Five creams, two sugars

One: the air smells cold tonight. I forget that cold has a particular scent, living here in central Texas.

Two: The guest on tonight’s podcast-for-the-commute made a comment like:

“Group therapy was super useful when I was completely disconnected from my feelings. I could help others figure out their feelings, because I’m helpful. And I could look around at others and see what I might be supposed to feel.”

As she spoke, I immediately replayed a memory.

I’m sitting in a circle of perhaps six people. I’m telling a story, some recent interaction between me and my then-fiancé. Or perhaps a nested chain of interactions… I no longer recall which story this would have been. I’m telling the story well–tightly paced, good details, reasonably accurate and equitable. I glance around the ring, as storytellers do,

and the look on each face was flabbergasted horror. As in, “He did WHAT?!” but without sound.

I remember thinking, “Really? Huh. So that is a big problem. And I don’t have to be okay with it.”

***

I was in group therapy for two, perhaps three months. I saw the same therapist–the one who led the group–for solo work both before and after. She later told me, offhandedly, that I’d been a destabilizing influence: she was aware I’d collected a lover from the group, but as I recall she also told me she made use of the dynamic I left in my wake. I didn’t get the sense that I “broke” anything… anyway, emotional responses are the compost of group therapy. Any responses will do.

And the responses she wanted for me were in that chorus of faces. I didn’t know this; all she said was, “I think it’ll be helpful.” I was less sanguine–my hospital group therapy was frequently boring.

But I knew I wasn’t functioning well–after all, I was on medical leave for my anxiety. I knew they weren’t functioning well–no one comes to a group therapy session as a tourist. So I’d anticipated camaraderie and empathy: they’d have my back, know where I was coming from.

What I didn’t expect was what Thea knew they could deliver: a jump-start to my feeling-thinking synchrony.

When a gathering of neurotics stares at you sidelong, you know you’re out of whack. A few weeks of that, and it gets easier to track down the buried outrage, the irrational irritation, the illogical hurt.

I’m a quick study. She wanted me in front of a jury of my peers just long enough to gain a better mirror–at which point we resumed one-on-one work. But she was wise. My peers taught me in a way that she would never have been able to.

I remember sitting over coffee in some diner with the lover. I had been musing about how perhaps I was too needy, asking for too much affection from my fiancé. That I was being unreasonable. He pulled the tiny empty cream tubs toward him and said something like: Who’s to say what’s too much? Or not enough? Maybe for me it’s one cream tub. Maybe for you it’s five. That’s the right amount of cream for you–and the right person will be happy to give you five.

It was at that point that I stopped being engaged… internally. I was a five-creams person, and it wasn’t working to push on someone who at that point only had one cream at a time.

So really — who’s to say what’s too much? Or not enough? If they were logical, they wouldn’t be called feelings, they’d be called reasons.

Just ask my group.

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