Monday, August 5, 2013

Group Therapy

group therapy on The Bob Newhart Show

Who in the special needs world doesn't hate group therapy at a certain part of the proverbial "journey?" Is there anything worse than listening to people from different tribes drone on and on about their experiences coping with whatever messed up situation has befallen them? Is it just me that would rather hash it out, ad nauseum, only to those in my tribe -- especially when things really fall apart? You know: misery loves company, et al. I'll always remember the zing of recognition I felt when I read People Like That are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed-Onk, the great short story by Lorrie Moore that I carried, crumpled in my purse, for many years as I trudged around New York City with Baby Sophie. 

A beginning, an end: there seems to be neither. The whole thing is like a cloud that just lands and everywhere inside it is full of rain.

The first person I met back in those days was my friend Jody whose daughter Lueza had suffered a traumatic brain injury at birth. We participated for a bit in a local support group for mothers of children with severe "issues," but it was our shared sense of dark humor that bound us together. During the dark days pre-internet, it was Jody who told me about a newsletter called "Mothers From Hell" -- a sort of antidote to "Welcome to Holland." She was (and is) the sort of friend who Moore so perfectly described in her short story in one of my favorite passages:

She loves her friends, especially loves them for coming,
since there are times they all fight and don't speak for weeks. Is
this friendship? For now and here, it must do and is, and is, she
swears it is. For one, they never offer impromptu spiritual lectures
about death, how it is part of life, its natural ebb and flow,
how we all must accept that, or other such utterances that make
her want to scratch out some eyes. Like true friends, they take
no hardy or elegant stance loosely choreographed from some
broad perspective. They get right in there and mutter "Jesus
Christ!" and shake their heads. Plus, they are the only people
who not only will laugh at her stupid jokes but offer up stupid
ones of their own. What do you get when you cross Tiny Tim with a
pit bull? A child's illness is a strain on the mind. They know
how to laugh in a fluty, desperate way-unlike the people who
are more her husband's friends and who seem just to deepen
their sorrowful gazes, nodding their heads with Sympathy.
How exiling and estranging are everybody's Sympathetic
Expressions! When anyone laughs, she thinks, Okay! Hooray: a
buddy. In disaster as in show business.

So, I'm back for less than twelve hours, and Sophie is having one of her days. She's already had five giant seizures, and I've had to pull out the Diastat and administer it. She's going to miss her first day of Communicamp, and I'm going to spend the better part of the day probably worrying that this is it, the beginning of the end. That's what I do on days like this, that and laundry.

Pulling through is what people do around here. There is a
kind of bravery in.their lives that isn't bravery at all. It is automatic,
unflinching, a mix of man and machine, consuming and
unquestionable obligation meeting illness move for move in a
giant even-steven game of chess--an unending round of something
that looks like shadowboxing, though between love and
death, which is the shadow? "Everyone admires us for our
courage," says one man. "They have no idea what they're talking

I'm not in a support group, anymore, at least not like the olden days, but I do have you. And you and you. I'm grateful for that.

Take Notes. In the end, you suffer alone. But at the beginning
you suffer with a whole lot of others.

***All excerpts are from Lorrie Moore's short story. You can read the whole thing HERE.


  1. Grinding my teeth just thinking about the whole thing. With you in spirit. XO

  2. "...that and the laundry."
    You never fail to take some of the grit from between your teeth and turn it into gold.
    I went to a group for survivors of sexual abuse and it was good for awhile. It did really help to nail in place the realization that no, it had not been my fault in any way and that no, it had not been all right. After awhile though, as I healed some (I was going to therapy at the same time) it began to feel...not so good. Like I didn't need to hear all these stories anymore. But it helped me. It really did.

  3. And YOU too...

    Thanks for the short story. Exactly what I need on my laundry day.

    Peggy E.

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  5. I should read this story, but I would rather read your thoughts about it here, for now.
    Support group? I don't think so - not so far. The closest thing to it is our "Sh*tty First Draft Writing Group," made up of bereaved mothers, which sounds awful, doesn't it? But we don't spend most of our our time grieving - we laugh, hard dark laughter, encourage each other's writing, honor each other's children, share concerns about our surviving family, our calling, etc. I guess that does sound like a support group, but not in the sense of sharing ongoing medical dilemmas, terror and insurance nightmares; that would have been at Ronald McDonald House or in the hospital, when I was much more likely to have "scratched out some eyes," as she said so beautifully in the story. "I'm not here to make friends," I used to say - but I did make a few, in spite of myself.

    You have such warmth and inclusiveness in the midst of everything, Elizabeth, so much generosity of spirit and creativity. I don't recall expressing those things when Katie was in the throes of treatment. You are a gem, and even when things are dark for you, you bring light to others.

  6. Ms Moon said it best - "You never fail to take some of the grit from between your teeth and turn it into gold. " Amen.
    my heart always aches when i hear of sophie's seizures. don't know what to say other than im with you. even from so far away i feel like i could be brushing your shoulder.


  7. Group. Anything. No. Not for me.

    That out of the way I ADORE Loorie Moore and clearly remember the line about the mouse's heart in the diaper from that particular story out that entire book that line is what struck most strongly. I loved being reminded of it here and have pulled Birds of America off my bookshelf for a much needed rereading. Thank you Elizabeth for being my literary touchstone out here in the flat blue wilderness.

  8. I am pro village, however that looks, just so no one feels isolated, alone, and like everyone else is living their dream.

  9. There is something so destructive when a group of people are encouraged to re-hash their own disappointments over and over again. Often, it becomes a sick game of one-upsmanship. I love the excerpts you posted and I will head over and read the entire piece. For you, I am sending love and light and a hope that Sophie makes it to day two of Communicamp and your fears are unfounded.

    Holy shit - I can't make this stuff up - the word verification was IDiscuss. I am so not kidding you.

  10. (late, catching up, sorry)
    I've been thinking about this lately. Not group therapy in particular but my increasing impatience with others droning on and on about their experiences. One co-worker's baby was a preemie and spent a month in the NICU. She brought him into our germ laden office the day they got out and looked at me blankly when I asked about early intervention (apparently he wasn't THAT early). Another just had a c-section "with complications". Baby's fine and the complications weren't bad enough to keep her off her phone sending pix... I'd like to think I have empathy. These are their stories now and I honor the value of people's stories. Well, I love the IDEA of the value of people's stories. But, dear god, I wish they would shut the hell up. If I hear one more "OMG, HOW HORRIBLE" I'm going to break into the conversation and tell them MY story. That'll shut them up.



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