Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Group Therapy

After I left my husband early this year, one of the first items on my agenda was to seek counseling for myself and for my son, to help us both heal from the trauma we had just been through.  That will forever remain on my list of Good Decisions I've Made, because it has helped both of us to successfully navigate a very difficult time of change.

My counselor is getting to know me and learn what makes me tick.  He's learning the things that are patterns in my life and helping me find ways to avoid repeating those patterns.  And, he often has good advice, and sometimes, I take it.

One of the things he has been encouraging me to do for the last several weeks is to check out a divorce support group.  I feel by now like I no longer need the benefits that group therapy has to offer; after all, I have a group of friends, and I trust them, and isn't that good enough?  Apparently, not quite, at least from his perspective.

"It will be good for you to get out and meet people," he says. 

"You will be able to grow in ways you can't accomplish on your own," he says. 

"It's a good, safe environment for healing," he says. 

I listen and nod, but internally, I resist, because I really don't want to go sit in a group of divorced strangers and talk about my life and my problems.  Besides...I'm kinda over that whole "I left my idiot husband" phase by now.  Right?

But, he keeps mentioning it, and I keep using the excuse that I work in the evenings so I really can't attend evening meetings, until this week when my work computer crashed and I had to take a few unwanted nights off.  I realized that the group he has recommended to me was meeting last night, and I really had no excuse to continue avoiding it, and I thought it wouldn't hurt to try it...just once.  "What have I got to lose?"  I thought.  "It doesn't cost any money, just a little time, and if I hate it I never have to go back." 

So I find my way to this Presbyterian church that is about 20 miles south of here because my therapist says the group that meets there is large and it would be a good place for me.  I sit through the presentation where the group leader welcomes all the newcomers.  He mentions that occasionally people have come to the meeting in spite of the fact that it's held in a church, and I hope I'm being discreet as I nod my head.  (I have such an aversion to churches right now that it's almost like trying to put the same poles from two magnets together; the force driving them apart is impossible to overcome.)  And I watch the video presentation, the first in a series that will be shown over the next ten weeks, and there is some really useful information in that video, and it's not overtly religious, so I'm feeling okay about being there; but then I realize that the video series is based on a book.  I'm thinking I'd rather be home reading the book than sitting in this room in this church.

Then, we break out into small groups for discussion, and I'm in the newcomers group.  Newcomers always go to the newcomers group until they've been attending for a while, and then they get a permanent group.  I'm not thinking I will ever need a permanent group.  But there are a lot of newcomers there, and I soon find myself seated in a circle with about 18 sullen women and 2 men. 

Then, the discussion begins.  This is where we go around the circle and talk about who we are and how we ended up here, if we want to.  I'm about in the middle of the circle so several people share their divorce horror stories before me.  The first woman chokes out about a sentence or two, and then she breaks down into tears, and out comes the tissue box.  And immediately my heart lurches in sympathy for her, because I know too well the pain that goes with heartache, and watching her suffer leaves me on the verge of tears too. 

One by one, the women in the circle take their turn, and I sit in shock as I listen to some of the stories they tell.  Six years of separation and brutal legal battles and they still aren't divorced?  He left her after 26 years for an old girlfriend and she never saw it coming?  That woman has an infant and a three year old and no idea how to support herself?  How tragic...and my heart truly aches for each of these women.  I want to get up and hug them all. 

And then, it's my turn, which I've kind of been dreading, because I realize that most of these women are actually still in love with their ex-husbands, some in spite of many years of pain and struggle.  And I try to gloss over my story quickly because it does not seem important when there are people surrounding me who are still in pain over the loss of someone they truly loved.  Besides, I feel kind of calloused when I tell the truth:  "Um, we separated several months ago, but we're both okay with it, and I'm moving on now, and I'm just trying to manage the perspective of being a single mom and figuring out how to support myself and my kids."  I have no tears, no story of lost love to tell (at least not one that relates to my marriage), and no real remorse any longer over the disintegration of the life I once had.  I'm happy now.  I'm content.  And I feel kind of guilty about that when I look around this circle at all the soggy tissues and streaked faces and hunched down shoulders.  Am I supposed to suffer for the next six years over this?  Am I missing out on something by not letting the grief and sorrow drag on all the way through my son's elementary education?  I sure hope not!  Because if that's what divorce is supposed to be, then I am definitely doing it wrong. 

