Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Nature of *support*

I spend a small part of my time attempting (with varying degrees of successs) to support people trying to quit smoking. The quit smoking group I am a part of is currently *adjusting* as people leave, and others arrive.

My journal has, thus far, been about my travels, and that will continue. But sitting at Baltimore airport, then Chicago O'hare waiting for planes I wrote the following, and I thought I would include it here:

For some time now, I have been giving some thought to the nature of *support*. What it is. Who can give it and how, and why is it so much harder to receive, than to give? This last being especially pertinent now, at a time of *giving and receiving*.

Before I continue however, there are a few remarks I wish to make.

The views expressed in this post are mine. I have taken them from nowhere, and they are qualified by no one. I am neither a psychologist, nor a psychotherapist, although I have worked closely with both for many years. I do have much experience in the successful delivery of support to children who very badly needed it, and I also have significant training, and some qualifications in that field.

Like any other post though, I claim no expertise, I simply offer a view, for what it is worth. Please, take what you need, and leave the rest :)

Despite some recent evidence to the contrary, this is a support group, and a damned fine one! There are some who have expressed the view that this support should really be delivered with rather less *Off Topic* content. This is a valid view, but in my opinion, a mistaken one. Mistaken because this view misses essential nature of the way support is provided within AS3.

AS3 could easily be a *bulletin board* or a message board. Those long enough in the tooth to remember 1200 baud modems (and slower) will remember *bulletin boards* with varying degrees of nostalgia. Such vehicles were effective in their primary task of delivering information, but pretty useless as a medium for any discussion.

AS3, on the other hand, operates much more as a community. Few communities are comprised solely of a single dimension …. Indeed they would be pretty sterile environments were that the case. Think *Stepford Wives* in text. It is the process of quitting that brings us together, provides a common goal, a raison d’etre, so to speak; but it is my contention that the real support is delivered as much through the Off Topic content, as it is through the milestone congratulations, and the very pertinent discussions regarding quit methods and other (equally non-controversial lol) subjects.

I would argue quite strongly, that the fun, laughter and the downright enjoyment that can come from the participation in AS3, are in fact the glue that binds the newsgroup, and allows the delivery of effective support to people often feeling quite emotional and vulnerable. The spin off is that people here make very real *real-life* friendships, which come as a bonus none of us expects when we arrive.

Like any community, we have our friendships and rivalries, our fallings out and our love affairs. It is rich, diverse and has thus far, and will continue to, offer massive and sustained support to many thousands of quitters.

So what is support? Is it definable? Could we bottle it?

For me, it boils down to two aspects. The giving of support, and the receiving of the same. I will argue later that there are some cogent reasons why the receiving of support is rather harder. But in the end, those able to receive are best placed to, and in fact do, deliver the most effective help to others.

Giving support can and does take many different forms. If I post my meter, the number of replies can be as meaningful as the actual content of the individual responses. That is not to say the content is unimportant, quite the opposite ….. but the very fact that a milestone is recognised, and responded to, can leave the individual feeling accepted and valued. At it’s most basic level, AS3 offers this to most of it’s participants. No skill is required, neither is any real *empathy* called for, although the individual responses are more meaningful if the replies contain either, or both.

Still in the area of giving support, but rather more individual, are those posts that ask for help either by suggesting the poster is in some form of crisis, or facing a particularly difficult trigger. AS3 is generally, in my view, excellent at responding to these *cries for help*. There are issues regarding the people who I have heard described as *serial quitters*, but generally we respond quickly and in a meaningful way to such pleas. This level of response does require that folk give some regard to the nature of the plea, and therefore the tone of the reply.

At this point I would simply state my personal distaste for the phrase *serial quitter*. For me it has connotations of a lack of sincerity, or willingness to quit which I entirely reject. No one willingly puts themselves thro Hell Week time after time after time, if they can see any alternative whatsoever. Of course your mileage may vary, and that is your right. Personally, I have the highest regard for those unfortunate enough to slip back, repeatedly, but who also have the courage and determination to keep on trying. It may interest you to know that when I *failed* it took me ten years to pluck up sufficient courage to try again …. The *serial quitters* (sic) are braver than me!

A step beyond this are those people with problems that require more considered, or more expert help. I use the word *expert* advisedly, as this group contains the distilled wisdom of a generation of quitters and is, in it’s own way, quite *expert*.

We stray then, into the area of receiving support. I stated earlier that it is rather easier to give, than to receive.

I feel there is a very simple reason for this. Giving support requires that a person is willing to give, has the time to give, and has the capacity to provide something helpful. This actually can be as simple as providing a link to an amusing Flash game, which could be just the distraction needed by others, at that time. Others start threads of discussion to do with *What do you want for Xmas*, or *Seat Up or Down*. Each of these, I would suggest, is as valuable as any other thread in contributing to the building and maintaining of our community. Some may feel I put *community* too highly; arguing that in fact we are just a buncha misfits, or at best, loosely bound individuals. Well those people may be right, I just prefer my view is all :)

In any event, the receiving of support requires something way beyond that required to give. In my experience, in order to receive support one has to be prepared to hand over, to the keeping of others, a part of ourselves which is both delicate and private. We have to be prepared to confront and share our insecurities and vulnerabilities. This is, by any estimation, no mean feat and we can’t all do it. Issues of trust and identity are bound up in our egos, and it is a brave or desperate person who can ask for help. Of course, well rounded individuals with a specific need are also able to ask – I don’t profess to be one of those :)

So two things immediately spring to mind, if my suggestions are accurate. The first is that the time people need the help the most ie, on the point of a slip, is likely to be the time they find it hardest of all to ask; and that those believers in *Tough Love* (which I will come on to in a moment) had better make sure they are very careful how they handle some real vulnerability. The risk is of causing real and lasting damage if you get it wrong. I do hope this helps people understand why it is so damned hard to ask for help, and go some way to helping those supporters who get angry at not being asked, gain some insight into why it happens.

I plead with people to remember that *Tough Love* includes the word LOVE! It is a relationship based way of helping a person confront their own issues. It is damned well NOT a permission slip to beat up a quitter having a hard time. It is Tough, only because the process of learning about ourselves can reveal characteristics and traits we are less than proud of. Such insight is indeed hard to bear at times. It needs a relationship based approach, if anyone is to gain, and is most definitely a *loving* approach.

To those who believe *spare the rod, and spoil the child* is the way to go, then I recommend you leave. Other places will doubtless welcome your contributions.

I made the point early on, that I believe those folk who are able to receive support, are often best placed to give it. I think that the history of AS3 bears this out. I am clearly contending that a preparedness to face ones own demons, and an ability to trust that others will take care of the delicate parts of our psyches, combine to create individuals who are able to empathise, and support in a way that simply has to be valued and admired. AS3 has these people, and we need to look after them :)

In the course of the last fifteen hundred words I have made some very bold statements and assertions. There will be those who agree with it all, those who agree in part, and those who disagree because *I* am saying it :) I don’t think I will lose much sleep over the latter group …..

I simply remind you all that it is *One man’s view*. I claim nothing else, but I do congratulate and thank all those who made it this far!

December 2004

No comments: