Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life

Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life

by Christie Tate

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“Often hilarious and ultimately very touching.” —People

“Have you ever read a book that made you want to hug the author?” —Reese Witherspoon

“This unrestrained memoir is a transporting experience and one of the most startlingly hopeful books I have ever read.” —Lisa Taddeo, New York Times bestselling author of Three Women

The refreshingly original debut memoir of a guarded, over-achieving, self-lacerating young lawyer who reluctantly agrees to get psychologically and emotionally naked in a room of six complete strangers—her psychotherapy group—and in turn finds human connection, and herself.

Christie Tate had just been named the top student in her law school class and finally had her eating disorder under control. Why then was she driving through Chicago fantasizing about her own death? Why was she envisioning putting an end to the isolation and sadness that still plagued her despite her achievements?

Enter Dr. Rosen, a therapist who calmly assures her that if she joins one of his psychotherapy groups, he can transform her life. All she has to do is show up and be honest. About everything—her eating habits, childhood, sexual history, etc. Christie is skeptical, insisting that that she is defective, beyond cure. But Dr. Rosen issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: “You don’t need a cure. You need a witness.”

So begins her entry into the strange, terrifying, and ultimately life-changing world of group therapy. Christie is initially put off by Dr. Rosen’s outlandish directives, but as her defenses break down and she comes to trust Dr. Rosen and to depend on the sessions and the prescribed nightly phone calls with various group members, she begins to understand what it means to connect.

Group is a deliciously addictive read, and with Christie as our guide—skeptical of her own capacity for connection and intimacy, but hopeful in spite of herself—we are given a front row seat to the daring, exhilarating, painful, and hilarious journey that is group therapy—an under-explored process that breaks you down, and then reassembles you so that all the pieces finally fit.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Every page of this incredible memoir, Group by Christie Tate, had me thinking 'I wish I had read this book when I was 25. It would have helped me so much!'... We need each other through the good times and the bad. Please read this book with a group of friends you cherish." —Reese Witherspoon

"Tate’s hard-won willingness to become loving and to be loved ultimately shapes a story that has a lot of heart—one that goes straight to the messy center of what it means to interrogate our own limitations and deepest desires, wherever that journey may take us." —Dani Shapiro, The New York Times

"Tate's candid path to healing is often hilarious and ultimately very touching." People

“Tate's writing positions the reader as her witness, watching and cheering as she works her way to psychological health...[Her] commitment to detail serves Group well. So does her plain determination to present herself not as a victorious therapy graduate — she's a group ‘lifer,’ and proud of it — but as an ordinary woman who has been lucky enough to beat some extraordinary demons. Group is consistently determined and grateful, with an appealing strand of self-deprecation and a deep affection for [Tate’s groupmates].” NPR

"Over-achieving young lawyer Christie Tate gives readers an inside peek into the highs and lows of group therapy. Recovering from an eating disorder and battling depression, Tate reluctantly turns to this communal form of psychotherapy. Funny, emotional, and insightful, Group is sure to be a breakout hit." Good Morning America

"Group is an honest, addictive memoir about a woman’s experience in group therapy. She held nothing back with them, and she holds nothing back with us." —HelloGiggles

“Fearless candor and vulnerability.” Time

"A wild ride...It gets pretty raw." —The Boston Globe

"It takes courage to bare your soul in front of a therapist, but when you add six strangers to the mix, it becomes an act of faith. In Group, Christie Tate takes us on a journey that's heartbreaking and hilarious, surprising and redemptive—and, ultimately, a testament to the power of connection. Perhaps the greatest act of bravery is that Tate shared her story with us, and how lucky we are that she did." —Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

Eugene Onegin made me want to move to Russia and Little Women made me want to have sisters. Group made me want to rewind a decade, sit with a number of strangers and one shamanic doctor, strip down and survive. This unrestrained memoir is a transporting experience and one of the most startlingly hopeful books I have ever read. It will make you want to get better, whatever better means for you." Lisa Taddeo, New York Times bestselling author of Three Women

"Group sucked me in and never let go. Real transformation is not for the faint of heart, and in these pages Christie Tate captures her evolution in all its misery and hilarity, along with the beauty of bearing witness to one another as we grow. Group reminds us that we are hurt by other people, but we can be healed by them too. Damn, I want to join a group now." —Sarah Hepola, New York Times bestselling author of Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget

