Back in January, a dear friend of mine suggested I sign up for a grief support group. She even helped me find one specifically for spouses, so I decided to take a chance and sign up.
It’s funny, because group therapy used to be such a huge part of my life just five years ago. Yet, since I left the DBT group Emily and I met in, I have mostly sustained myself through weekly individual therapy sessions without much else in the way of therapeutic intervention. But, then again, I suppose the sudden and very much unexpected death of the woman you planned to grow old with is one of those life-changing events that requires a bit more support.
Although the circumstances are very different, I guess you could say that life today feels eerily similar to the year from hell that led me to group therapy before. Of course, this time I’m in therapy because Emily is gone, whereas before, the therapy is what brought Emily into my life.
When Strangers Become Friends
At Emily’s funeral, I very candidly shared the story of how we met. I still smile every time I think about the moment I saw Emily walk into that room. Although I won’t go so far as to say it was love at first sight, I definitely felt a sort of emotional shift inside of me that day. And, even if she only did it because I seemed like the least intimidating or crazy person in the room, I definitely felt a mixture of excitement and nervousness when she sat down next to me that day.
Between August and April, that first encounter became commonplace, as nearly the exact same situation unfolded each and every week. I quickly learned that I could anticipate exactly what Emily was coming to therapy that day based on three key Emily components: her hair and makeup, the beverage in her hand, and her eyes. But, I didn’t care if happy Emily, depressed Emily, or sleep-deprived Emily sat down next to me — because I enjoyed Emily’s company regardless of her mood.
Of course, one of my favorite parts about having Emily in group was the comments she would make. Like her, I have a bad habit of responding to pretty much every situation with a terrible joke or overly sarcastic comment. Fortunately, we had both learned how to mumble those comments in a way that usually people didn’t listen. Unfortunately, because we both did this, we picked up on when the other person was doing it, which meant we heard each other’s comments all the time and laugh about them.
And, if you know me at all, you know that I do a terrible job of remaining still and quiet when I find something funny.
Emily and I got “in trouble” several times because of what became our little inside jokes. The therapist leading the group would glare in our direction, sigh heavily, and suddenly find a reason to call on one of us or ask if we were listening. It got to the point where sometimes we’d pick up on what the other was thinking or saying, and one time we even both started laughing during a mindfulness exercise because we’d just had a conversation previously about how much Emily hated that specific guided meditation.
Some weeks, the therapist would sit between us or near enough to us that we had to behave. Other weeks the therapist would catch us both hanging out in the parking lot an hour after group had ended, and she’d ask what we were talking about before she got in the car and drove away. She knew we’d become close.
Then, one week in late April of 2019, I said one thing, and it started a whole train reaction of events.
Emily and I were both also seeing the therapist who led the group for individual sessions. It’s sort of the protocol for dialectical behavior therapy, because the assumption is you’ll bring homework from the group to unpack during individual sessions, and the therapist can reinforce skills. We were also nearing the end of the final module in group, which meant I was nearing my second time through the entire program. If you do DBT “by the book,” most people either stop the group after two times through or, as recommended for people with BPD (which according to that therapist I had), you move into an advanced group.
At this point, I felt like I was doing well all things considered. I hadn’t been in the hospital for over a year, I was working at a church and a rehab facility, and I seemed to be on a good medication combo. So, during my individual session, I casually asked, “So what’s next once we finish this last module?”
The therapist gave me this confused look and asked what I meant, so I explained that this was my second time through everything, and I felt like I had a good grasp of the skills we’d covered and wasn’t sure that it made sense to do the same thing a third time. I then asked if she had any referrals for a place to go if I wanted to try an advanced group since she wasn’t offering one.
Without projecting too strong of a negative attitude towards this therapist, I’ll just say I left the session in tears and unsure of what was coming next. The next week, the therapist essentially told me she was going to be unable to continue working with me after we finished the last group session and I would need to find someone else to see individually. Of course, my individual session just happened to be right before group, so Emily knew the moment she saw me that day I wasn’t okay.
When I told her everything later, she couldn’t believe it. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have told her everything, but I trusted her and needed a friend. But, I told her, knowing that she was going to do a second round of the group sessions and still see the therapist individually.
Well, long story short, Emily did a whole worksheet about a situation where “a friend got kicked out of a group we’re both in” and how she felt about it (angry and upset). Suddenly, Emily said the therapist told her she needed to move back in with her parents because she wasn’t recovered enough to live alone. And, like me, she was left to find a new therapist.
In other words, my decision to be assertive about my own mental health care also messed up Emily’s care.
I Guess I’m Not Getting Her In Trouble Now
Okay, yes, I realize that what happened isn’t exclusively my fault. I’ve shared the story with my current therapist and, spoiler alert, she was a bit appalled about many things the aforementioned group therapist did. But, it does make for an interesting story and does make the fact that we remained friends even after our time in group therapy ended a bit more understandable.
But, between that and the fact that most people didn’t know Emily wasn’t straight until she started dating me, I feel like I got Emily in trouble a lot in the time we knew each other. But, every time I pointed this out to Emily, she’d smack me and talk about how I also was incredibly helpful to her, especially in regards to her ED recovery.
Because of me, Emily got in trouble. So, at least I’m no longer being a bad influence on her?