Suffocated

When I arrived in group therapy this morning, only one other member (out of 6) was present. A couple of individuals turned up half an hour late, another two had already phoned in with yet another apology. In my opinion, absentees can make the group feel incomplete.

Taking my seat, the other group member – let’s call him Norris – was doing what he always seems so keen to do, talking! He’s insistent about only using prescribed Valium (Diazepam), but it’s obvious there’s a bit of doubling-up going on.

I developed a raging addiction to Valium about 16 years ago. Not only does it dull the emotional pain, it can also reduce awareness of social boundaries. A user might feel perfectly alert and together, but they’re really off their face and it shows. The drugs wonderful ability to lower inhibitions can result in confidently spouting considerable verbal diarrhoea.

To date, I’ve not really been too forthcoming in group. This is part insecurities and part to do with my problems with detachment. It’s been a challenge to connect with the past and face the stagnant trauma.

I wanted to share my recent discovery of the term ‘compartmentalizing’ and how it has been a major feature in my life. I had an excellent discussion with my Therapist on Wednesday and was trying to express both my understanding and my uncertainties.

I’m not quite sure how far I got before the two latecomers came through the door. I politely stopped talking, giving way to Norris’ eagerness to return to his own discussion.

Eventually attention turned to one of the latecomers. She touched on a raw nerve and quickly went into melt down. When we’re in floods of tears, most of us stop talking, but this would be a big mistake. Norris needed to share what triggers were going on in his own life. Was I the only one who was becoming a little P’d off?

The second latecomer shared an experience that was actually quite shocking. By this stage, I was so distracted by my own agitation that the magnitude of her experience is only just dawning. No sooner than she uttered the final letter of the last word, but Norris was droning on once again.

It was now 10 minutes before group ended, but I couldn’t be there a moment longer. Instead, I sat in the toilet cubicle trying to compose myself. Norris is a very sensitive man and there is a way to approach his eagerness to talk. I have no problem with that, but I did question why it seemed to be bugging me so much.

At first I was only focussed on the agitation. However, sometimes the stuff that raises issues within the group are similar to the problems we encounter out there, in the big bad world.

Norris might not remind me of anyone in particular, but this infuriating trait is one of the fundamental causes of my Mother’s selfish, demanding and very damaging nature. This has caused ripples through the family since the beginning of time; like walking on eggshells.

If we were sick, injured or having a bad time at school, it always came back to the hard times Mum was going through. When my sister recently divorced, conversations with Mum were dominated by how it was making her feel. Those tireless words, “What a terrible time I’m having”, still haunt and suffocate me to this day.

And this is exactly how today and previous weeks have made me feel – Suffocated.

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33 thoughts on “Suffocated

  1. myspokenheart

    I think you dealt with a very trying day quite well. I am proud of you. I know how hard it can be to maintain composure and not totally lose it on someone who is rubbing the wrong way in a time of heightened stress. ((HUGS))

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  2. corruptpsycho

    Is the absence of people in a group session a common thing do you know or is it just in your experience so far? I am curious as I am supposed to be doing group sessions at some point

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    1. Cat Post author

      Unfortunately, for these two absentees, it has become common. I don’t think it’s something that would be allowed to continue, as there are rules around attendance.

      Thanks for commenting

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  3. Ellen

    Ah, I well remember hanging out in the bathroom cubicles during group therapy! My sympathies to you.

    As you know, I did not do well in group. However, I know what was supposed to happen, so maybe this is applicable to you also. In my group, if someone was rubbing us the wrong way, it was our job to speak about that. And then, possibly, to speak further about our families, just as you are doing here about your mother. In this way you stop internalizing and get stuff out there.

    Of course, I’m not sure if your group is a psychodynamic group or not. Plus, even if it is, this kind of self-disclosure isn’t easy, and people are sometimes offended or hurt. On the other hand, sometimes you feel better and gain new insights into your dynamics. As you say, you are likely doing the same kinds of things in the outside world, when you venture out.

    Anyway. I also found group heightened whatever emotions I was going through, so it can be a tough tough slog at times.

    I think you have great insights, and it’s a good start. And yes, I’ll bet you’re not the only one T’d off by the ‘attention hog’. It really isn’t your job to take care of him, your job is to express what’s true for you.

    Take care

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Ellen, I thought about you all the way through writing this post, I remember your own group therapy.
      It is psychodynamic and we are encouraged to talk about our experience of group dynamics. I’m sure the absent places will come up. The Norris situation is more difficult and I’m probably also becoming aware of taking too much responsibility for how my actions/words affects another…. another product of a dysfunctional childhood.
      When you say, “It really isn’t your job to take care of him, your job is to express what’s true for you”…. Do you mean, it’s not my responsibility to worry abut how my view might upset ‘Norris’?.

