Christie Tate: “For Me, Breaking a Bad Habit Requires the Help of Other People Who Act as Loving Witnesses.”

Christie Tate: “For Me, Breaking a Bad Habit Requires the Help of Other People Who Act as Loving Witnesses.”

Interview: Christie Tate.

Christie Tate is a Chicago-based writer and essayist who has written for the New York Times (Modern Love), The RumpusThe Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, among others

Now she has a memoir out called Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life (Amazon, Bookshop).

I couldn't wait to talk to Christie about happiness, habits, and human nature.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

Christie: Most recently, morning pages from Julia Cameron's Artist's Way (Amazon, Bookshop)—three handwritten pages right when I first wake up. These pages are helping me download my anxiety about the world so I can show up and be present and creative in my life. I'm about two months into them and feel like I can't live without them.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

At 18, I didn't know that happiness was something I would have to work at understanding for myself and that I would have to untangle a lot of old messages—toxic stuff from culture—about what happiness required. At that time, I thought if I was thin enough and made good enough grades, I would be happy. I had so much to learn.

Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

One of my most shameful habits was my apple bingeing at night, when I would eat anywhere from 4-10 apples alone in my apartment every night. I no longer do that and what helped me was being honest about my habit and letting other people help shine the light on me so I could let go of the shame and the drive to binge. For me breaking a bad habit requires the help of other people who act as loving witnesses.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

Upholder all the way.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness?

I would say what interferes with my serenity is my tendency to be very rigid about schedules and processes. Thus, when something is no longer working—when it no longer makes me happy or has outlived its usefulness—I have a hard time evolving. I tend to cling to things that used to work instead of letting myself grow into new things.

Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

I think my initial recovery from active bulimia had this lightning bolt effect. I'd been bingeing and purging almost every day for months, and then I went to my first 12-step meeting for recovering bulimics and anorexics. I admitted to a room of strangers that I was purging, and I felt relieved of the compulsion to purge. My food wasn't perfect after that—far from it—but the deadly purging was lifted after I admitted what I was doing and let the people in the meeting share their stories with me and help me through the initial weeks of recovery.

Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

I struggle with anxiety and depression. Weirdly, it gets worse when the external parts of my life get better. I become afraid it will all come tumbling down in a spectacularly painful fashion. Like my kids were born healthy, and I was so overwhelmed by the miracle of them that I was sure I would be struck dead at any moment or that they would somehow fall ill and be taken from me forever. In those moments, I use a saying I've heard in 12-step rooms: "God didn't bring you this far to drop you now." It brings me so much comfort and peace.

Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

Yes. When I read Lidia Yuknavitch's Chronology of Water (Amazon, Bookshop) I was so blown away by her storytelling. I felt like I'd stuck my finger in an electrical socket. After reading the book, I was so overcome with emotion about what she gave us on the page that I sought her out to write her a fan letter. But it turns out she teaches classes online through her own organization and I was able to study with her and meet other writers who loved her book. Any bravery that people see in my writing can be traced to Lidia's book.

In your field, is there a common misconception that you’d like to correct?

In the field of mental health, where I'm a consumer and not a practitioner, I think there's a common misconception that group therapy is only used in hospital settings. There's also a misconception that therapy is only for crisis points in people's lives or for people who identify as suffering from certain mental disorders or conditions. I wish that we saw mental health treatment as a way to live a supportive, whole-hearted life, whether you are in crisis or not.

Author headshot by Jeff Ellis.

icon emailNewsletterLight

One Last Thing

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up to get my free weekly newsletter. I share ideas for being happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

icon schooled

Find out if you’re an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or a Rebel.

The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t actOur Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.

Take the quiz

Get My Weekly Newsletter

Sign up to get my free weekly newsletter. It highlights the best material from here, my Facebook Page, and new original work.