The last session of the last module of DBT ended last week. And while I was thankful for a respite of the hour commute, I was sad. Not just because I like the idea of going to “class” and learning tools to help IRL. But also, I was sad about the idea of not seeing my peeps.
There’s a small group of us that started at the same time and have gone through all the modules together. While we don’t always go into the specifics of our lives, after a while, you start to pick up on what the person is going through. You get a general sense of their demeanor, their struggles, and what they are trying to get from DBT.
I don’t like group therapy. In fact, each time I have tried, I have walked out hating it more. But DBT is different. It’s not about sharing and commiserating, it’s about learning, practicing, reviewing together, and then trying again. DBT group relationships are not based on the connection of our misery; but on the connection of our growth.
Before it ended, we managed to get everyone onto a group text message. We even named ourselves the “DBT Divas.”We’re meeting on Wednesday at the time we usually have class and we’re going to take a walk. I’m not saying we are going to be besties, or that we even have that much in common. I also question how good it is for people who are in bad places to spend a lot of time together because it can be ineffective if you bring each other down. But because we met in DBT, we come together as survivors, not victims; and we are all fighting to get better, not to wallow in our misery.
So I hope in hanging out, we can learn more about each other, and maybe play through some of our personal scenarios, but I’m not proposing that we all get along and connect on a deeper level. I can already tell, from being in three modules together, all of us lead very different lives. A lot of us have the same diseases or are on the same meds or even have been through similar experiences, but that’s different than our personalities and the values of our lives. DBT is a tool for anyone, but it’s used differently by each person according to their specific needs.
I’m a little torn between whether this is a good or bad idea.
When you normally meet people, outside of a therapeutic environment, you take time getting to know each other. The conversation is light and general. Maybe the second time you meet, you share a little bit more about your day and in that, your personality and style becomes more apparent. And by the third friend date, maybe you float your mental illness subtly into the conversation. You see their response. It’s usually: 1) blank face of the terror of not knowing what to say; 2) “Oh, my cousin is crazy!” (ugh); 3) “My sister deals with depression”; 4) “I’m sorry to hear that” or, 5) “Oh, yeah, I actually have dealt with that too.” From there, you can kind of see the viability of a long term friendship. After all, it plays such a large part in your life, it’s going to come up.
And I could have a fascinating conversation with anyone I meet – I find people so interesting: their lives, how they speak, how they tell a story, their inflections, their beliefs, the background behind their beliefs. But when I meet people for the first time, it’s more like an examination and study, rather than a potential friend date. If they make me laugh or we seem to be on the same level, then I start to relax and think of it more as a step in the direction towards friendship.
But when I meet people through therapy, or groups, they already know I have been through some heavy shit, and I know the same of them. I have found a lot of people feel that connection and therefore think it’s ok to ask really personal questions – they want the whole story of how you got where you are; and they want to tell you about their illness. You miss the basics and dive right into the deep shit. I usually play along, but afterwards I feel raw – like a piece of me was taken before I had prepared to give it. I know I am sad to see them go, but I do wonder whether once outside the classroom, what will be the dynamic? If our connection is our struggle to stay above water, how do we go back to the first friend date material? Can a relationship start in the middle and go backwards? Or are we meant to have had this experience together and that’s that?
I guess I’ll know more on Wednesday night.