The healing power of being together

We are all isolated at times, especially when it is hard to talk about our inner worlds. Sometimes we may feel like no one understands and no one experiences the same thing. It can feel like the chronic condition creates an enormous social barrier. But actually, there are a lot of us out there, dealing with the same kinds of difficulties related to trying to function “normally” in a society that often stigmatizes people like us. When we are together, we share a great power in taking back the power to define our experiences and define what is “normal.” There is a great power in being together.

I found a wonderful article, “Men’s Group Gets Men Talking,” that illustrates the healing power of social support. We all need it, regardless of what we are going through or how old we are. Aging men are more likely than aging women to be socially isolated. And they are not likely to talk to just anyone about their problems.

The article focuses on the experiences of aging men in a men’s group at the Riverdale Senior Center in New York. These men meet weekly and talk about sex, money, relationships, and security, among other topics, though when the topics are too sober, one of the men is likely to make a joke and lighten the atmosphere. The men in the group have developed friendships with one another that extend beyond the group. And these friendships have likely enriched their lives in countless ways.

There is a real healing that takes place when people feel a strong sense of social support and actively support one another. When I lived in San Francisco, I worked for a non-profit organization, San Francisco Adult Day Services Network. It was a member organization for the adult day programs and adult day health care centers in San Francisco and Marin County. Whenever I would visit those programs, I would see happy aging adults. They enjoyed being there and they seemed to be thriving. One day I visited an adult day health care center that was putting on its own version of “Dancing with the Stars.” They called it “Dancing with the Staff.” The aging adults were dancing with the staff in costumes while other aging adults played the “judges” and made light-hearted appraisals of the performances. Some of these aging adults were recovering from surgeries or strokes. Some of them were in their 90s! It was heart-warming to see these aging adults dancing, laughing and connecting in meaningful ways.

When we share in the experience of being together in meaningful ways, something shifts in us. When we feel safe and free to be ourselves, we open up to one another. We smile, we find a certain “lightness of being.” This is the kind of togetherness that is most healing. We can sometimes find this togetherness in our own homes and in the warm arms of our closest friends.

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