On August 29, 2001, I had my first session of group therapy (hereinafter "group").
Ten years ago, as a second year law student, I decided that I needed some type of intervention to steer me off of the trajectory I was on, which consisted of paralyzing perfectionism designed to distract me from crippling loneliness with absolutely no clue in hell how to have a real relationship with anyone.
The weeks leading up to the first session, I couldn't sleep. I stared at the ceiling in my one bedroom apartment in Ravenswood shaking with anxiety. Prior to starting group, I had three one-on-one sessions with the therapist, who was scary, and kind, and tough, and hairy, and cocky. I wasn't sure if I liked him, but he was compelling enough and he demonstrated that he was going to pay attention to me, so that was appealing for $70.00 per session. During my last one-on-one session, I remember asking the Good Doctor what was going to happen to me. (I was worried that my law school class rank would slip or that I would gain weight, so you can see I was totally ready to "go to any lengths" to get better.) My recollection is that the Good Doctor said by joining group I was going to experience more loneliness than I had ever felt in my whole life.
Not a marketing genius by any means (I was expecting promises of untold joys and riches), but he predicted correctly. Until I joined group, I didn't know how lonely and isolated I was. I sort of vaguely knew that other people spent more time in the company of other people and most other people seemed lighter if not happier than I felt.
During those sessions, the Good Doctor asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted to get married and have a family. He acted like I said I wanted a Saltine cracker; he made a gesture with his hands like "that's it? That'll be easy! What else do you want?" (The answer was nothing. That's enough for me, thank you very much.) He seemed almost to assure me that he and this group business could help me open myself up to a relationship and a family. I will never forget how his confidence in the process made me feel: it was like a little handle of hope that I grasped with both hands and accepted whatever would unfold for me as a member of a group.
Well, 6 boyfriends (5 ending in a broken heart (mine) and 1 ending in a marriage) and 2 children, 1 law career and countless meltdowns later, here I am. I could have never predicted that the mysterious ways of group would work their magic on me and I would end up breastfeeding my son in Millenium Park on a breezy summer evening. If you would have told the young woman back on August 29, 2001, as she put on her khaki skirt, white shirt and her black patent leather shoes that showing up for group week after week, and year after year, would eventually result in Sadie, Simon, Jeff and the woman I am today, I think she probably would have worn more color that morning. But she would never have believed you-- not in a million years. The whole reason I became willing to go to group and see the Good Doctor was because on a hot July day in 2001 I was sitting in the parking lot of Stanley's produce on North and Elston with car full of fresh fruits and vegetables and I heard myself say, in a very undramatic way, "maybe I'll drive slowly through Cabrini Green so there's a chance I will get shot by a stray bullet."
The voice in my head was so deadpan, so beat down, so resigned that when I reflected on it, frankly, it scared the shit out of me. What was this death wish that was bubbling up? I had just had a spectacular finish to my first year of law school and people were telling me I would have my pick of any law firm in the city. Why was I going to put myself in jeopardy by driving through a rough part of town slowly? Why was there even a tiny part of me that wished to be shot? What the hell was wrong with me? What was it going to take to make me feel ok?
And, because I had no clue, I decided I would try group therapy. I am grateful to myself for hanging in there all those years when it seemed like it wasn't working. And, maybe there were years when it actually wasn't working. Eventually, however, I got the relationships I wanted and I got a cup that overflows every single day with blessings and feelings and miracles and more, more, more than I ever dreamed or ever wanted. I sometimes remember back to that summer day at Stanley's, especially when I am irritated that my children don't sleep past 6:00 a.m. and my husband NEVER rinses his dishes. I sure didn't have those problems when I was all by myself in the world. When I think about the despair of my life before surrendering to my group, I think it's a miracle that I am still alive and that I am a mother and a partner and a teacher and a friend.
Not everyone celebrates the day they started group therapy as an important holiday, but it's a big one for me. As a tribute to that long ago time, I like to visit Stanley's with my daughter, who can be a giant pain in the ass in a grocery store setting, and marvel at the advances in my life, but I do it really quickly before Sadie breaks her leg trying to escape from the cart.
Happy Group Therapy Anniversary Day to me!