"In breathtaking bursts of beauty and vulnerability, Christie Tate's Group dares to tell the story of a body from the inside out. There is a place between pain and joy and her body is the word for it. This book will remind you how to come back to yourself even when you want to give up, make you laugh, make you cry, help you breathe. This book will save lives." —Lidia Yuknavitch, author of Verge and The Misfit's Manifesto

"[A] dazzling debut memoir...Readers will be irresistibly drawn into Tate’s earnest and witty search for authentic and lasting love." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"What actually helps when we despair? In this therapeutic page-turner, a boon especially to women struggling with loss, loneliness, or imposter syndrome, Christie Tate tells the story of how she overcame trauma and found love. Her hard-won strategy is as simple to say as it is tough to do: keep showing up.” —Ada Calhoun, New York Times bestselling author of Why We Can’t Sleep

"Christie Tate's...writing displays a wonderful combination of clear and simple with sparkle and intelligence...[Group is] a compelling narrative that empowers readers to better understand their own lives." Booklist (starred review)

“Tate takes readers on a journey through her life-changing road to recovery and in turn finds hope, human connection and a new take on life.” —CNN (Best Books of October 2020)

"A moving, raw account of healing, and one you'll definitely want to talk about in the group chat." —The Skimm

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982154639
Publisher: Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 10/27/2020
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 4,870
File size: 2 MB

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The first time I wished for death—like, really wished its bony hand would tap me on the shoulder and say “this way”—two bags from Stanley’s Fruit and Vegetables sat shotgun in my car. Cabbage, carrots, a few plums, bell peppers, onions, and two dozen red apples. It had been three days since my visit to the bursar’s office, where the law school registrar handed me a notecard with my class rank, a number that had begun to haunt me. I turned the key in the ignition and waited for the engine to turn over in the ninety-degree heat. I pulled a plum out of the bag, tested it for firmness, and took a bite. The skin was thick but the flesh beneath was tender. I let the juice dribble down my chin.

It was eight thirty. Saturday morning. I had nowhere to be, nothing to do. No one was expecting to see me until Monday morning, when I’d report for duty at Laird, Griffin & Griffin, the labor law firm where I was a summer intern. At LG&G only the receptionist and the partner who hired me knew I existed. The Fourth of July was Wednesday, which meant I’d face yet another stifling, empty day in the middle of the week. I’d find a 12-step meeting and hope that people would want to go for coffee afterward. Maybe another lonely soul would want to catch a movie or grab a salad. The engine hummed to life, and I gunned the car out of the parking lot.

I wish someone would shoot me in the head.

A soothing thought with a cool obsidian surface. If I died, I wouldn’t have to fill the remaining forty-eight hours of this weekend or Wednesday’s holiday or the weekend after that. I wouldn’t have to endure the hours of hot, heavy loneliness that stretched before me—hours that would turn into days, months, years. A lifetime of nothing but me, a bag of apples, and the flimsy hope that stragglers after a recovery meeting might want some company.

A recent news story about a fatal shooting in Cabrini Green, Chicago’s infamous housing project, flashed in my mind. I steered my car south on Clybourn and turned left on Division. Maybe one of those stray bullets would hit me.

Please, someone shoot me.

I repeated it like a mantra, an incantation, a prayer that would likely go unanswered because I was a twenty-six-year-old white woman in a ten-year-old white Honda Accord on a bright summer morning. Who would shoot me? I had no enemies; I hardly existed. Anyway, that fantasy relied too heavily on luck—bad or good, depending on how you looked at it—but other fantasies came unbidden. Jumping from a high window. Throwing myself on the El tracks. As I came to a stop at Division and Larrabee, I considered more exotic ways to expire, like masturbating while I hung myself, but who was I kidding? I was too repressed for that scenario.

I fished the pit out of the plum and popped the rest in my mouth. Did I really want to die? Where were these thoughts going to lead me? Was this suicidal ideation? Depression? Was I going to act on these thoughts? Should I? I rolled down the window and threw the pit as far as I could.

