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The Colors of Success: The Story of a Sacramento Meetup

Time to let go of a Meetup Group I’ve led for the last year-and-a-half called Freedom after Trauma. (Meetup is a network of free classes and meetings that one can sign up for online.) The meeting was an opportunity for folks with post-traumatic stress to ReStory their Lives and find more freedom through associative or free writing. I gave a speech in my Toastmasters Club about this journey by likening its various stages to colors: green, blue, and red.

Green is for total inexperience!  Although I’d been teaching writing for over thirty years, have an MFA in Fiction, am a published poet and short story writer, and have written prose and poetry to heal myself since the 70s, I’d never taught a group composed of people with post-traumatic stress. I was truly bright green.

The first few meetings, I lugged a ton of books into the room, thinking everyone would want to read more about PTSD, and spread them out on a table. I opened the heavy briefcase I’d been pulled in on wheels filled with more books, articles, paper, pens, and notes, and slid my artwork from a large satchel. The group sat in rows and I lectured for forty minutes about trauma and my own experience with post-traumatic stress from an infant surgery without anesthesia for pyloric stenosis, a stomach blockage. We then wrote for about thirty minutes. Some shared their pieces and we went home. Not many people stayed to connect.  After five months of meeting monthly, the group was not gelling, except for one or two regulars. Time to regroup.

Blue is for the time when the Meetup was flowing like a river. I moved the group to a room with a round table at the back of a local cafe and scheduled the Meetup for every two weeks on the same night. I left my books, except for two or three, and artwork behind, and began each group with a round robin about why we’d come, where we could share as little or as much as we liked. Then we plunged into writing, often addressing three prompts or exercises and then reading many of these aloud. We were beginning to know and support one another. More of the same people were returning and a regular core group emerged. I had a good feeling now knowing that we were growing together. We were flowing with the current.

Red marks the time when the cafe stopped hosting clubs on our meeting night and the community college teaching job I’d applied for came through. I was now working half-time teaching two classes. The Meetup group went back to meeting once a month at a library and again, the group did not gel. I realized that if I wanted time for my own writing, for keeping up with my blog, and for getting my memoir about infant surgery published, I’d have to make a choice. I love the people I met who so willingly shared their pain and growth with me and all of our members. In the end though I’m only one person and can’t do it all well. Red is a stop sign; it’s important to know when to make a transition and find closure.

I am grateful to have witnessed the growth of others and to have experienced my own unfolding. I learned to be vulnerable about my PTS experience while staying focused as a facilitator–not an easy thing to do. Over time, telling my story and writing with the group, I learned to discuss my trauma in a grounded way and to keep the group moving forward at the same time. All in all, in my view, the Meetup was successful.

When I think back to my green period, I smile and laugh at myself. When I think of blue, I feel pride and love for the group. When I think of red, I feel satisfied and finished. Time to move on. Time to experience new colors.