I had this bittersweet experience today. For several years, I have been enrolled in a DBT group/class, and during this time, I went from having nearly all of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder to having only 3 or 4 and to eventually no longer meeting the criteria for a BPD diagnosis.
DBT has been a huge force for positive change in my life, but it hasn't been without incredible persistence, determination, and effort. There were times when I nearly gave up because the effort it took to see results sometimes felt daunting, and I wasn't sure it was worth it. A part of me knew that it was, so I fortunately kept pressing on. I can't tell you how grateful I am that I listened to that still small voice among all of the negative thoughts I had about how I'd probably never overcome my suffering and always be "sick."
Don't get me wrong. As a human being, I still experience suffering. I am emotionally sensitive, become dysregulated from time to time, and I suffer from the symptoms of other disorders as well (including Anxiety), but as a result to a commitment to treatment, I went from near constant suffering and self-sabotage to learning how to manage my emotions and better choose my behaviors when in distress. The outcome has been that I have grown more than I imagined was ever possible and stand before you today as a new DBT graduate.
Initially, I was skeptical that learning and practicing the skills could really work for me. At times I thought that I was too badly damaged to be helped significantly from the program, and at other times, I thought that I was probably "not bad enough" to need the help that it offered. It depended on what thoughts and judgments came up as I compared myself with others when they shared their stories in group.
A few years ago, having just come out of an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) newly diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and finally having a name to connect with the many symptoms I'd been suffering from, I was beyond excited to learn that there was a clinically proven treatment designed originally for people with BPD (but is now being used to help people with a variety of emotion regulation disorders), and I wanted to sign up right away.
Throughout the pages of this blog and in my two books, you learn about how I've integrated DBT into my life and the process by which it has helped me achieve significant healing. The group I've been attending has been a huge part of that process, including the people in it. I've grown so close to my classmates, some of whom have come and gone and returned, others who have been with me for years (our DBT program allows you to repeat the modules until you and your clinical team feel that you are ready to graduate), and, of course, my DBT Therapist, who is very dear to me.
She, in a loving, respectful, and non-judgmental way, helped me to see the many ways that I was getting in my own way in terms of recovery, was willing to call me out on my crap when I would go into unhealthy behaviors, and she believed in my ability to find healing. She was never patronizing and always compassionate. I am forever grateful.
Despite all of the wonderful aspects of attending group, I recently made the decision that it was time for me to graduate. I knew the course materials pretty much by heart, and I would find myself sometimes getting bored in group. I kept going for the sense of community, to practice learning the skills from a "beginner's mind" perspective, and to be a support to others. But, since about last winter, I knew that a change was coming, and I was getting ready to set sail. DBT had eventually become my security blanket -- my safe place.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I began to worry that if I didn't keep going to group despite feeling and doing better, than I'd no longer be seen as "sick" and would lose all of my resources. Then I realized I actually didn't want to be sick - not in reality or in anyone else's perception. I also caught the black or white thinking: "If I graduate from this group I'll lose all of my resources." I knew it didn't work that way.
So, after meeting with my treatment team last week, we all decided, at my suggestion, that it was time for me to graduate. Today was my last session. It was bittersweet. I cried. I had very intense anxiety and panic attacks. I was so flooded with emotions. It was quite the day today (and yesterday in anticipation).
I was given the floor before we started group and said a little speech about my experience, my decision to graduate, what everyone meant to me and how I'd miss them, and some words of encouragement for those continuing on. I cried and got lots of hugs.
|Cupcakes I picked up at Whole Foods for my DBT Graduation|
I will be attending my DBT therapist's Distress Tolerance stand-alone module that is offered on a drop-in, as-needed basis whenever I feel the need to do so, and I am grateful for this resource.
Bittersweet, indeed, but a milestone indeed as well. So what's coming up next? Stay tuned. There will be some exiting announcements at this blog later in the month. Until then, I'll have some helpful posts on coping as an emotionally sensitive person and other related topics.
I am so honored to share my story and this accomplishment with you, my dear readers.
Thank you for reading.