Hidden off the main streets of Twentynine Palms, California is an oasis in the desert. It is at The Campbell House that palm trees and greenery thrive amid the relentless hot sun. It is also where about 30 men gathered for a weekend retreat.
Men come from different races, socio-economic backgrounds and age groups. They joined the men’s group Evryman, to do what most of them have never done before: open up and be vulnerable with themselves and with each other.
The retreat is intense, exciting, peer-to-peer work aided by Evryman’s facilitators. I’m there to help these men through their emotional journey; to tell them it’s okay to feel angry, to feel ashamed, to cry.
For most of the day, the men are split into groups of varying sizes. Prompts are given to ask each other things like “When is the moment that something went wrong?” and “How did that make you feel?”
Each man takes turns answering the question. The other men in the group then analyze the respondent’s emotion as he gave his answer. The purpose of this is to make these men feel seen and heard.
Kyle Somersall of Brooklyn is a 32-year-old man with a soft voice. He said he joined Evryman because it was an opportunity to improve himself and create stronger bonds with other men.
“I was pretty numb to my loneliness,” she told ABC News.
Somersall has said that growing up he wasn’t given the space to express himself.
“What I learned about what it means to be a man was to really neglect my emotions and feel ashamed about crying or feel ashamed about having emotions,” he said.
It’s precisely why Evryman co-founder Owen Marcus said he founded the group.
“There’s an emotional pandemic of men giving up and feeling lonely,” he told ABC News.
She hopes men’s groups like hers help men realize they’re not alone.
“One of the things these men get to do on these retreats, is they get to be in an emotionally safe space with other men, and any way they want to afford to feel what they’ve never felt before,” he said.
All weekend, guttural screams and yells echoed through the desert oasis.
One of those shouts came from Scott Wright of Everett, Washington. He said it was important for him to come to this retreat because of the patterns he wanted to change.
“These schemes cost me my first marriage. And my second marriage is almost over because of it. And I just wanted to learn how to better connect with myself,” she said.
Somersall also had an emotional breakthrough.
“Stop!” he screamed continuously as he was held up by a group of men. Eventually his sobs took over. They came from a place of pain.
“I felt a lot of emotions in my throat and heart. I felt emotionally neglected, I felt really alone,” she said. “There’s just a feeling of being broken and feeling down and feeling unlovable.”
Somersall said the experience changed him.
“I’ve never fully let myself go in front of others in this capacity,” he said. “To be able to be held by a group of men and seen and understood by them and have it resonate for them as well, that was really, really powerful.”
As the weekend drew to a close, many of these men seemed lighter and more cheerful than when we first met them. As the men prepared to leave the retreat, they embraced and expressed their love and gratitude for each other.
“I got even more than I expected. I was really able to go deeper than I could have on my own and release a lot of emotion,” Somersall said. “I feel closer to some of these people than to people I’ve known for decades.”
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