“In my early twenties I had what is called a dark night of the soul. My grandmother, who I really loved, died and I couldn’t understand it. That same year, I separated from my long-term partner in the middle of my PhD in Molecular Genetics at Trinity College.
I ended up suffering from anxiety and depression and it got to a point where I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I started using a lot of alcohol as a crutch and I was in a really bad situation.
I was very fortunate that one day I said to myself: “This has to change”. I started taking meditation and yoga classes and that gave me a bit of peace and lightness. I was a scientist so I didn’t believe in anything on the other side, but then I started meeting people in the holistic and spiritual world. They almost lived an alternative lifestyle within society and that sent me on my own holistic journey.
A few years later I met many people who worked with plant medicine. In those circles I met a lot of good people and a lot of men who were very open, supportive and non-judgmental, who weren’t competitive.
These were people who had done a lot of personal development and inner work and that really changed my feelings. I’ve had other men hold me physically while I cried and went through the grieving process, which was very nice. I saw and experienced for the first time a deep connection between other men.
I realized that this was a need of all men. I think it is very clear from reports that men are less likely than women to seek mental health support and as a result are more likely to die by suicide. Even the physical health statistics are against us. The rate of stress-related diseases and cancer has doubled in the last 50 years.
There are these phrases we hear growing up – “Big boys don’t cry” and “Geez” that shape our development and emotional well-being. Other phrases like “Don’t be a girl” convey the message that men are less suited to showing emotion. We’re taught to suppress our feelings, but a lifetime of ignoring them builds them up. This leaves us overwhelmed and without the tools to process them. This suffering can be avoided with emotional support.
I knew that working in men’s health was important to me. My friend Rob Coffey had just graduated as a psychotherapist, so we got together and started asking how we could make a difference. We started men’s circles in Dublin six years ago and they’ve been really effective.
In addition to circles, we now offer men’s retreats, attended by up to 30 men from all walks of life. No two paths are the same, but all can relate to each other.
We help men to show vulnerability and communicate their feelings. There is much joy at these retreats and lifelong friends are made. Meeting new people facilitates growth that may not be accepted in old circles of friends.
We hear the phrase “toxic masculinity” a lot, but I think it comes from a place of deep wounding. These men have suffered in their lives and now they blame other people for their suffering. For the most part, I don’t believe there is anyone who cannot be helped or healed.
Male identities are much more complex than alpha and beta. The original research on the subject, conducted on captive wolves, has since been disproved. There are obviously men who have more confidence, charisma, and physical strength, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re better than everyone else. In many ways, the alpha could be a trick of the ego. When you label yourself an alpha male, your ego is saying you have a higher status in the group…
A big part of our work is healing the wound of brotherhood – how men have hurt other men and how that affects our relationship with men in our lives.
We talk about the father wound – not having a stable, supportive father or having an absent father as a boy affects you in your life as a man. This is one of the bigger issues because your father is your first role model of a man.
We also have many LGBTQ+ people coming to the circles and retreats. Being vulnerable and feeling accepted by a group of men is healing and transformative.
We also discuss boundaries, sexuality and relationships. When it comes to sexuality, taboo subjects such as erectile dysfunction, stage fright and sex addiction are discussed.
Pornography distorts how men see themselves and women, and how they should behave towards their sexual partner. Masturbation addiction can destroy men’s energy and intimacy. We educate about consent and how to communicate with respect. These subjects should be compulsory in elementary school.
We ask what we as men can do to support women, whether it’s stopping your partner from swearing at a girl in a club or denouncing other inappropriate behavior. These things tend to start small, but when the small behaviors get a chance and escape our attention, then the antisocial behavior perpetuates.
I think when we come together and have open and honest conversations, which I’ve seen in these rooms, a lot of healing and progress can take place.
I’ve definitely seen a change in men over the past few years, especially after the pandemic. Many men have reevaluated their lives in terms of their values, purpose, and career. From a personal development perspective, men have started to look more inward about what they want out of their lives, and many more men are searching for those spaces and trying new things.
Traditionally, women have been much further ahead of men in healing work and holistic health, but I think men are finally getting involved and taking ownership and accountability for their behavior and actions. They are hungry for growth and depth.
They begin to understand that there are safe places for men to express their feelings and emotions and find connection within a community. And while vulnerability is often seen as a sign of weakness, it is a strength that creates a shared sense of humanity.”
As Katie Byrne was told
Darragh’s next men’s retreat, The Hero’s Journey, will be held in Co Sligo from 12th to 15th May
Find him on Instagram @darstewy or book through inwardboundinstitute.ie
https://www.independent.ie/life/i-had-other-men-physically-holding-me-while-i-was-crying-and-going-through-the-grieving-process-which-was-very-beautiful-41472340.html “I’ve had other men hold me physically while I cried and went through the grieving process, which was very nice.”