With pills in hand and optimism in the air, I started attending “Group Therapy” in addition to my one-on-one sessions with my new hairstylist. I was all in. As usual, when in a new group environment, I sat back and observed. It takes my awhile to get comfortable with new people and this was no different. After a few group sessions I started to notice a pattern. Everyone seemed bitter to be there. Very bitter.
A typical session went something like this…
At 9am people would slowly file into the room for Life Skills. The room had a large table in the center surrounded by metal chairs. The walls were covered with what appeared to be grade school drawing, painting, and letters. At a closer look, they were in fact artifacts from former counselees expressing great gratitude for the help they received and offers of encouragement to new counselees. The counselor, a women in her late 20s or early 30s, sat at one end of the table. She was a cute, energetic, and smiley individual. As people shuffled in they would place a piece of paper in front of her for her to sign. It was a good mix of of about 10 people. Half women, half men. Some younger, some older. Some well off, some struggling. Some clean, some dirty. Some educated, some not so much. A good mix.
After everyone had their seat, “check in” started. The counselor would go around the table and ask each of us how the previous day was and what was going on today. By and large people complained about having to be there:
“I am completely broke. $35 for each group. Four groups a week. I can’t afford this shit.” said one women in obvious distressed. “I have six more f***’n weeks of this shit. I can’t pay my bills”. This was met with agreement from many in the group.
Another young man chimed in, just as distraught, “Yeah. They are going to repo my car soon cause I can’t make payments.”
“I have to pay for this. Pay the car breathalyzer. I can’t even drive. My car broke. They still make me pay for the breathalyzer” an older lady said in a Spanish accent. She was smiling. Her expression didn’t match what she was saying. Maybe she was just happy to be out of the house with other people.
“Pot is no worse than alcohol. This is bullshit. I can’t believe I was arrested for it.” said a young man sitting at the opposite end of the table from the counselor. Arms folded. A look of distain on his face. That is all he said. That was his Check in. He rarely spoke afterwards.
This went on for 15 or 20 minutes. After check in, topics of discussion would quickly switch to horror stories of a landlord or family members wronging this one young lady in the group. This was often encouraged by another young man who would contribute to her story with his own of drugs, guns, and the people he hung out with who had more drugs and more guns then he had. He was aspiring to fly with eagles I assumed. They fed off one another. Together, their tales consumed about 75% of our time there.
The remaining time, 10 or 15 minutes, was productive. We talked about triggers, our environments, coping skills, and so forth. I did learn some things that I found helpful.
Realizing that these sessions were not going get any better, I approached the counselor shortly after one of the sessions. “Are most of the people her court ordered?” I asked. “They act like they really do not want to be here.”
“They are” she said flatly.
“Am I the only one here voluntarily?”
She paused, considered my question and said “Yeah. I guess you are.” She paused again, looked up at me with a smile, turned around and walked out of the room.
The New Girl
A couple of weeks later, there was a new person in session. She introduced herself as Mary. She was a young girl. She seemed like a very nice person and I could see that she was worried. She looked down most of the time and never smiled. She told the group that she had been drinking daily for a few years in her home. She was involved in a very bad car accident years before and since had slowly started isolating herself more and more. Drinking more and more. She was having a hard time dealing with the accident. She was adamite that she never drove while drinking and the accident was unrelated. In fact, she wasn’t even driving. She realized she needed to stop drinking and engage the world again. The direction she was heading was not going to end well.
I felt for Mary. I could definitely relate to her situation. In my selfishness, I was also grateful to have someone in the group that actually wanted to be there.
Not too long after Mary joined the group, we were assigned a new counselor. Not just a new counselor to us, but a new counselor period. She was introduced by the director, Lisa, with great excitement. The new counselor, Tammy, was about 22 and had recently graduated with a bachelors degree in Addiction Counselling. By far the most accredited counselor on staff. “This is good” I thought. I was excited to see what new perspective she would bring to the group. Most of the counselors were former addicts. In some cases, former hairdressers. Regardless, they were certified counselors and passionate about helping others become sober. But still, maybe this new young lady would be armed with new techniques and new information. “This is going to be good” I thought again.
“I am passionate about addiction recovery” Tammy told us with great enthusiasm. Her hands were clasped in front of her chest as she looked around the room with a big smile. It was obvious she was eager to dive in and start the healing. “My mother was killed by a drunk driver when I was a thirteen. So you see, this is very personal for me” she said to the group with a big smile.
“Uh oh!” I thought. “This isn’t good. This is clearly a conflict of interest”. I looked around the room and did not see concern on anyone else’s face. There was this sinking feeling in my body. I would stay with the program if for no other reason than to see how this was going to turn out.
At first, things went pretty well. Tammy was well trained and ran the group with much more structure than I had previously seen. For someone so young, she handled some of the more disgruntled attendees surprising well. She had a certain command of the room. I now thought “Maybe this wasn’t going to turn out so bad after all”.
That’s about the same time the drinking and driving lectures started. She seemed to have gone off script. She started mentioning her mother’s accident more and more. Several people, including myself, spoke up that they never drive drunk. Others pointed out that their addiction was to drugs, not alcohol. Still she persisted with the focus on alcohol and drunk driving. The group was starting to get a little tired of these lectures.
One morning as I entered the room, I noticed a TV and DVD player on a cart situated by our new counselor. I had that sinking feeling again. Tammy announced to the group “This morning we are going to watch a video about drunk driving and it’s consequences. It’s a bit graphic but a powerful video. After, we will have an open discussion about it.” That sinking feeling intensified.
I looked across the table at Mary. I remembered she had been in a very bad car accident. There was a look of panic on her face. “I am not going to watch this. This makes me feel very uncomfortable” she said to Tammy. She started to get up.
“Please stay. You will be ok. Give it a chance. Its very important you see this film.” Tammy insisted. Mary settled back in her seat. Her expression didn’t change.
Five minutes into the film, pictures of a bad accidents started to appear. Ten minutes into the film Mary jumped up and quickly left the room without a word. We never saw Mary again.