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How Dialectical Behavior Therapy Saved My Life This Week

Posted Aug 10 2012 10:31pm

“To enjoy life, you must start with the little things.  To enjoy the little things, you must be alive.  To be alive, you must be willing to endure both PAIN AND PLEASURE.  We don’t know one without the other”–Alex @ Raw Recovery :)

Another raw post today. I will insert a disclaimer right here and say that this post mentions depression & suicidal ideation.  They are difficult, sensitive topics and I will be using these words later on in the post but I do not go into “gory details”.  I hope that this post will be helpful for others but want anyone who is struggling to check in with themselves and see if they are in a place where they can hear these things.  I will also say that the outcome is (obviously) good, and these types of thoughts have been an ongoing struggle for me at night for many years.

Remember that those with BPD can switch rapidly between feeling one way and feeling another.  Also remember that NOT ALL THOUGHTS LEAD TO ACTION. Just because I or you or someone else has a thought, it doesn’t mean we are going to act on it and it DOES NOT MEAN WE EVEN HAD CONTROL OF HAVING THE THOUGHT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Phew, ok, that’s out of the way. Let’s begin.

Before I share the rest of my Terrific Tuesday story , I need to share a little bit about what has been brewing in the depths of my cranium this week. (As it turns out, I will be sharing more about the beauty of this week later this weekend.  We know the light by the dark.)

Even though I was lucky enough to have my dad fly in to help me out this week, it has still been one of the most challenging weeks of my life.  My own feelings of emptiness, abandonment, shame and rejection were heightened to almost unbearable levels.  When that happens, my brain automatically tries to find ways to get out of the pain IMMEDIATELY, no matter what it takes.

In the past, that has meant using dangerous and self-destructive techniques that brought immediate, short-term relief, but did nothing to assuage the pain in the long-term and in fact, compounded the issue because I delayed dealing with the pain face-to-face.

It took me until literally yesterday to realize that when you delay dealing with the pain (unless you have a safe, psychological way to contain and protect the wounded part or parts), the worse that it gets.  Pain cannot be willed away but it CAN be MANAGED.  It cannot disintegrate without being worked through (ideally in some kind of safe therapeutic or spiritual setting), but it CAN be SOOTHED.

When I started a heavy dose of self-compassion earlier this week, I discovered that I immediately felt much more in control of my being.  The pain (in this case the pain of my recent breakup ) was still there but it did not consume and paralyze me to the extent that it first did.  I acknowledged it, and with the help of my therapist and my journal, told those wounded parts of my psyche that I will take care of them, and asked the healthier parts of myself to take care of those exiles (as they are referred to in a particular type of therapy known as Internal Family Systems) until I can do it myself.

On Wednesday night though, I fell into crisis mode.

Nighttimes are notoriously difficult for me and they have been since my teenage years, as young as 14 or 15 even.  It is the time of day when my anxiety skyrockets and I get caught up in a black hole of worry and depression.  As I got older, I often got panic attacks and there are times now when the feelings are so overwhelming that I unintentionally dissociate (I will explain what this is another time for those of you unfamiliar with it).

On this particular night I was struggling to explain to my dad how hard the recovery process is and that I often don’t have much energy. Even for the people who love us the most, mental illness can still be a source of great mystery and confusion. How many of you who have struggled with an eating disorder, body image, depression, anxiety, BPD, or high sensitivity have been told by someone who does in fact love you to “suck it up” or “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” or my favorite for eating disorders, “JUST EAT!!”

I know that in my situation, these types of comments come from my loved ones not being able to comprehend the polarity of my specific struggles, and loving me so much that they just wanted to help and they were frustrated that they couldn’t.  Yes I graduated from college but no, I’m not able to have a “real job” right now and in fact, if it weren’t for my parents’ support, I’d either be on disability, or I’d be struggling to hold up a job and probably slip back into some kind of symptom usage just to be able to cope.  This illness/blessing in disguise/disorder/whatever you want to call it is REAL.

