|Just because you are bad guy does not mean you are bad . . . guy.|
I started my Intensive Outpatient Program, AKA "IOP," AKA "Crazy School," last Friday. The first day didn't go anything like I'd expected and by then end I was ready to run for the hills. In stead of doing any kind of "Hi, my name is Emily and I'm a little crazy," they just gave me a tour of the building and deposited me in a class that had already started. I took my seat and tried not to feel like I was the new kid in 7th grade. Most of the other people were young adults and a lot of them were recovering addicts. And I got the impression that no one wanted to be there. I even asked my clinician at the break if some of them were court ordered to be there and couldn't believe me when she said it was all voluntary. Then why are they acting like jackasses? I wanted to shout. We had a class about how important it is for our mental health to get enough sleep and eat right. Seriously. A whole class. Then we had group therapy where I felt like I knew more about how to lead the discussion than the shrink. Then we talked about what coping skills we'd learned that week that we planned on using over the weekend. Um, yeah. Not exactly helpful. It wasn't even until the end of the day that I'd spoken enough to reveal that I have triplets. ("You win!" they all said.) When they asked what my goal was for next week, I very much wanted to say, "Try to figure out if this program is worth my precious time." But I didn't. And I went back the next week. And I'm so glad I did.
After a disappointing second and third day, I finally had a breakthrough. We learned about Radical Acceptance which goes something like this: Bad things are going to happen and you will experience pain in your life whether you like it or not. But you decide if you want to stay in the pain and suffer or dig down deep to face reality and move on. As I was taking notes, I wrote down, "What is the reality that I'm refusing to accept?" Then another patient shared a story about how that morning she'd been frustrated as she got the kids ready for school. (She's one of the few that is old enough to have kids.) She finally lost it and snapped at her daughter and said something mean. And then, she said, she had a choice—she could either accept reality and move on or be willful and continue to suffer. When I asked her what she meant, she explained that she immediately apologized and tried to repair the relationship with her daughter. That's acceptance. If she'd been willful, she might have stuffed her emotions or let her guilt drive her crazy or a number of other negative outcomes. But what, I asked, was the reality that she had to accept? She looked at me for a moment and then said, "That I'm not perfect."
BOOM! THE LIGHT GOES ON! BREAKTHROUGH!
So now, every time one (or all) of my kids cry or scream or throw a tantrum, I repeat over and over in my mind, "I'm not perfect and that's okay. I'm not perfect and that's okay." It's seriously helping.
This week I also started to try to have a better attitude in group therapy. After talking to my brother, BJ, who has been doing this stuff for the last four years all day, every day, I realized I needed to stop looking at the differences between me and the other patients, and focus on what inside of me was causing me to think I was better or healthier than them. I think that's what group therapy is all about—you're forced to interact with others in a way that requires absolute emotional authenticity. There's something synergistic that happens when you are able to listen to someone else's problem, help them dig down to the root of it, see yourself in their own pain, and help them come up with a solution. Even just knowing that other people have felt what you're feeling and have figured out how to deal with it is really affirming and helps you grow.
Am I boring you yet? The point of all this is that I am glad I'm in Crazy School and I'm looking forward to the next week. If you ever want an earful of what awesome thing I learned any given day, just give me a call.