Group Therapy

Group Therapy

A Story by Carol Cashes

A domestic abuse survivor tells the (hers) truth about moving on






What was I thinking?!”  played like a despised commercial jingle, repeating itself over and over in her mind.  Her failure to come up with a reasonable (believable) both frustrated and taunted her. 


“C’mon, you always know your own motives”, she chastised herself, but even this plea for self-honesty failed to produce a coherent response within herself.  Shaking her head in disgust, she turned up the volume on the car radio, singing out loud and of course, out-of-tune. 


And in truth, C.  did not consciously understand why she had committed herself to this venture.  And committed she was�"she understood this part well enough, no mistake.  But why?  Good Lord, wasn’t it over and done with for some time, now?  Why couldn’t it stay there?  And she had volunteered to summon this up, as if it were an old photo album pulled from the top shelf of the closet �" look at what you want, close it at will, and put it away.  But memories, as fragile as mist and as powerful as the elements, were not so easily manipulated.  She understood this, too, and was more than a  little frightened.


Had she gotten arrogant in her recovery, thinking herself no longer touched by these recollections?  Did she really believe that she could objectively and dispassionately summon up events that had shaped her as surely as any from her childhood? What was she thinking?


She pulled into the small church parking lot, hesitating before actually turning the key that silenced the car’s engine, and listened to the small neighborhood sounds that seemed to be common throughout the world�"children shouting at one another in play, dogs barking at each other through fences, faint music from a car stereo.  Sighing, she unbuckled her seatbelt, and slowly emerged, sniffing the air and smelling bar-b-que, fresh mowed grass, and the beginning of summer.


Standing on the front steps of the church were two women, engaged in what appeared to be idle chat, but when they turned at her approach, the fierce intensity of their gazes reached out and seemed to lodge in her chest.  C. knew this look too well, had stared at it in mirrors, willing it to go away, or at least, to burn less brightly.  Steeling herself to withstand this raw�"and undeniably new�"pain shining like diamonds in their eyes, she walked toward the two women, and holding out her hand, introduced herself, adding that her friend, Z., had invited her speak at the gathering. 


The taller, older woman, forced a feeble smile, and took her hand, holding it almost too tightly in her rough, callused palm.  “Thank you for coming tonight.  From the  little Z.  told us, I’m  sure that your story will help some of us to see that there is life after...”.  Here, she faltered, still not far enough from her own story to speak easily, even in casual greeting.


C. felt her chest tightening, and sensed her already shaky resolve dissipating like morning fog when the sun has truly risen.  “Oh, Christ! This is going to set me back ten years!”, she thought, and was only an instant from stammering her apologies and running for her car.  The woman seemed to sense this, and holding even tighter to her hand, began to lead her into the darkened foyer of the church, up the aisle, and through a door behind the pulpit into what appeared to be a small, brightly lit meeting room.  There were approximately twenty old, some rusted, folding metal chairs positioned in a ragged semi-circle facing three more chairs.  Without slowing or altering her long stride, the tall woman led her to the nearest of the three chairs, indicating with a small push that she should sit. 


“Would you like a cup of coffee?  We have some cake and cookies, but we usually wait until after the meeting to eat.  The coffee is fresh, now, though, would you like some?  By the way, I am A., and this is B.”   C.  had not noticed that the other woman had trailed noiselessly behind them into the room, and had been standing silently watching the both of them.  At the mention of her name, however, she moved forward, and with a nod, offered her small, pale hand.  In almost a whisper, she voiced her own thanks-for-coming, and repeated the offer of fresh coffee.


“Thanks, that sounds good”, C. smilingly replied in a normal tone of voice, though her mind still churned with dread and anticipation of speaking before these women.  “I don’t even know how to start!” her mind screamed, as she turned her head, watching the arrival of more women, the small room filling in moments.  C. gratefully  accepted the steaming cup of coffee from B.,  who had returned as silently as she had left. 


The normal soft chatter, laughter, and occasional loud cackle usually present in large groups of women was glaringly absent from this gathering, and the only sound in the room was a soft, barely discernable murmur, rising and falling as they claimed their chairs, and when all were seated,  ceased entirely.  

Part 2


A. stood before her chair next to C.’s, and began, “I want to welcome all of you here, tonight.  We have arranged for C. to speak to you about her experiences and how they’ve changed her life.”  She turned to C., who stood and moved forward slightly to address the group.


She remained silent for a moment, assessing the group as a whole, and individually, and began to speak before the combined enormity of their hurt paralyzed her.


As she uttered predictable phrases of encouragement and clichés about strength in numbers and courage under fire, she stopped.  Determined, she decided they need the truth more.


“Most of you have survived an attack on your life.  And just maybe, you feel that he, or she, would never actually kill you...uh huh.  First fact of your life, if they can hurt you, they can kill you.  Second fact”, she paused again, “ they didn’t.”