In my law school application, I described my dream of advocating for women with non-normative (fat) bodies—but that was only partly true. My interest in feminist advocacy was genuine, but it wasn’t the major motivator. I wasn’t after the inflated paychecks or the power suits either. No, I went to law school because lawyers work sixty- and seventy-hour weeks. Lawyers schedule conference calls during Christmas break and are summoned to boardrooms on Labor Day. Lawyers eat dinner at their desks surrounded by colleagues with rolled-up sleeves and pit stains. Lawyers can be married to their work—work that is so vital that they don’t mind, or notice, if their personal lives are empty as a parking lot at midnight. Legal work could be a culturally approved-of beard for my dismal personal life.

I took my first practice law school admissions test (LSAT) from the desk where I worked at a dead-end secretarial job. I had a master’s degree I wasn’t using and a boyfriend I wasn’t fucking. Years later, I’d refer to Peter as a workaholic-alcoholic, but at the time I called him the love of my life. I would dial his office at nine thirty at night when I was ready to go to sleep and accuse him of never having time for me. “I have to work,” he’d say, and then hang up. When I’d call back, he wouldn’t answer. On the weekends, we’d walk to dive bars in Wicker Park so he could drink domestic beers and debate the merits of early R.E.M. albums, while I prayed he’d stay sober enough to have sex. He rarely did. Eventually I decided I needed something all-consuming to absorb the energy I was pouring into my miserable relationship. The woman who worked down the hall from me was headed to law school in the fall. “Can I borrow one of your test books?” I asked. I read the first problem:

A professor must schedule seven students during a day in seven different consecutive time periods numbered one through seven.

What followed were a series of statements like: Mary and Oliver must occupy consecutive periods and Sheldon must be scheduled after Uriah. The test directions allotted thirty-five minutes to answer six multiple choice questions about this professor and her scheduling conundrum. It took me almost an hour. I got half of them wrong.

And yet. Slogging through LSAT prep and then law school seemed easier than fixing whatever made me fall in love with Peter and whatever it was that made me stay for the same fight night after night.

Law school could fill all my yearnings to belong to other people, to match my longings with theirs.

At my all-girls high school in Texas, I took a pottery elective freshman year. We started with pinch pots and worked our way up to the pottery wheel. Once we molded our vessels, the teacher taught us how to add handles. If you wanted to attach two pieces of clay—say, the cup and the handle—you had to score the surface of both. Scoring—making horizontal and vertical gouges in the clay—helped the pieces meld together when fired in the kiln. I sat on my stool holding one of my crudely sculpted “cups” and a C-shaped handle as the teacher demonstrated the scoring process. I hadn’t wanted to ruin the smooth surface of the “cup” I’d lovingly pinched, so I smushed the handle on it without scoring its surface. A few days later, our shiny, fired pieces were displayed on a rack in the back of the studio. My cup had survived, but the handle lay in brittle pieces beside it. “Faulty score,” the teacher said when she saw my face fall.

That was how I’d always imagined the surface of my heart—smooth, slick, unattached. Nothing to grab on to. Unscored. No one could attach to me once the inevitable heat of life bore down. I suspected the metaphor went deeper still—that I was afraid of marring my heart with the scoring that arose naturally between people, the inevitable bumping against other people’s desires, demands, pettiness, preferences, and all the quotidian negotiations that made up a relationship. Scoring was required for attachment, and my heart lacked the grooves.

I wasn’t an orphan either, though the first part of this reads like I was. My parents, still happily married, lived in Texas in the same redbrick ranch house I grew up in. If you drove by 6644 Thackeray Avenue, you would see a weathered basketball hoop and a porch festooned with three flags: Old Glory, the Texas state flag, and a maroon flag with the Texas A&M logo on it. Texas A&M was my dad’s alma mater. Mine too.

