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Personal battles

I wore a mask the first day I came to class. I knew that everyone else was wearing his or her own too. We all felt nervous; we wore the masks to hide our vulnerabilities and personal battles. In our first group session, introductions were made hesitatingly and discussions began cautiously. The masks were still on, but the promise of confidentiality among us made us ready to participate. We began by asking how everyone was feeling; this would be the start of a long journey of opening up and learning about ourselves and each other.

There were assigned questions and topics for every group discussion, but we would often break away from the assignment and create our own. We shared about ourselves and listened to each other’s stories. We got to know each other pretty well, and soon, I found us opening ourselves to one another. We talked about personal issues and feelings and shared the problems we have encountered and the challenges we still face. We grew together as a group and as individuals. I have come to feel that we now care for one another. With the formation of intimacies and trust in each other, the masks we wore were slowly stripped away.

As I settled in this comfortable relationship with my groupmates, I started to enjoy the class more. I became more confident, participated more, and felt better about myself. I had more interest and understanding for class topics that I was eager to share with my own group. Unfortunately, I felt that though we have become friends, there was still something missing from our group. I sometimes felt restless whenever we discussed topics apart from the ones assigned in the class. I became impatient to get back on the topic, but at the same time I did not want appear bossy.

I ended up not saying anything about the session being off-topic and just simply withdrew from the discussion. There were also times when the discussions seemed to have no direction that I felt compelled to direct the process despite not being the group facilitator. Feelings of being uneasy and unsafe in the group came back again. This dilemma turned out to have some positive aspects to it. I realized that the confusion from stopping myself from getting the group back on topic was in large parts due to the respect and understanding I have developed for my groupmates.

The first time Lana became group facilitator, I noticed some sense of resistance and delay on her part. We were not effectively making use of the time given, but we understood that she had a lot on her plate. I knew she needed and deserved our understanding and tolerance. In that moment, I realized that our group discussions did not need to hit the topics directly. The free-floating talks about our feelings have been our own kind of process for answering the lesson’s questions. We were not only discussing topics such as ethics, confidentiality, and getting people to open up; we were living and experiencing it ourselves.

The sharings we have done as friends were better than a strict by-the-book group discussion. With my group, I have understood my own feelings of anger fueled by my frustration and disappointment. I used to be restless in dealing with my anger. I was afraid of what I might do because I was angry that I tried not to feel it. Anger, which we have described as a mask for other feelings such as loss and abandonment, has also been covered up. Through our group’s small talks, I have become aware that I should not bottle up my anger. Instead, I need to try and express it in a positive way.

With my groupmates’ help I realized that I must release and accept them, face them in a way that is new and different, just like our unconventional group discussions. Today, I come to class excited rather than nervous. I greet my groupmates with a smile, no longer hesitant nor shy. Over the months, we have come to know and trust each other. We still have our vulnerabilities and personal battles to fight, but we do not hide them from each other. Instead, we help each other face doubts and insecurities. The masks have come off.

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