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The Grace of Group Therapy: Embracing A Life Without “Tea-Shade Glasses”

Some time ago, my life brought me to a point of humility, which made me realize I needed help. Through the help of my home 12-step group and therapist, I sought out an inpatient rehab facility. My 35 days in Tennessee not only provided me with the healing that I needed, but it rocked my world. The way that I view humans and relationships was changed forever. I wish to share one story of a person who helped shape my experience there.

Meeting TJ

My time spent at “The Ranch” exposed me to a wide range a personalities and backgrounds. As you can imagine, for a group of individuals receiving intensive care for drug and sex addiction, alcoholism, rage, trauma, depression, bipolar disorder, and everything else in between, there aren’t too many personalities that you forget. However, some of them stood out more to me than others. TJ was one of them. If John Lennon and “Lady Gaga” had conceived a child, I’m convinced that TJ would’ve been their creation. From what I could observe, TJ was an incredibly talented individual who lived an unapologetically bohemian lifestyle.

He was a musician by trade, but it appeared that he was blessed with other gifts in the creative arena. He could be seen walking around the facility with a top hat, nose, and ear piercings, John Lennon styled “tea shade” glasses, tattoos up and down his paper thin body, a mustache, and long, frazzled bleached blonde hair. To his close compadres, he preferred to be called either “Sex Dragon” or “Moon Lion.” He smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day and during break times, he could be seen whipping out his guitar to rip off a new, dangerous lick. 

He was no slouch either—he said that his band played at a venue on par with the Grand Ole Opry. He made friends quickly and made pompous remarks about the world around him often. Despite facility rules, there wasn’t a girl on campus with whom TJ could resist flirting. For all his charades of character, when TJ spoke seriously, everyone quieted down and listened, especially when he spoke of his spiritual insights. It’s almost as if everyone knew that his gregarious attire and larger-than-life personality were just a front for a rather intense soul.

When the Masks Come Off

One of the most moving moments during my time spent at “The Ranch” was in a group therapy session. For whatever reason, about an hour into the session, TJ had begun to develop a personal conversation with the counselor, as the rest of us listened attentively. The conversation had moved from half-hearted interest to a level of seriousness. 

Almost sounding rehearsed, TJ started to unveil the trauma driving his drug and alcohol addictions: being abandoned by his father at a young age, his mother’s circuit of abusive boyfriends, and witnessing a murder on the street as a youngster. He had begun to weep. I could feel the pain in the air. 

Perhaps, other personalities may have been able to stomach these traumatic events better than TJ. Great musicians and artists might be able to reach the heights of human expression, but it comes at a cost. They encounter life at a higher pitch than most—and there is no human mechanism that can sift out the good from the bad. Still, I could see something beautiful through the sadness.

There was a certain intensity between the counselor and TJ, and the rest of us could feel it. He was going to be discharged soon, and this would be his last group meeting. I sensed that the counselor took this as an opportune moment to “go for the kill”—to call a “spade a spade.” TJ was closed off from the world of opportunity for a short while, and this setting demanded a sense of seriousness from him. 

The counselor remarked, “TJ, you hide your face from everyone through your ridiculous outfit. I want you to show everyone who you really are.”

“I’m afraid to,” he replied.

“But deep down, you want to be known.” In my internal audio track, the band the Goo Goo Dolls’ song “Name” began playing.

Begrudgingly, he started out by taking off his top hat. Uncomfortably, he threw the hat down and put his hands up in the air. “Is that enough?” He asked.

“Now take off your glasses,” she requested.

The counselor had to jeer each accessory off of him. As if his sunglasses were made out of lead, he labored to remove them as well. Next, he took off his bandana, which was around his neck. And then his various bracelets and rings on his hands and arms. He had done it. He was on everyone else’s level. But to him, he felt like he was naked.

“How does it feel?” The counselor asked.

With tears streaming down his face his wounded heart barely uttered, “I’m so broken.” 

Various voices began to fill the room with support.

“I love you TJ.”

“You’re strong TJ.”

“You’re my brother TJ. We’re getting through this together.”

Making Sense of This Vulnerable Moment

We all sat there in a vacuum of timelessness, allowing TJ to cry and verbalize anything that was coming to the forefront of his mind. There wasn’t any therapeutic structure in this moment. TJ was the director and the main actor. We were just the supporting cast, reacting to the movements of his spirit. I can attest that this phenomenon in group therapy is incredibly powerful—when you are no longer simply completing tasks, but you are the task itself. It’s uncomfortable, but an experience of overwhelming dignity. 

TJ had removed the iron curtains from around his face and body. He had nowhere to hide his mangled, broken soul. All of the artistic and erotic energy that characterized him were all concentrated into one streamline valve. His tears and broken voice painted the picture of how life had chewed him up and spit him out. 

And yet, he could not have had this experience without all of us. The safe, nurturing environment enabled TJ to reveal who he really was. He wasn’t just communicating to the counselor, but to all of us. Letting his facade crash to the ground really meant that he was being held up by all of us—a true band of brothers.

I was deeply touched by his character and willingness to be vulnerable in front of the group. His witness helped me open up during my time there. I felt a connection to him, even though I had never really developed much of a relationship with him. There was a certain intensity and authenticity about him, even if it wasn’t consistent. If he was going to be a false self, the “Sex Dragon,” then he played the part like an Oscar winner. If he was going to be the real TJ, then he poured himself over in tears—because that’s where his soul really was.

Trauma is something that we as a culture are largely ignorant of and, collectively, we suffer the consequences for it. We take Advil for headaches, put on sunscreen, make sure our diet is healthy, count our daily steps, and go to the chiropractor when our back is out of line. But we hardly understand our emotional lives. We lack a sense of the connection between our emotional lives and our physical bodies—even though this drives our every move. 

I can’t help but say that my time in rehab has changed the way I view the world forever. I never realized how many traumatic experiences I had been through, and how they had affected me. In my opinion, anyone would benefit from taking a month-long sabbatical (or more) to do intensive therapy work. But, sadly, only a slim number of people will actually admit themselves (and usually it is for the most desperate of cases). In sharing this one story, my hope is to reach out to people who need the intensive care of an inpatient facility and are either unaware that it exists or resistant to it. 

The truth is, while I had an amazing therapist, the best therapy actually comes from others. It’s the environment of trust and honesty that actually enables situations like the one I described above to occur. I saw instances like this constantly during my time there. More importantly, I felt loved unconditionally—most of the time by those whom the world deems unlovable. It’s the paradox of the broken when unity comes not from the strong, but the weak. 

This common story of pain actually enables real honesty and human expression to occur. Vulnerability happens easily because we have abandoned the notion of being loved by all—having a few people who really know what our pain is like will do the job. In the moment, it may not look like beauty, but by trudging through the darkness, rays of light begin to shine through.

Have you ever considered inpatient rehab? Do you know someone in your life who might need to go to a competent inpatient facility in order to receive long-term healing?

 

Quarter Joe is a lifelong Catholic and has been in recovery for pornography addiction for nearly three years. He is passionate about the spiritual path of the 12-step model and the power of Jesus in the Eucharist in bringing healing and transformation.

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