Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sacred Circles

We settle into a circle, in comfortable chairs.  There are six of us today; one member hasn't shown up for a couple of weeks and we're worried about her.

This week, like last week, and the week before that, there is a new member.  So we all go around and share our cancer stories, one by one, and then the new woman goes last.  She is newly diagnosed, crying, telling her truths, and we nod our heads in understanding and empathy.

I'm at my weekly cancer support group.  I struggled with whether or not I wanted to go. I didn't know if I wanted to meet women who are further down the line, who may not survive their disease, or who have had remissions after years of clear test results.  My anxiety is better - helped by yoga and meditation and reading lots and lots of books written by cancer survivors - but nothing compares to the gritty one-on-one with other women who understand exactly how you feel.

I decided to go because of recovery from alcoholism. I realized that one of the best benefits of recovery meetings is it gets it me out of my own head, even if only for a couple of hours. And just like in recovery meetings, some of the stories are scary.  Someone is waiting for a test result that will be the difference between living her life as it is now, and more grueling treatments for her. She has been waiting a whole week for the results, and I find myself waiting with her, saying prayers, sending all the positive energy I can her way.  We exchanged emails, made that first tentative step toward connection. It feels good, right.

When it's my turn to share I am surprised by the emotion in my voice, by the fear that bubbles up from deep inside. I hear myself saying things I didn't even realize I was feeling; just plunking my emotions on the floor in the middle of the circle - ker-plop - and I see their heads nodding in understanding and sympathy.  They get it.  The really, really get it.

It's exactly like recovery meetings. Exactly. Nothing compares to being in that safe circle of people who walk the path with you, or have walked it before you and can offer help, resources or a shoulder to cry on.  They were total strangers until we started talking.  Now we are a sisterhood.   Nothing compares to the feeling of wrapping my arms around the new girl, the one who is just now coming to terms with her diagnosis, who is waiting to start treatment.

The waiting is agony.  We all reassure her that despite the trials of treatment, it feels better to be in motion, to be doing something about the disease.

I leave feeling lighter, unburdened.  My thoughts during the week stray more often to the other members of my group than they do to myself.  I still have worries. I'm still struggling with anxiety, but I'm getting outside help, doing yoga daily, meditating as often as I can. I have to get babysitters to go to yoga, and to go to the cancer support group, and in the past I used this as an excuse not to go.

No more excuses.  It's self-love I'm trying to cultivate, and it's hard.  Yanking the kids off the beach because I have to go to therapy still feels selfish.  But I'm doing it anyway, because I have to.  I won't make it without the support.  I had to shake Finn off my leg as I left for group the other night (NO! Momma. Not another meeting!) but shake him off I did, with a lump in my throat and a determined set to my jaw.

Moms have a hard time putting themselves first. But if I go down, it all goes down, and so I try to see it as the least selfish thing I could do.  But it's still hard.  Between cancer group and alcoholism recovery meetings I'm asking a lot from my kids and my husband, and there are days I shake my proverbial fist at needing so much help.

But it works.  And I tell myself everyday, during meditation, that I'm worth it.  Because my diseases of self-doubt, anxiety and addiction sneak in the back door when I tell myself I'm not worth it.  That's their trump card, and I'm using everything I have to keep that trump card away.

Being vulnerable, asking for so much help, talking about it here - it still makes me itchy.  I run into someone in the grocery store who says "I read your post - how're you doing?" and it makes me feel strange that she knows so much about me and I don't know anything about her.   But that's what being vulnerable is all about - it's not a quid pro quo - 'I'll show you mine if you show me yours' - at least not as it pertains to blogging.

And I feel better when I write about it. People come out of the woodwork to share their own stories, struggles and successes with me because of it, and that's a blessing.


This post is part of Heather of the EO's Just Write series, and exercise in top-of-mind free writing.  To take part in this, come join us and click here to learn how.

Edited to add:  if you haven't read my post below about St. Agnes House and the keynote address Heather and I will be giving there (in Lexington, KY - if you live nearby please come!) on August 10th and 11th, please do.  We're asking for help with donations, however small, and help spreading the word about this worthy cause.  So please take a moment to check out that post if you haven't already done so.  THANK YOU).  


