Do you really want to run away?
I see the sentiment “I just want to run away” in the various BPD groups to which I belong. Oh,yeah, I totally get it. I spent years trying to “run away” from my life and myself, my fears and anxieties. When I couldn’t run away physically, I would do it emotionally through distance, dissociation and suicide attempts. I would feel frantic by my situation, trapped, hopeless and helpless and wanted nothing
more than to get away from it -- all the pain and anguish and just down-right suffering.
My worst experience with running away
Once, after my beloved father-in-law passed away suddenly and my husband and I traveled to his hometown for the funeral the pain of losing someone I had loved so dearly was just too much. I took a taxi to the airport and bought a one-way ticket to St. Louis, of all places. I remember the feeling of relief when I sat down in my seat. But when we finally landed about two and a half hours later, I felt my old anxiety creep in again. “What am I doing?” I asked myself. “Why am I here?” “What am I going to do now that I am here!?” I disembarked and sat in the lounge for a while until I regained my senses. I finally went to a phone and called my husband and told him what I had done. He calmly told me to go and exchange my ticket and just come back. “Call me when you get to the airport and I will come and get you,” he said. So I did that.
When I got back to my mother-in-law’s house and had to answer the questions, I felt a profound sense of shame. This led me to really question what I had done. “Why?”
Processing this event was hard work. I finally came to the realization that my desire to escape the pain was greater than my desire to continue to conform to the social norms. But I also realized that there really was no way to escape the kind of emotional pain I was in. This took me down the path of therapy, something I ended up doing for more than 30 years.
It was hard for me to learn and internalize that I really couldn’t run away from myself
What I have discovered is that you can not run away -- from your feelings, from your past, from your pain, or from yourself. There is a saying which is attributed to Confucius which is: “No matter where you go, there you are.” Jon Kabat-Zinn co-opted this phrase in his book, Full Catastrophe Living. Most of us don’t want to face the ugly fact that even if we run away, we carry ourselves (and our problems) with us. We will ALWAYS recreate the situations which caused us to want to run away unless we address them and extinguish them at their core. That is why therapy is so important for people with BPD. My experience with therapy when I was an in-patient in the hospital in the United States was that it was like living my life backwards. We started where I was and looked backward to see what caused the trauma. My therapist told me that my emotional development has essentially stopped when I was abandoned at about the age of six months. So, it’s no wonder that I always wanted to run away. He said it was my innate desire to want to return to my mother’s womb. While I was never fully convinced of that, I do know that my sense of emotional pain was usually so great that I would do ANYTHING to escape it and if that meant hurting myself, then so be it. The biggest issue with running away is that you are running FROM something rather than TO something. And, if you really want to get away from things, make a reasonable plan first. It is when we take off without any planning that we get into trouble. If you want to run, why not learn how to FLY!? Spread your wings and take off for the sky but make a solid plan FIRST so you don’t crash down to the earth in defeat.
DBT gives you a toolbox of coping skills that you can turn to when your feelings are dysregulated
Learning DBT skills has helped me figure out how to tolerate those horrible feelings. So if you go back to my earlier post about “jumping off” when feelings get to be too strong, running away is just another form of “jumping off”.
It’s really hard when you feel like you’re literally being engulfed by bad feelings. When that happens, take a breath and remember that feelings are transient. Despite how it might feel at the moment, they DON’T last forever. Give yourself some time to, in DBT jargon, “ride the wave” until the feelings pass. They will. Trust me. They will.