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How Group Therapy Helped Tara Norton Find A New Passion

Tara NortonOn a Thursday afternoon in Albemarle, Real Deals Consignment is bustling.

The phone is ringing, customers are coming and going, and as they leave with their new treasures more inventory is coming in. Tara Norton is there sorting, organizing and diligently labeling each item.

“Things start piling up in here!” said Norton. “It keeps my mind busy and gives me structure. I need a routine,” said Norton. She’s been volunteering three to four days each week at Real Deals for the last three years.

“I’ve been taught coping skills and I’m able to use them the right way here,” said Norton. “I still have my issues, but I know how to handle things now. I’m in a pretty good place.”

That place was drastically different for Norton just two years ago. Norton was suffering from a great amount of loss in a relatively short period of time. She lost her grandmother in 2009 and her mother three years later, while also facing the loss of two aunts and two uncles as well as her best friend who lost her battle with breast cancer.

“I couldn’t handle it. I was doing a lot of impulsive things that I normally wouldn’t do, I didn’t know why I was doing these things. I wasn’t able to handle money well, and I could go for two or three days and not sleep and then I would crash for a couple days. I would isolate myself. I didn’t want to see or talk to anybody. I was a mess,” said Norton.

Norton said she struggled with how to ask for help, where to get it and didn’t know to what degree she could be helped, but knew something needed to change.

“When I tried to take my own life, I knew.”

It was Norton’s second suicide attempt. After a hospital stay, Norton began seeing Judith Chappell, practice administrator for behavioral health at Monarch. Chappell was part of a team of clinical staff members at Monarch that helped contribute to Norton’s progress. A crucial part of Norton’s journey was, and still is, group
therapy.

“For Tara, she was further along in therapy when she joined group and she was able to pass along coping skills that worked for her, validate the feelings of her peers, and motivate newcomers to the group. It is one thing for the therapist to say, ‘You can do this.’ It is a wonderful thing when a group peer says, to another peer, ‘I did this and you can too,’” said Chappell.

Norton was diagnosed with severe Bipolar Disorder and Schizoaffective Disorder along with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The compounding symptoms became so overwhelming she was unable to cope on her own.

“[Without Monarch] I wouldn’t be here. I had already tried to end my life twice and there would likely have been a third time if I hadn’t gone to Monarch.”

Chappell says Norton’s story can help encourage others to seek lifesaving treatment by sharing what group therapy offers and destigmatize the practice.

“There is an interesting stigma in Stanly County. When we offer group we hear, ‘I don’t want to talk about my problems with people I don’t know, and I don’t want to hear the problems of others.’ We work very hard to change this mindset. In our groups, people we support are not allowed to go into their personal problem in depth in a group setting. Personal information is better shared in a one-on-one session. Our groups are specifically designed to identify maladaptive coping mechanisms and replace them with healthy and beneficial coping skills,” said Chappell.

Back at the shop, Norton’s progress has not only continued, but blossomed. She’s taken on more responsibilities and built a new group of support with her co-workers.

“Everybody deserves a chance,” said Carla Tucker, who is co-owner of Real Deals Consignment with her husband David. “She’s been a blessing to our business. I think now she’s more stable, she’s happier and more outgoing. She’s nicer than I am!” Tucker said with a laugh.

Norton said she explained her condition to Tucker before she started volunteering not knowing how she would respond. Tucker embraced Norton with open arms.

“It made me feel accepted. Before I felt like I was an outsider and didn’t know how to handle that. Everyone here accepted me right away. They’ve always been so supportive of me. We’re friends here. We take care of each other.”

Norton said she hopes sharing her story will help at least one other person seek help. She has goals to get into the consignment business professionally.

Photo: “Before I felt like I was an outsider and didn’t know how to handle that. Everyone here accepted me right away. They’ve always been so supportive of me. We’re friends here. We take care of each other.” (L-R: Carla Tucker, Tara Norton, Lorrie Walker)

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