Deidre’s worried. I can see it in the set of her mouth as she fills out the medical leave forms. The crash and burn has finally come, the groundwork having been steadily under construction for a good several years — a priming of the way for the final push provided by the last 6 months of on-the-job mind fuckery.
“There’s a class I want to get you into,” she says to me. “I don’t know if I can, and it’s in Brunswick, but it would be the best thing for you if you’re accepted. The two women who run the group are the best in the state.”
Oh man, this sounds good. A class? The best in the state? I’m a star therapy student. I rock at this stuff. No one loves therapy like I do and to package it into a class with homework…..oh man. Fingers crossed. I want this with all my heart.
Deidre calls later that day. She got me an interview.
I go for tryouts the following week at one of the therapist’s private office, thinking this is about the strangest thing in the world one can try out for, even stranger that I hope I make it.
She listens to my story which I tell with relish, giving it some extra punch, then she quizzes me on my commitment for the full 6 months, my willingness to participate meaningfully and take my responsibility to the group seriously. She decides I have the right stuff and I’m in!
I start the following week, driving the 1.5 hours down to Brunswick with overwhelming curiosity. What will it be like? Who are these crazy people?
Stopping at the front desk, I’m instructed to head down the hall and take the first right where there’s a waiting area to hang out until the class currently in session wraps up. I hear chatting the closer I get and when I turn the corner I find about 8 women of all ages talking casually, a few standing, some sitting. They look nothing like me. There’s a young one with spiky hair, tattoos, piercings, torn garments and dark make-up. There’s a dowdy, middle-age one wearing granny clothes. There’s a 30-ish one with big hair, painted fingernails, lots of jewelry, tight jeans and high heels. There are a few that just fill in the space, their features not yet coherent to me.
I take an open seat in the middle of them and start picking up on something. No one is doing anything extraordinary, nothing to differentiate this waiting roomful of people from any other, but there is some undercurrent, some vibe, a certain energetic intensity in that close space. It’s a familiar frequency. Oh my god, these are my sisters.
We get up and walk together into the classroom.
Dialectic behavioral therapy — DBT — is like cognitive behavioral therapy where you revise the way you think except better. It adds the extra dialectic dash, allowing for the complexity of things — how one thing can be this and it’s also true that it can be that. It helps with big thinking, getting beyond a tiny perspective. As in I am perfect just as I am and it’s also true that I might be more comfortable in the world if I made a few adjustments.
I dig this and think everybody should be required to take this class. Just because you’re not in therapy or haven’t bumped into a mental health-ish diagnosis doesn’t mean you’re a skillful thinker. I want to shout this from the rooftops. I want to bring this into the school systems. We are so pathetically prepared to manage ourselves. Good lord, where are the basic skills for respectfully working through a disagreement? Recovering from embarrassment without succumbing to self-hatred? Keeping your cool when the heat is on? Or leading without needing to resort to mind fucking and bullying?
As we work our way through the 6 DBT modules, stories slowly start to emerge. The big-haired one rides horses and has a terrible, manipulative mother. The young pierced one also has a despicable mom so she moved out to live with a boyfriend, but that blew up so she’s back home with the mom who hates her. The one with the boring clothes struggles with her brother, who dominates, and has a hard time at work in her development job. There’s a 20-something, very pretty, who is just at sea and floundering, cut off from NYC where she used to live, in a job she doesn’t connect with, steadily gaining weight and thinking about moving to Paris because a guy there wants her to. The one I most relate to and want to be friends with is just a bit older than me. She’s in her late 40s, wears arty clothes and is disoriented after the demise of a long marriage and the loss of a job. We’re all over the place in our experiences save our one commonality: we are wired in a way that lands us here when life gives us one push too many.
The tone of class is mostly matter-of-fact, nothing to hide. What would be the point.
There is cutting going on. Suicidal ideation. Inability to get off the couch. Rages and showdowns. Hiding and shutdowns. Everybody has their specialty expressions.
There are victories — a turkey made for Thanksgiving, a boundary solidly maintained, a walk taken, coffee had with a friend, another step down on the benzo’s.
I love it all. I love the stories. I love working through the lessons and applying them to life. I love the group discussion. I love my drive home, pulling into the Dunkin’ Donuts before hitting 95 North for a large decaf and a big chocolate chip cookie which I nibble all the way to Augusta, taking the full 30 minutes while I play the session over in my head.
In class I’m a big mouth and can’t help myself from trying to get in there and solve each and everyone’s problems based on the daily delivery of Amazon self-help books I’m devouring, skirting around the fact that, books or no books, I’m obviously also sitting right here at the table so maybe I don’t quite have this all in hand.
They’re generous. They tolerate me. We cut each other slack because we get each other on the level that matters here. We make repairs when we make mistakes. Respect is the fabric of this work and so if you miss class and fall in your commitment to the spirit of what we are doing and the people you are in this with, then you bring cookies or write a letter or sing a song, dance a jig or offer an apology — whatever form mending the little rent you made in our material best works for you. I love the metaphor and hadn’t been aware of the use of the word repair as it relates to sewing circles but I think being given the chance to stitch things back together is beautiful.
The class is in steady flux, constantly turning over because we have all entered at different points in that 6-month course. When someone completes the full cycle there is a bit of a ceremony when they move on. The therapists bring a little gift for you, a talisman of some sort — a charm, a rock, something they picked up on their travels. It harkens to some quality of the person graduating, some beautiful quality they see in you and are encouraging forward. They give you that and as they send you on your way they offer a wish.
When it’s time for me to move on, one of the therapists hands me a rock with the word grace engraved, saying she has admired how gracefully I move.
I know what she’s talking about. I’ve whittled myself down to a willow, defending myself with skinniness, prevailing upon my long hair and high cheekbones to make up for the glaring interior neurochemical goof-up that has now gushed out for the world to see, and with the weight of this disruption I choose to move lightly, gliding across ground, trying very hard not to wake anything up, disturb this trouble I’m trying to settle down.
My teacher continues. “My wish for you is to find the grace in your mind that you carry in your body.”
Time stops. I let the dissonance of this sink in, the dissonance of me. It feels so big.
I slowly breathe out. “I wish for that too,” I say.
And with that wish I am on my way, back into the world.
YouTube rough reading of Grace
timeframe — 2007
The stories in this blog are excerpts from my memoir, The Organization Project. While they are true to me and reflect how I see, I acknowledge there are multiple truths, including my own which change over time, even as the events themselves remain the same. What I make of an event 5 years out may not be what I make of it 10 years out.