She waited for angry shouts, the particular buzzing exclusive to  astonished and appalled crowds.  But only silence hung in the room, so fraught with tension as to be nearly visible.


She continued, “To spend the next six months, two years, five years reliving the worst, wringing your hands over all the ‘what if’s’,  to give another damn minute of your life to someone else’s madness is a waste of the life you obviously thought worth saving....if you didn’t go back.


C. hung her head for a brief moment, then appeared to firm her resolve by raising her head, and speaking steadily,  without hesitation.


“I am well aware that this concept flies in the face of current psychology:  that you gotta dig and probe, dissect and analyze, embrace, for God’s sake, what has happened to you.  In my opinion, that’s for those who truly believe they deserved it and reliving it over and over cements that familiar but fatal belief.


“Do not  misunderstand me.  I am not talking about denial.  I am not talking about downplaying the seriousness of the situation.  I’m talking about acknowledging that you lived through it; spend only the time necessary to determine how it’s changed you, and get on with your life, cuz, baby, you only get one.”


She could see that some of the older women were watching her intently, absorbing her words, weighing them for truth and what bearing, if any, they would have  on  their lives.  Many of the younger women, a few still girls, remained puzzled, some even still agog over her opening statements.


“When you stop, and attempt to identify actual changes, not your address, not your name, not your job, but how you respond to your children, relatives, friends, and strangers-the world around you in general- many of you will find that there’s only less heartache, certainly less physical pain, and a relief you’ve probably convinced yourself to feel guilty about.  These are the women I  urge to get on with the business of your life �" settle your children, get a job, go back to school, learn to weave baskets,  for God’s sake, anything that you’ve ever wanted in your life.  No one is responsible for your happiness but you.  Others can make you happy; they can love you, respect you, make you laugh, befriend you, but they are not responsible for your happiness or dissatisfaction with your life.  That’s up to you. 


“Yes, I fully acknowledge that some of you cannot break away from the fear or the terror of your experience.  Nightmares, panic or anxiety attacks, excessive crying�"these are real, and I am not advocating denial of potentially harmful symptonms or behavior.  But I also believe that we’re conditioned by current magazine articles, Oprah’s distinguished guests, and the psychiatric community to believe that until we have sufficiently (based on their timeline) agonized over these traumatizing episodes, we’ll never get completely well.  Bullshit. 


They want us to figure out why some jerk in our lives acted the way they did�"tried to hurt us, kill us, exert supreme control?  I say, Why?  It’s not your problem any more why that a*****e has an anger problem, secretly hates women, or has some control issues.  If you’re really outta there�"it’s not your problem.  Your  priority is to resume and rebuild your life.  That’s all.  If you really have no intentions of returning to the situation, it’s not your problem.  In fact, if you’re gonna analyze anything�"make it your priorities:  identify them and focus your energies on establishing them firmly in your life.  Why someone, who isn’t even around any more, or is ever gonna be, couldn’t act like an adult is not your problem. 


There are others that will warn you that you have to understand so that you won’t stay in your “pattern” of choosing this kind of person to be in your life, our human penchant for sticking with the familiar.  I think that’s a subtle, sneaky way to plant that seed of guilt, doubt�"so they can cure it.  Yes, there are behavior patterns that are indicative of physically abusive people.  If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll recognize these traits, and, regardless of how you feel about them, you will remove them from your life.  But, of course, to do that you must be committed to the concept that you don’t want, need, or deserve a painful life.  If you’re not convinced that it’s possible for you, if you believe that you deserve pain, well, honey, by all means get some help.  Go for all of it:  encounter sessions, group therapy, medication, regressive hypnosis, hell �" string a coupla rocks around your neck and channel Lizzie Borden if that’s what it takes. 


“Bottom line, ladies�"only you know what your priorities are, but more than just knowing, you gotta act on them.  If you just lip-sync your beliefs, they’re not beliefs, just big fat lies you tell yourself and your friends.


She drew in her breath, held it for a beat, and released it as a loud sigh.  She remained standing, looking at each woman in turn, waiting for their verdict.  For several moments, no one spoke.  Then, slowly, one woman stood, took several steps toward the long table meagerly laid with cookies, a few cakes and a large coffee pot before stopping and asking “Are you done?”.


The resulting chuckles and laughter broke the spell, chairs scraped the floor, and the women began to talk among themselves, quietly at first, then true to the nature of the gathering of women, rose in volume .  Each clear note �" disbelief, jeering, agreement, opposition �"  all clearly audible to anyone who can hear and appreciate the feminine orchestra.    Several women approached C., mostly with smiles, a few with the piece-of-their-mind clearly apparent.  C. sighed again, smiled, and turned to the first woman to reach her.  She had survived again, intact, and still strong.

