I always thought people who went to group therapy were pathetic – right up until the day I found myself there.
I’ve become amazed at how far my delusions of grandeur have gone. The first pillar of my religion created by me, for me – that I must be better than everyone has led to the delusion that I actually am. Especially those people. You know, people who can’t keep their shit together; people who let addiction cause their lives to devolve to the point that they’re no longer able to take care of themselves or their families. Pathetic people.
My first impressions of the people in my group only served to confirm my superiority. I walked into the clinic to see a group of perhaps 15 standing in the lobby, waiting for an elevator to take them to the second floor. Idiots, I thought as I took the stairs. They aren’t even smart enough to figure out they don’t have to wait. Or, they’re so lazy they can’t even walk up a flight of stairs.
I was first into the waiting room of course. I snuck a glance at the others as they shuffled in minutes later. What stuck out the most were the ankle bracelets. Felons… I’m surrounded by felons. I started to doubt this whole group thing – I can’t believe I let my therapist send me here.
Eventually we were called back into the room – a tiny, cramped space with a single window and one dim light that barely allowed us to see one another (perhaps intentionally?). There was an old TV-on-a-cart that wouldn’t look out of place from my old middle school classrooms. A whiteboard had one of those immediately forgettable phrases that’s supposed to uplift the soul or some other nonsense. All pathetic.
We started with check-in. What’s your name? What’s your drug? When did you last use? How has sobriety been lately?
“Matt. Alcohol. July 16th. Fine.”
Most of the others were similarly unenthusiastic; the ankle bracelets were no doubt court-mandated to be in the group against their will.
The therapist handed out packets to each of us once we were seated. The topic of the day was “Basic Problem Solving.” Really – what are we 3? The condescension was completed by the childlike pictures that were peppered throughout the material.
She began reading through the packet but was constantly interrupted by interjections from group members. Occasionally a discussion would spring forth from one of these interruptions. I checked the clock; the session was scheduled for an hour and a half, but if we booked it through the packet I wagered we’d be out in 45 minutes. The interruptions pissed me off; why do these people keep interrupting her? – let’s get out of here! And even worse, Why is she letting them interrupt her?
Eventually, I actually started listening to the side conversations. Out of respect for the individuals in the group I won’t share any of the specifics. But I started to realize that shit! I’m exactly like these people – a revelation that shook me to my core.
Like me, many of them lived perfectly “normal” lives. Even the ankle-bracelets were mostly guilty of crimes that I myself had committed at some point or another; drunk driving, vandalism, perhaps a physical altercation. What separated us was luck – I hadn’t been caught; they had. Had the circumstances been different, I could be wearing the same bracelet.
It’s hard to articulate how humbling the experience was. My ego returned to Earth with all the subtlety of the Hindenburg. A crack has started to form in the pillars of my religion.
When we left, the group again paused and waited for the elevator; I immediately continued to the stairs. At least I still have that on them. It wasn’t until the next meeting that I discovered the true purpose for the waiting – It was an excuse for members of the group to converse with one another without the social pressures imposed by the larger group. In truth, I think the real therapy happened in the 3 minutes people stood waiting for the elevator. Maybe I’m the idiot.
On to week 6...
This is part 5 of a series. The previous post can be found here.
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