We’re sitting in a small room in the medical practice, a drop-in group therapy session. I’m dropping in for the first time to check this out. I’ve recently had a stumble after years of solid mental health, brought on by a good shove from life. I mean to get this business tidied up fast and be on my merry way, so I’m open to new approaches.
I sit next to a lady with a large, quite full satchel. I pick up on the agitated energy swirling around her. Then Dr. Goodstory walks in and we get started. The lady jumps right in. She’s had a very hard time getting to group. There was much interference, including a sister-in-law who called once again to scream at her for having an affair with her husband. I’m having a hard time following. Having an affair with her own brother? Or could this be the brother-in-law?
The story slides into a recap of the showdown between the lady and her sister-in-law that took place at some wedding, which may be where the alleged affair started. That story ends abruptly and turns to the hefty satchell, hefty because she has to pack up all of her important belongings every time she leaves the house in protection agains people breaking in. Carrying the satchel everywhere is making her shoulders and neck ache, which is becoming a real problem.
I begin to suspect that this group is out of my league, but I at least see a solution for getting the satchel problem improved upon lickety split, so I pitch in.
“Does your car have a trunk?” I say.
She looks at me like I’ve interrupted and doesn’t bother to answer, moving on to the issue she’s having at the Federal Building where she is trying to get a copy of her social security card. There’s something fishy going on because every time she goes there to get this taken care of they give her the runaround. But she’s onto them. They are aliens; she figured it out by looking into the books they have out back where they store their secrets. Oh god. My heart is starting to break. This woman is tortured.
Dr. Goodstory takes this in matter-of-factly, and asks a few curious questions to clarify the story. He is amazingly patient.
Her voice gets shaky, revealing how scared she is of the voices reading to her from the books about aliens because they are also telling her to hurt herself. She doesn’t know how much longer she’s going to be able to stand up to them.
“What about challenging them?” asks Dr. Goodstory. She just looks at him. This doesn’t interest her a bit but he continues on.
“I have another patient who also had a voice bothering him. In fact, his voice kept threatening to kill him,” says Dr. Goodstory. “Since it hadn’t so far I wondered if the voice had done anything at all. My patient said, no, just threatened, so I suggested that we see how serious the voice was and challenge it to meet us out back. My patient agreed so we called for a 3 o’clock showdown,” says Dr. Goodstory, telling the tale with both relish and sympathy.
The story goes that at 3 o’clock they head out back and wait for the voice to come and commence with the killing. They wait and wait but the voice, of course, was a no-show.
I love that guy. This approach is so brilliant and creative, brilliance and creativity being Dr. Goodstory’s specialty. He has done similarly unexpected things for me, intuitively understanding exactly what would move my healing along.
Nonetheless, though the voice’s bluff was called, this means nothing to the lady. Again she just looks at Dr. Goodstory. She’s not budging.
I can see Dr. Goodstory is playing the long game, but even with the clear mental issues, I can’t stand this. We’re here to clean house and she’s not even trying. There has to be something good to go with, some way to reach her right now.
“I wonder, what is it you love to do?” I ask.
She doesn’t say anything, just gets her phone out and starts scrolling. I think I’m being ignored again, but she finds what she’s looking for and says, “I love to sing. And I love Garth Brooks.” She touches the screen and a country song joins us in our little space. She’s in deep concentration, her head nodding to the beat. She adjusts the volume and we sit listening to this guy. She’s in rapture with her eyes closed.
Then I pick up a raspiness, a curious undertone in the song steadily building. I look at her and see it’s her, she’s singing. The music breaks into the chorus and that’s it, she dives in with her whole heart and starts belting it out, eyes straight forward, in her own world with a look of fierce determination on her face.
She is gripping the phone and she is singing with everything she’s got. We all sit in that tiny space, shocked into stillness, listening to her throaty, cigarette-touched, slightly off-key, full-bodied and beautiful voice filling the room and sweet jesus I am stunned.
She has located the coherence of beauty within herself and is locked on.
I sit there in that tiny space and tears fly out of my eyes.
Timeframe — 2016
Re-naming Dr. Goodstory — It incorporates Native American sensibility in his practice, preferring the idea that he “could tell stories that might inspire people to change,” rather than presuming to treat them. Native healers call this re-authoring. In addition to being a psychiatrist, Dr. Goodstory is a writer, having published numerous books about the intersection between modern psychology and Native American beliefs, and who tours the world as a Native American storyteller. And who helps countless people re-author good stories for themselves. Or at least better ones.
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, whatever they were. What I make of an event 5 years out may not be what I make of it 10 years out or 50 years out. And, of course, those who appear in the story may see it in an entirely different way than I do or did.
O, this piece is GOOD. L.O.V.E. it.
Thanks, Lynn! This was a hard one. I worried I would seem mean or mocking of this woman and I really didn’t want that. I just wanted to truthfully account for what she was doing and how it hit me. Maybe I managed that? At the risk of sounding like I’m fishing, which maybe I am, it would be really useful to know what worked for you here if you’re up for a quick explanation.
This piece speaks to me because it so beautifully and tragically shows how everyone, everyone, has a story. Everyone has a gift. And, in the right place and the right time, the story and the gift transform into the same thing. Thank you, Elizabeth, for reminding me, so poignantly, of this.
Well, you said that beautifully, Lynn. I’m so glad that was what came through and not some unintended undertone of disrespect. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you taking the time to give this your thought and put it into words.