© 2017 Carol Cashes

My Review

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I think Nigel and others below have pretty well covered it. That said, I wish all women had the strength of character, gumption or whatever else it might take to excise themselves from abusive relationships before such damage occurs. Furthermore, I don't understand men who abuse. They should endure whatever it is that's so disliked in the relationship, or end it. No physical or mental abuse needed. What's the point in continuing a tortured marriage? We're not all alike, I know, so it's good that help is there for those who need it. Kudos to women's courage.

Posted 1 Year Ago

Carol Cashes

1 Year Ago

I'm the first one to know that men are not all alike. I've said this many times, and a lot of peopl.. read more
Samuel Dickens

1 Year Ago

Wow. That is profound.
Carol, I think first a massive hats off for tackling something so painful for so many.

My own direct experience has thankfully not been coloured by such an experience. However, I can think of an incident back in my student days. It happened to a girl I knew fairly well at the time. She would often go to her new boyfriend's room, and pop in to say hi before or afterwards. It was never my place to be nosy, but I would assume the two of them discovering 'petting'. I say that because of what followed. The boyfriend had knives. Once in a rage with other people in our accommodation block he went to his room, grabbed a knife, and approached the guy who he'd been angry with. He slashed the knife, which made a deep gouge in the corridor wall right by someone's face. And then, days later, when the girl was in his room, all hell broke loose. It was obvious something confrontational had happened. Maybe to do with his knife habits? Maybe attempted full sex? I spoke to her a few days later and she talked a lot, but stayed clear of the actual incident. After that, not perhaps surprisingly, she changed. I would say I saw more anger. We drifted apart during our student years so I don't know how she was after that, but I still think back on my 3rd hand awareness of it, so I can only imagine it's still there in a corner somewhere. I think she will have led a full life and found happiness - I saw her draw closer to people who seemed gentle, patient, etc - very unlikely to approach the blind frenzy and rage of the guy who in some manner attacked her. I hope she's been OK.

I think my second hats off is your choice of forum for C to deliver her address, and the response it receives. I'm sure there's been Hollywood movies with Whoopi Goldberg types where some stuffed shirt has been delivering bland messages to a large hall and then 'Whoopi' comes on. Starting quietly but building, she moves the audience, and it all ends in uproar and massive approval. You know the kind of movie scene I'm describing. Well, the speech in here could almost have been written for Whoopi, but this is more gutsy and edgy. I found the very underplayed response from the audience very interesting - part peer pressure, part possibly too much touching of raw nerves. This is a very powerful and thought-provoking piece.


Posted 1 Year Ago

Carol Cashes

1 Year Ago

Wow, first Joan of Arc and now Whoopi Goldberg. It is a painful subject for a lot of women, and my .. read more
In the process of reading this, i saw myself. Thank you. It's strange, logical, that when one realises that survival is something to cheer about, it helps.. tis not the surgery but the plaster, perhaps. The before and during hurt like hell but to somehow recover to live another day does display a will.. maybe, however painful, to live on. You've dealt with reality with a highly imaginative post. And the near 'tame' ending dilutes any friction, in its own almost laughable way. I think i like that. Thank you, CArol. .

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 Year Ago

May i add that, there are times when the placid in society find they have far, far more inner streng.. read more
Carol Cashes

1 Year Ago

Still waters do run deep And I respect those old souls who understand that surviving, then actually.. read more

1 Year Ago

Here's to courage.. and hope.
No I ve not read the terrorist but I fully understand what you are saying..
First I really loved your speech. .ha ha,somehow if you read Joan d arc. .how lovely that she made speeches one to unite all France around her telling this is a national war not a holly war of the church..
And her speech at the gallows when they burnt her..2nd speech telling them if the choice was between taking her life or else defame her as a froud and traitor. .then she chose the gallows..where she died smiling's like the shout move your buts depend on your selves or no one will look out for you..I just loved it..but I talked too much..ha ha

Posted 1 Year Ago

Carol Cashes

1 Year Ago

Joan of Arc! Wow. Understand, though, I'm not a "Give me Liberty or give me death" kinda person - .. read more

1 Year Ago

Ohh dear hope you were not upset at my words..I loved what you said..this is how I review..from what.. read more
If you read The Terrorist, then you know what frame of mind I began a new life with. This is my true feelings, and again, not right for everybody and possibly harmful if you haven't resolved your own inner issues first.

Posted 1 Year Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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5 Reviews
Added on June 14, 2017
Last Updated on June 14, 2017
Tags: fiction, domestic abuse


Carol Cashes
Carol Cashes

Biloxi, MS

I'm very cynical, jaded, just this side of bitter and the only reason I haven't crossed that line is a good man loves me. I am extremely empathetic, but seldom sympathetic. I can be a ferociously lo.. more..


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