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      1. Ellen

        Yes. To some extent. Your view needs to be expressed as being about you – not ‘you never shut up’ (not that you would say that, lol), but more about what you are feeling – that group time seems taken up by one person, that you feel angry about that, or anxious, or whatever – always about how you are feeling. Not that he is a bad person for doing what he is doing.

        Actually in my group, ron never said that. He was all about letting things come out however they may emerge. But I’ve read about this, and it makes sense to me, to make it about oneself, not attacking the other person.

        Difficult stuff. Kudos to you. I’m glad my experience didn’t scare you off!

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        1. Cat Post author

          Lol…yes, I might’ve been rude had I not went into hiding in the loo ;0) He’s actually ok and I do generally have time for him. I totally understand what you’re saying. It didn’t scare me off. It’s maybe more scary to think I probably do/or will trigger someone else’s issues…. let’s hope they show the same mercy!

          Thank you for your feedback, Ellen. It’s good to hear your (experienced) take on it

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  4. ziggy40

    Dear Cat,
    I think did really well, and thinking about triggers deeper inside. I’ve done years of group work and only recently ‘see’ traits in others that trigger me. I relate to the Valium ..’fog’ as I call it. Sending positive, healing thoughts and vibes..lol
    Love Ziggy

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  5. Tracesofthesoul

    Thank you for sharing this with us! I was going to respond under my StopTheStigma blog but here I can be more personal in my own sharing. Groups are not easy indeed and I used to facilitate groups and found it challenging trying to ensure everyone had a chance to speak. But there were rules, sort of like the “talking stick” visible or imaginary, when you were speaking and stopped when the latecomers arrived, I wondered why your therapist did ask you to continue or ask if you wanted to. I’m just curious about that for it sounds like it was a good start for you, sharing more on a compartmentalizing. I find you are so insightful making connections on things that trigger emotions..good on you! It’s not easy knowing what belongs to the person who bugs us or does it belong to us because they remind us of a person in our lives? My mom was addicted to Valium as well and it made her so “not there” for us when we were teens. That was the doctor’s fault for just “shutting up” most women in the 60’s with valium. It is very helpful for you, to process your thoughts after a session and sharing here is most generous of you. Some groups ask the members to process at the beginning of a group (if there are any leftover thoughts to add ) and always at the end of the group to process how everyone is feeling…perhaps in time you will share more in the group…I find you quite courageous doing this and thank you again for sharing here. Cheryl-Lynn

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    1. Cat Post author

      I’m not quite sure why the conversation wasn’t handed back to me. I also facilitated groups in drug rehab many years ago and sometimes, as you say, it’s difficult to ensure everyone has time to talk. I suspect the group leaders (2) are aware of one person dominating conversation, but they do encourage us to deal with our own issues. If they didn’t allow Frid to happen, maybe I might not be recognising something important about myself. However, in saying that, I too believe they should have more of a leadership role. I’m seldom shy in speaking my mind, so imagine it will come up in due course. We do have check in/out, but I was too agitated to approach the subject this week. It brings about another realisation that I worry too much about how my actions/words affect others…. Another issue from childhood! All in all, I reckon it was a good group, as it brought a couple of my own issues into focus.
      Thanks, Cheryl-Lynn, for your encouragement, it’s greatly appreciated

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      1. Tracesofthesoul

        It`s wonderful to see you self-explore and try to learn from this process. As a professional I enjoy watching the progress in groups….as a participant, oh boy, I go through the hiccups as well. I think that`s why group work is so helpful when a person is willing to learn from it…but it is best when you have a therapist you can see individually to process some more delicate-raw issues. You are on the right path, my friend, one step at a time…sometimes you need to take a step back to see what you may have missed…that is not regression but exploring. blessings…

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  6. kat

    really well expressed. sorry the group that is supposed to support you is instead more triggery, making you re-feel the suffocation. is there a possibility of not using this group, or of finding another one, or anything? good luck. this is why i don’t go to groups.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Kat, I think the group is supposed to trigger us. It’s difficult, but Frid’s session helped me realise a couple of things about my own issues.

      Thank you so much for your comment, I hope you’re doing a little better

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  7. RisingSong

    In all my years, I have attended one series of group therapy, and I had an incredibly difficult time sharing (so I’ve never tried it again). I commend you for choosing to share such an important topic…I’m sorry that things fell apart the way they did. It sounds like a horrible situation. You, however, were able to still derive benefit from it. Hurray to you! Being able to make the connection that you made with your mother is impressive. I call this progress. Keep on keeping on 🙂

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  8. mandy

    On the negative side, the group seemed really frustrating for you, but I’d say you made so many discoveries, looking back at how Valium looks from this side of it, and then recognizing your mother’s traits in this very annoying character. Sometimes group works out different that you might expect. It is unfortunate that just when you felt ready to open up, this goofball takes center stage. It’s too bad the facilitator isn’t a little more in charge of running the group and setting boundaries.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thank you, Mandy. I think you’re right; difficult but progress made. Yes, maybe the facilitators should be more proactive, but maybe they are giving people space to work it out in our own ways. I do worry about how ‘goofball’ might take criticism, but, again, my responsibility for other people’s feelings probably dates back to childhood.