I left that night with a feeling of accomplishment, though.  I got something that I needed out of the evening, which was a sense of where I am and of how group therapy could benefit me.  Mostly, it is a place for me to go and feel better about how far I have come with the struggles and challenges of my circumstances in life.  I have dealt with all of the same emotions that those women are suffering from now, at different times and in different ways, and I have worked my way through each phase, allowing myself to experience and sort out those feelings before moving on to the next wave of emotion.  And today, when my ex-husband called me to whine about the way he feels, I was able to tell him quite simply that I have been there, too; I lived through that place while I was still married to him, and tried to do something about it.  And now, I have moved on, and let go, and I'm finally happy, and I hope he gets to that place too. 

By the way, did I mention that they were selling the book from that video series?  I bought it...because while the topic sounds like it will be helpful to me, I doubt I will ever go back to that group.  I'll be happier sitting at home and reading the book.


Erica said...

This hasn't been a short process for you, so I'm not surprised that you are farther along than the other people there were. But, I will point out that no matter how fantastically wonderful we your friends are, none of us are single males with a sensitivity to your situation....

MustangShelby said...

Erica, you make a good point! So let's see...should we start with Bachelor Number One, who sounds like a bad country western song when he says he lost his job and his wife left him and he still loves her and doesn't know how to move on? Or Bachelor Number Two, who carried on and on about his problems for so long that I forgot to listen?

Love you, my friend...but no thanks. :-)

Tam said...

AM - I think another purpose for you at that group therapy was more for the other people than for yourself (hear me out).

Though this has been a very difficult process for you, you've overcome SO MUCH without it. Yes, you have your weekly therapy sessions. When paired with the right person, these sessions go amazingly well (I only wish I was so lucky).

The women in your newcomers group saw the lengths that you've gone to get past what you went through to get you and your children away from your ex-husband. They saw the confidence in you and they probably felt better when they left.

I think you helped them more than you think. I think these women have a new confidence in themselves and know that, if they put their mind to it and really work at it, they CAN divorce their husbands. They gain strength through YOUR strength.

While you may not return, they'll always remember you. They'll always remember the strength that you've had the last several months.

Sometimes, all we need is that one person to show us that, yes, we can do it. We may only get to see or talk to that person once, but that person's attitude and words will stick with us through any tough time.

Love you, AM.

Kim V. said...

These two ladies have made some excellent points, AM. You have come a long way and people could benefit from your wisdom. Also, meeting and eligible man wouldn't be a bad thing. I ♥ you very much and hope that you will do what is right for you and what you feel in your heart you need to do.

MustangShelby said...

I actually meant to mention in my post that I really felt like I should be there to help these women, instead of being there in the hot seat next to them. I feel like I have some perspective that perhaps they lack right now. The thing is, I just can't handle surrounding myself with all of that negative energy right now. I have worked too long and too hard to get away from depression and tears, and I am finally there; being surrounded by all of these people who are in a place I just left behind is like taking a soldier who just got home from war and making him go back. I don't wanna. But I hope that one day, when I'm ready, I can help other people by sharing what I have been through.

And about the guys from the support group: STOPPIT! I just quit my last full-time babysitting job and I don't want another one. ;-)

ethans_momma06 said...

I am so happy that you were able to have such a positive expirience with it. Even deciding to only go one time is a great thing if you got something from it- which you did!

It is very good to hear that you are moving forward and that you are able to find hapiness where you are :)