Despite anyone and everyone’s help, there are times when we as individuals can hit that place of cold, bitter isolation.  We can intellectually comprehend that others struggle too, but that fact provides little to no solace (*make a mental note of this because it WILL be addressed on my blog later. It is in fact A HUGE component of compassion and easing suffering. In DBT we call this “recognizing common humanity”).

What’s worse is when you are training your brain to work differently and to learn new skills. It is so damn hard because it takes mental and emotional Herculean strength to stop yourself from using destructive coping mechanisms when those have been your temporarily effective “go-to” tools. But this is what I had to do on Wednesday night.

The pain got so bad that I just wanted out.  I wanted a vacation from my mind and body. As Pink says in one of her songs, “I wanna be somebody else.” (By the way, she’s my hero because I feel like she wrote all of her songs about me and my problems-raise your hand if you can relate) This isn’t the first time I’ve had this type of pain and I’m almost certain it won’t be the last.  This time though, I made the conscious but difficult decision to hang on for one more day, believing things would be better in the morning.

I pulled out my journal and for the next 20 or 30 minutes, I wrote uncensored, in my most raw, visceral, and vulnerable way. All the painful and frustrating thoughts that were going around in my head I put to paper. I wrote my little heart out the way I used to during my stays in treatment centers and hospitals. I wrote as if my life depended on it, because it did.

After this cleansing composing session, I immediately felt as if I had stopped drowning and came up for a breath of the most beautiful fresh air I’d ever inhaled.  As soon as I put my favorite pen down, the only one I journal with, there was peace and ease inside my heart and body.  There were no anxious rumblings in my belly and chest that made me feel like I’d explode, my deluge of tears had become a subtle stream, and the panic in my mind that caused me to believe that the pain would stop and the people I love would be better off without me was no longer there.  No, I needed to stay.  I need to stay because my purpose here is not finished.

I have seen what suicide does to families, friends, and communities. It causes IMMENSE and UNBELIEVABLE devastation and pain.  The pain of the sufferer becomes the pain of the survivors and I had to ask myself if I really wanted people bringing my family trays of sandwiches and fruit that they couldn’t stomach eating because their oldest daughter ended her life.  The answer was and still is NO.

I don’t write these words easily or lightly.  I’ve been the person to bring families sandwiches and fruit and to mourn the loss of precious lives who were consumed by so much pain that they didn’t know how to handle and just wanted it to end.  It wasn’t their fault.  There is no one to blame. Is it excruciatingly difficult and confusing and troubling and all sorts of other incredibly complex emotions and thoughts and feelings that make you want to blame someone or something because it would make more sense? Yeah, most of the time it can be that way.

On Wednesday night and early into Thursday morning as I sat with this unfamiliar feeling of   overcoming what could have been a disaster, I took inventory of the skills used:

  • Mindful of extreme emotions
  • Refraining from negative judgment
  • Observing
  • Describing
  • Wise Mind (the integration of our rational and emotional mental components)
  • Breathing exercises (inhaling something I needed and on the exhale, releasing what was hurting me)
  • Radical acceptance (of pain)
  • plus a few others that I’m too tired to write now because I’ve been writing this post off and on for 9 hours now

I was proud of myself for using skills and more so, grateful to the stars and back that I am learning them, because without this knowledge, things might not have gone as well this week.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I made it.  If I can do it, I know that it’s possible for anyone else to do it.  To manage these emotions, these feelings of shame, worthlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness is NOT EASY.  I didn’t really celebrate my college graduation because for me it wasn’t even close to the accomplishment of staying in recovery.

If you can’t tell, I’m super charged up with emotion right now with just wanting other people to know, whether they have BPD, an eating disorder, depression or no diagnosis at all (REMEMBER: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE DIAGNOSED TO BE HURTING!!! YOU DON’T HAVE TO HAVE A DIAGNOSIS IN ORDER TO DESERVE HELP, HEALTH, & HAPPINESS) that this recovery thing CAN BE DONE.

I will keep fighting to bring awareness to these issues.  I will keep fighting to give voices to those who are silenced. I have come too far to give up and as corny as it sounds, I really, REALLY want others who are hurting to know they aren’t alone.  You aren’t alone and you can do this.  We can do this.

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