I am one of them.
The intake therapist raised her eyebrows in emphasis as she issued words of caution to me that first day, “Many of these people are struggling with very serious issues,” she said. “You will need to be open and honest in that room.” Reading between the lines, I caught the meaning of her warning. My life experience is not as horrific as others. I’ve had an easy life. The voice in my head began to say, I don’t belong here.
Then a still, small voice rose within.
You DO belong here. You are at a crossroad. These moments matter. Don’t waste a chance to grow by falling into the comparison pit. Your journey matters. You matter. Everyone is just doing the best they can.
The therapist was right, but so was the small voice within As I sat in that room and heard the suffering of those around me, it was overwhelming. So many hurting people. So much abuse. So much horror. So much running. So much pain. And in the middle of it all, I belonged there. I did. My triggering event wasn’t newsworthy, but it had unleashed fear and emotions that had long been buried deep. I was broken. I was one of them.
Group therapy was strange at first. It was a hodge-podge of people from every walk of life finding common ground in rock bottom of some form or another. For the purpose of my writing, I will refer to my fellow journeyers as students rather than patients.
The difference seems important somehow.
The students entered the room each day, scouting out the best chairs and sitting down to complete the obligatory mood questionnaire. The same questions were listed. Rank your level of anxiety, depression, fear, helplessness, sadness… How many hours of sleep did you get? Medication changes? Scary thoughts? Ideas for harming yourself? Do you want to see the doctor? What is your goal for the day?
The therapist on duty silently read the completed forms to determine which student might need to begin and then something curious happened. Complete strangers began sharing the most intimate details of their lives right there in the open for all to see. It was never the same group of people from day to day, and it sometimes wasn’t even the same therapist. We were encouraged to ask questions of one another and comment on what we heard.
Thinking back, it seems absurd that a group of complete strangers in the darkest hours of their life became one another’s community. But that is what happened even though our paths would likely never cross again.
What if it didn’t take a rock bottom experience to bring people together?
What if we sat at one another’s feet instead of a table and spilled all the fear and darkness and pain? What if this happened in our living rooms and kitchens and school pick-up lines rather than in a hospital or a clinic? What would that require?
Let’s start here, in this space. On this journey. Together.