My parents called a couple times a month to check on me, usually after mass on Sundays. I always went home for Christmas. They bought me a giant green Eddie Bauer coat when I moved to Chicago. My mom sent me fifty-dollar checks so I’d have spending money; my dad diagnosed problems with my Honda’s brakes over the phone. My younger sister was finishing graduate school and about to become engaged to her longtime boyfriend; my brother and his wife, college sweethearts, lived in Atlanta near dozens of their college friends. None of them knew about my unscored heart. To them, I was their oddball daughter and sister who voted Democratic, liked poetry, and settled north of the Mason-Dixon Line. They loved me, but I didn’t really fit with them or Texas. When I was a kid, my mom would play the Aggie fight song on the piano and my dad would sing along at the top of his lungs. Hullaballo-canek-canek, Hullaballoo-canek-canek. He took me on my college tour of Texas A&M, and when I picked it—primarily because we could afford it—he was genuinely thrilled to have another Aggie in the family. He never said so, but surely he was disappointed to learn that I spent home football games in the library highlighting passages in Walden while twenty thousand fans sang, stomped, and cheered loud enough that when the Aggies, scored the library walls vibrated. Everyone in my family and all of Texas, it seemed, loved football.

I was a misfit. The deep secret I carried was that I didn’t belong. Anywhere. I spent half my days obsessing about food and my body and the weird shit I did to control both, and the other half trying to outrun my loneliness with academic achievement. I went from the honor roll in high school to the dean’s list in college for earning a 4.0 for most of my semesters there to cramming legal theories into my brain seven days a week. I dreamed of one day showing up at 6644 Thackeray Avenue at my goal weight, arm in arm with a healthy functioning man, and my spine shooting straight to the sky.

I didn’t think of disclosing to my family when my troubling wishes about death cropped up. We could talk about the weather, the Honda, and the Aggies. None of my secret fears and fantasies fit into any of those categories.

I wished passively for death, but I didn’t stockpile pills or join the Hemlock Society’s mailing list. I didn’t research how to get a gun or fashion a noose out of my belts. I didn’t have a plan, a method, or a date. But I felt an unease, constant as a toothache. It didn’t feel normal, passively wishing that death would snatch me up. Something about the way I was living made me want to stop living.

I don’t remember what words I used when I thought about my malaise. I know I felt a longing I couldn’t articulate and didn’t know how to satisfy. Sometimes I told myself I just wanted a boyfriend or that I was scared I would die alone. Those statements were true. They nicked the bone of the longing, but they didn’t reach the marrow of my despair.

In my journal, I used vague words of discomfort and distress: I feel afraid and anxious about myself. I feel afraid that I’m not OK, will never be OK & I’m doomed. It’s very uncomfortable to me. What’s wrong with me? I didn’t know then that a word existed to perfectly define my malady: lonely.

That card from the bursar with my class rank on it, by the way, said number one. Uno. First. Primero Zuerst. The one hundred seventy other students in my class had a GPA lower than mine. I’d exceeded my goal of landing in the top half of the class, which, after my less-than-mediocre score on the LSAT—I never could figure out when Uriah should have his conference—seemed like a stretch goal. I should have been thrilled. I should have been opening zero-balance credit cards. Shopping for Louboutin heels. Signing the lease on a new apartment on the Gold Coast. Instead, I was first in my class and jealous of the lead singer of INXS who died of autoerotic asphyxiation.

What the hell was wrong with me? I wore size-six pants, had D-cup breasts, and pulled in enough student loan money to cover a studio apartment in an up-and-coming neighborhood on the north side of Chicago. For eight years, I’d been a member of a 12-step program that taught me how to eat without sticking my finger down my throat thirty minutes later. My future gleamed before me like Grandma’s polished silver. I had every reason to be optimistic. But self-disgust about my stuckness—I was far away from other people, aeons away from a romantic relationship—lodged in every cell of my body. There was some reason that I felt so apart and alone, a reason why my heart was so slick. I didn’t know what it was, but I felt it pulsing as I fell asleep and wished to not wake up.

I was already in a 12-step program. I’d done a fourth-step inventory with my sponsor who lived in Texas and made amends to the people I’d harmed. I’d returned to Ursuline Academy, my all-girl high school, with a one-hundred-dollar check as restitution for money I stole while managing parking-lot fees junior year. Twelve-step recovery had arrested the worst of my disordered eating, and I credited it with saving my life. Why was I now wishing that life away? I confessed to my sponsor who lived in Texas that I’d been having dark thoughts.

“I wish for death every day.” She told me to double up on my meetings.

I tripled them, and felt more alone than ever.

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