  1. Hi Ellie,

    It's Dawn here, from Recovering Dawn. I haven't been blogging for ages nor have I been reading blogs. I got quite caught up in a new facebook page that I created and although I try to get over to Crying out Now as often as I can to give or get some encouragement, I haven't read my blog roll regularly since last summer.

    I am so sorry to read about your cancer. I am sitting here with tears in my eyes, after having read your story and looked at the beautiful photos of you and your beautiful family. You are such a vision and version of grace, I've felt that since I first "met" you on here. I am a cancer survivor and have survived addiction, and I have experienced much of what you have gone through. But my daughters were grown when I was diagnosed and so my heart breaks for what your heart must go through some days. Aren't we fortunate to have a higher power in our life, who despite pissing us (me) off on a regular basis, knows that all we truly want is to be as well as we can be. I am not religious, but I pray like crazy and will keep you and your family in my prayers. You are a strong and courageous woman, Ellie. And you will recover.


    1. Thanks for your beautiful words, Dawn, and for always being such an amazing source of support over at Crying Out Now. I didn't know you were a cancer survivor, too. It's amazing how being in recovery feeds into learning to recover from cancer, too.

      Thanks for all your prayers and good wishes. They are needed and gratefully received!!



    2. Hi Dawn. Have missed your blog.

  2. "Nothing compares to being in that safe circle of people who walk the path with you"

    I have had dear people in my life suffer from cancer and alcoholism. Not the same people. Reading your post helps me today. I've been more angry at the alcohol and wishing I could borrow some of the compassion I seem to have available for the cancer.

    Your words help. Because we're all walking the only path we can find.

  3. I think you are amazingly brave. And you are wise too- as moms we have to put ourselves first sometimes, more often than we do.

  4. "But if I go down, it all goes down, and so I try to see it as the least selfish thing I could do." You nailed it, Ellie!! SO well!!

    That's the thing about self-care; we're fighting decades of that "putting others first (*) makes you a good person" mentality where somehow we think that the unspoken words are (insert them where I put the star): "to the exclusion of yourself". But that was never the intent of our Creator!

    We can't give away what we don't have; if we're running on empty and people are depending on us, they get an inferior product, an inferior version of our selves, when they expect us to meet their needs and we haven't filled our own tank. And maybe they don't need us to meet their needs - maybe they need for us to let them meet their OWN needs. Maybe they need to understand that other people (like us) have needs too. It might teach them to be more patient, more compassionate. And it might just teach us how to "receive" from folks too. We don't have to be Superwoman, Supermom, Superemployee. We can be who we are, and that is perfectly fine. Thank you for modeling that!

  5. If I go down, it all goes down...you are doing what's right or you and you're not being selfish. This was one of the most powerful posts I've read in ages!

  6. Thank you for all that you share. You have no idea how many hearts you reach. When you said...I run in to someone and she knows all about me but I know nothing about her, I felt this pang of guilt.. Some of us cannot share the way you do. It means so much.

    1. June -

      Don't feel the twinge of guilt!! I make the choice to be so open in my blog, and I actually like when people approach me and say they read it, because I've made so many friends this way.. and they don't have to share back at all. I completely understand. :)


  7. Sounds like this support group is going to be a great thing for you. Connection is absolutely important in discussing things with people who get it. Personally, I tried the support group but found it too intense. Instead I prefer to find my support online through FacingCancer.ca, twitter and blogs of others who are travelling a similar road. But bottom line, it’s about not feeling along and letting the emotions go.

    Thanks for sharing this post. Maybe it’ll encourage others to take the support-group plunge.

  8. I am so glad you went to the meeting. Funny how even when we know a thing will make us feel good we resist. You are incredibly strong. Thank you.

  9. I admit it's living vicariously, but checking in here and reading your posts for me has become as close to a "sacred circle" as I have. Because you "get it" there is an unspoken sense of not traveling this journey alone - I wonder how many others are feeling this same way about your blog... what an unselfish thing you do every time you let yourself be vulnerable in this way. Thank you for sharing your journey in spite of the itchy vulnerabilty!

  10. Wow. You.Are.Amazing. And thank you, for reminding me that I'm worth it. And all the appointments I go to (for depression) are for my family as much as they are for me.