In the last two weeks I have heard of four new groups that have been started up by former alumni. Three in the US, and one internationally. None of those men told me they were going to start a group, they just did it. They already have what it takes, so they just went for it. I love that.
A few days ago I received an email from a fine gentleman from South Africa that was in my small group last year and has since started a group. He had a question about all the hugging that we do here on Monday nights and said that it hasn’t been such a huge hit down there and that some of his men have been….let’s say, “a little resistant” to having a hug. He asked if I could help? I sent him short reply but also forwarded it to Casey an excellent small group leader here whom I knew had a cool story. His response was so good I asked permission to post it. He said yes, so here it is.
I can share my story, hopefully it will help. Maybe it is as Mark said, a masculinity issue. Maybe it’s a homophobic issue. For me it was a vulnerability issue.
I grew up receiving hugs fairly often from my dad, although not so many from my mom. But over the years I have spent so much energy erecting walls to protect me from everyone else, that the thought of physical touch was incredibly uncomfortable. It was like someone dumping a cup full of fire ants down the back of my shirt. It made my skin crawl. I just didn’t want to be touched. Even from my wife. She would try to be affectionate and I would stand there like a log, hardly bearing it. I had the biggest negative attitude you can imagine. “I am here. This is my space. You stay over there. You don’t get to come in here.” What I didn’t realize is how hardwired we are for physical touch and hugs. How badly we really need it. And how my aversion to it was rooted in self-hatred.
A friend of mine adopted a little boy who had been put into a crib for the first three years of his life. The little boy had never been shown the love and physical affection that kids need. He was wild, without discipline, could not speak at all. Most of his healing came from the hugs my friend gave him. But where did we learn that hugs are just for kids? When did it stop being okay for friends to hug one another? What is it supposedly saying about us when we hug another? Are we afraid of how it will appear to others? If that’s the case, why are we living in the fear of other people’s opinions of us? And if sex addiction is really just a pain problem and a relational disorder, then why can’t a big part of our healing come from the physical love of our friends?
Vulnerability is rooted in trust issues. I hated the first three or four months of group. It was so painful to admit all of my shortcomings and secrets. It was so humiliating. So vulnerable. I literally sweated through every session. I cried a ton from my embarrassment. But over time I began to realize that I was not being rejected by my group. There wasn’t any judgment. I could tell them the most heinous thing I had done, and they would just tell me “thank you for sharing.” So over time, my trust level went up with them and it was easier to receive love from them. Much of my dislike and discomfort in hugs came from not feeling like I was worth a damn. The tapes that played in my mind over and over were phrases like, “You’re an idiot. What a loser. Dumb-ass. You’ll never amount to anything.” So as I shared with my group, and felt the discomfort of hugs but received them anyway, my trust grew. I forgave myself for my stupidity. Shame fell off. Life began to not seem so dark. And now I realize that when I embrace my men and they embrace me, I am being healed. And they are being healed.
Now for some of your guys maybe vulnerability is not the issue. Maybe it is rooted in homophobia. And I’ll admit that when I started group I had a level of that going on in me. But as I heard men’s stories who struggle with same sex attraction, I realized that their story was the same as mine. They had pain and they were simply trying to find relief through something artificial. When I began to embrace these guys, I wasn’t embracing their gay lifestyle. I wasn’t being an object of their desire. I was (and am) giving these guys what they REALLY want / what they REALLY need: healthy affection. We spend all of this time going after things in life that artificially fill and therefore bring no satisfaction. It’s like eating meal after meal of chocolate cake and apple pie instead of meat and potatoes and fresh veggies. We have to find what feeds and heals our soul and go after those things. Those are the things that we REALLY want and need. Hugs are one of these things. So as I give and receive from them, I am playing a huge part in their healing process.
David was the man after God’s own heart. David and Jonathan embraced, cried, you name it. They had a masculine vulnerability. There was nothing gay about David.
I have seen this healing process happen in a stair step pattern. We get healed from something and we take a step up. And then we may sit there for a while waiting to find out what the Holy Spirit wants to take us through next. There are ceilings that we can hit where we feel stuck, like we’re not getting anywhere. In order for a man to experience the greatest levels of freedom in the shortest amounts of time, the more vulnerable, the better. To put it plainly: We are created to give love and receive love and a huge part of that is physical touch and hugs. When we don’t get it, it contributes to our pain and wounds. When we do get it, there is a healing of these wounds. Hugs are a physical vulnerability and can be uncomfortable as hell. But without them, a man’s healing and freedom can only go so far.
Hope that helps.