our Men’s Support Services.