How I transformed my life from chaos to champion through Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
The biggest lesson I learned was Be Careful What You Wish For. I learned this in September 2005 after I took a near-fatal overdose. You see my husband had been dying very slowly of lung cancer. My world was coming unglued completely and my BPD was triggered massively because of the impending death. I was finally being abandoned in the worst way but in point of fact it was not because he was leaving ME but because he had no choice. Still, I couldn’t handle it at all. I became very depressed and just dissociated completely. I wanted to die FIRST so I wouldn’t be left behind to pick up the pieces of my life.
So, one night I took a massive overdose. When I woke up a few days later, I was in the ICU, hooked up to all kinds of tubes and wires and I had no idea where I was or how I had arrived there. It was only later after the doctor told me that the overdose had caused me to suffer a stroke or in medical terminology, a demyelination in my brain. I ended up being transferred to a rehab hospital where I spent six months recovering. This entailed learning how to swallow and then feed myself again, learning how to dress — which meant learning that the tag on the shirt goes in the BACK, learning how to tie my shoes and how to walk again. By the time I was discharged I was finally a non-smoker again after having smoked for more than 30 years.
Two months after I was discharged my husband died of lung cancer
My husband died two months after I was discharged and I fell into an even deeper depression. I spent the next three years sitting in the big chair in my living room watching tv and reflecting on what had gone so wrong in my marriage because we had essentially spent nearly the full duration of it — 28 years — fighting.
Several years after he died, I was talking on the phone to a friend and she said to me, “You know, I don’t understand you. You’re always so unhappy and miserable. Yet, you have a whole bunch of kids who love you to pieces and enough money to do anything you could ever want to do – travel around the world, take a course or two. What’s wrong with you?”
My initial reaction was, “Who the HELL do you think you ARE??” But that night, after I went to bed, I lay there thinking about what she had said and I came to conclusion that yes, she was right. I remembered back to when I was discharged from the hospital and how I had to make the decision EVERY DAY FOR THE NEXT THREE YEARS not to go and buy a pack of cigarettes. That’s how long it took for my cravings to go away. But every day for those three years I made that decision. After that realization, I decided that I could do that with happiness and that I would choose to be grateful for all the blessings I had in my life. So I began to post on my Facebook page each morning, “Today I am grateful for → X . Nothing big, just things like my feet, my home, my backyard garden.
After about six months I began to notice a change in myself
That instead of always focusing only on all the things that were WRONG in my life, I could see all the things that were RIGHT. It changed how I viewed the world and how I interacted with the world on a profound level.
I took another DBT course and that also changed me and how I interacted with MYSELF. DBT saved my life. No ifs, ands or buts about it. Pure and simple. I learned that people CAN change. At the wise old age of 48, I was able to turn my sad, BPD existence around and truly create a life worth living for myself. I am in my friend’s debt and will be forever because the kick in the pants she gave me changed my life. DBT is considered the gold standard treatment protocol for people with BPD. It has been shown to work in cases where all other treatments have failed. Why? Because it teaches people with BPD how live with their emotions in a way which is not harmful to self. Instead of trying to run away from the “bad” feelings, it teaches us how to look at them in a mindful way without attaching a judgment to them. Feelings are simply chemical responses our bodies have to stimuli. Most people with BPD can not tolerate the emotional surge those stimuli cause. DBT teaches us how to do that.
My emotional responses no longer run my life
Because I can hold negative feelings in myself without being compelled to follow my action urge and lash out or self-harm
I am in charge of my own destiny
Learning these skills was life affirming for me and what enabled me to finally be able to live with things like disappointment, hurt, anger, sadness and even shame. I never learned these coping mechanisms when I was a child so when I would experience those kinds of feelings, I couldn’t handle it. I would run away. But, as Confucius said, “No matter where you go, there you are.”
I tell everyone with whom I work that the principle of DBT are simple to understand and learn but challenging to master. They take diligence and practice. Learning how to be mindful, the foundational core of DBT, is something you have to work at. Only when you have learned how to be mindful can you put the other DBT skills into practice.
So for someone who spent years trying to annihilate herself, I nearly got what I wanted that fateful night. That experience was what helped me turn the corner and take control of my life. I hope you won’t have to endure what I did before you, too, can take control of your destiny and create a life worth living.