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  9. Priceless Joy

    Those, “it’s all about me” types are boring and suffocating. I understand the feeling of agitation and frustration when having to endure them. Like you, I am trying to be more patient and understanding but it sure isn’t easy!

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  10. Susan Irene Fox

    Cat, it seems to me you handled all this remarkably well, including the “unraveling” you did afterwards. As many here have already stated, it’s your job in group to state what’s going on for you. It’s the therapist’s job to manage the group. If you feel as though one person is taking up the majority of the time in group and others are late and taking up time interrupting, you’re allowed to say how this is affecting you and your ability to speak about your own issues. Seems a better alternative than stuffing your feelings in the loo. And yes, there are certainly others in the group who feel the same way. 😉

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Susan. Yes, it was difficult, but considerable ground work was made, I think. You are right, I should be able to state what’s going on for me without worrying about how it affects someone else, like ‘Norris’. However, this is another realisation – I feel too responsible for how I might make someone else feel. I’m quite sure it will continue to unravel in the group.
      Thank you, Susan

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  11. Cate Reddell

    Wow, I think you handled that with great wisdom. Groups have never been a favourite of mine and I do think the success of them very much depends on the skills of the person leading, or at least keeping it together. As for valium, I got married on a whole heap of valium 20 years ago this month. I would never have turned up without the valium but that just leaves me with the conclusion that marriage on valium should be illegal. Never mind, since the damage was fixed long ago. 🙂

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    1. Cat Post author

      Yes, Valium can be both wonderful and devastating. I used to completely black out and had absolutely no idea what happened the previous day.
      Thank you for those encouraging words, Cate.

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  12. lifeconfusions

    Hello Cat, How are you? I know it’s been a while since I’d been on wordpress. Looks like you started the group sessions and therapy. I adore your patience while in that situation and its good that at the end of the day you were able to vent out here. Please know I always read you and my virtual support is always here for you. If you ever need someone to talk to you know where to find me. Wishing you much love and hugs,
    Zee ❤

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  13. paininhidingabuse

    Cat firstly you courageous in going to group therapy and listening to others for me I’ll be running. .miles
    But you stuck it out you know we’re your feelings are coming from I’m thinking of you lots please take it gently with yourself!
    Lisa xoxo

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  14. Becki Duckworth

    Cat, I’m with you in regards to the valium. I was prescribed it among other meds years ago. I felt like I was walking around in the twilight zone. Meds only mask what eventually we all have to end up facing. I used the valium I had to stop smoking, it worked great knocking myself out until the withdrawl period from nicotine was over. You are very courageous to attend group therapy. I wish I had the strength to join a therapy group.

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  15. Tallulah "Lulu" Stark

    Hi, Cat. I’m not sure if we’ve met, but I’m glad to be here anyway. It’s nice to finally be here.

    I get what you mean about the Valium. I experimented with some different benzos in college, and that was one of them. While I can’t claim a full on addiction to benzos, I can attest to their nature of allowing someone to step over social boundaries. Half the reason I took them was due to social anxiety. Instead of benzos, I ended up with an alcohol problem – which is very much akin since they both work on the same receptors.

    I can relate to what you expressed about your mom. My dad has PTSD and my brother has autism. Anytime I voiced any problems I was having, I was made to feel so small. Everything I felt had to be devalued, because it was nothing in comparison to what was going on with other family members. It’s invokes so many emotions.

    After awhile, I started the really bad habit of keeping things to myself. In my adult life, I would let things spin off into a full-blown crisis, and I never knew why I had/have so much difficulty just asking for help. I’m a little better at managing things these days, but I’m still not great at letting other people in.

    I have to give my kudos to you. Group therapy is so ambitious, and I’d think it to be the mother of all challenges. You are brave and insightful. It’s a lovely thing what you’re doing, and even what you’re doing here by sharing it. I truly appreciate how another person could have gone through something similar, and taught me something I really didn’t fully understand me.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Nice to meet you Lulu. I’m not sure if we have met, but I did read your recent post on Canvas.

      Thank you for such a lovely thoughtful comment. Gowing up believing our opinions don’t matter can lead to all sorts of problems, as we’re all too aware. Asking for help is not my strongest point either. It automatically invokes guilt.

      Group therapy can be a little scary, but it forces me to face one of my biggest fears; allowing people to see past the veil of emotional balance and confidence.

      I look forward to your future posts on Canvas. Is that your only blog?

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