The Group Dynamic

May 14, 2011

    One of the single most important keys to recovery is the group dynamic. Newly recovering addicts are not the most stable people to begin with, brimming with raw and new emotions, lacking coping skills, and never too far from any number of a variety of potential mental, emotional or spiritual meltdowns. And in treatment, we take a bunch of these poor souls – usually total strangers  – put them together in a powder keg and hope that they don’t burn the place down. Hopefully the result is something south of a disaster. In fact, it is the best way we know of to get people like me well. The results can be miraculous. Or….

When group therapy attacks.

    Treatment under the best of circumstances is a controlled burn, like the kind they do with underbrush to prevent full-blown forest fires. On occasion, however, things get a little too combustible. That is the risk associated with losing good people like we have over the last two weeks (losing in the sense that people were re-assimilated into normal life; it’s not like people are dropping dead here at the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch). 

    Because the group dynamic is a fragile thing. One or two personalities one way or the other can move the needle from the “healthy-group-therapy-dynamic” setting to the “inmates-running-the-asylum” setting, to, worse yet, the “OH-THE-HUMANITY-LOCK-UP-THE-SILVER-AND-HIDE-YOUR-DAUGHTERS!” setting. There is always going to be an ebb-and-flow to the quality of the group. But it does sometimes go bad. And when that happens, it always seems to happen fast. The staff here and our trusty clinical director talk about the group dynamic like salty old sailors talk about the weather. They stand around with ominous looks on their faces, twirl their crusty sea-beards, and mumble gravely about how there’s “trouble brewin’,” or “this one’s gonna be a doozy.” 

    I’m having a little fun with my analogy, but the fact is, for those of us for whom this thing here is life or death, the group dynamic is awfully damn important. In a good, healthy group, we feel safe sharing our feelings in a group setting. I have discussed in these pages how effective that can be. People support each other and lean on each other. That dynamic is a wonderful thing. But it can also be fleeting. When a group goes bad, the gossip starts. And people stop sharing because they stop trusting the other people in the room. Eventually someone will relapse. Then what you have is Melrose Place, and not much else.

    And when you’re sitting around with the people who are left, the ones who are serious about getting sober, and you’re wondering aloud who the next leaders are gonna be, the ones who will step into the void left by people like R and J, it occurs to you: those people will have to be us. Me. Because in any group dynamic, there are going to be those who prefer chaos, tension and drama. As I indicated above, people don’t end up at the Notdisneyworld Sober Ranch – or any other drug treatment facility – because they’re well-adjusted emotionally and play well with others. Quite the opposite. So it’s kind of up to those who have been here for a little while to keep that needle on the “good-group-therapy-dynamic” setting. This is all part our natural growth in keeping our paddles in the water. And we do have help: our clinical director, as I have mentioned, is a get-people-sober wizard. She guards the group dynamic like a mother grizzly guards her cubs. She – all 95 pounds of her – is not afraid to knock heads together for the good of the group.  

Do. Not. Fuck.With. My. Group. /shoots lasers from eyes

    So it is a fair statement that we have entered a new phase of my treatment. It is no longer a luxury for me to allow the group to be shaped by other people. I’ll need to share a little more. I’ll have to communicate a little more. I’ll have to participate a little more. And, to a certain extent, I’ll have to demand the same from some of my new friends. Because this is my recovery, and it’s too important to me to let someone else steer it.

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2 Responses to “The Group Dynamic”

  1. JerriR said

    Determination goes a long way. Glad to see you stepping up as it seems you do possess great leadership skills…now time to use them for the greater good of yourself and others! :)God will make a way!

  2. Praying for you. Praying for my son. Thank you for continuing to share.

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