A Radically Changed Life: Seeing the Positive Effects of DBT (Guest Post by Heather)

Please welcome Heather of Breaking Free/Becoming Me with her first guest post at HFBPD.

It's been a little over five months since I started dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and I have to say these have been the most challenging and rewarding five months of my life. That's not an exaggeration.

I've had ups and downs just like anyone struggling to overcome something like borderline personality disorder (BPD), but through and through, the DBT skills have really helped pull me to the other side.

I'm what they consider "high-functioning" with BPD. I've got a full-time job in corporate America, two kids, two step kids and a husband and I live thousands of miles from my parents and siblings. Life is beyond busy, to say the least, so at first, when I saw all of the DBT skills, I thought "there is no way I can do this. It's too much. I can't handle this." But I've learned so much, and DBT has really changed my life in a variety of ways. 

For example:

I handle my emotions better at work.

I was a ticking time bomb. Before my diagnosis and DBT treatment, the littlest comments from my boss or even just the amount of time others spend on their work compared to mine would send me over the edge. Not in a rage, but in a I-take-everything-personal-so-I-need-to-breakdown-and-cry kind of explosion. 

Since really focusing on the mindfulness skills, I've been able to remind myself to simply observe and describe my experience. Every little thing before used to have something ascribed to it - there was always an undertone that I put in place and then acted upon. With mindfulness, I am now able to see things as they are without putting emotion behind it. Things are what they seem until proven otherwise. This has significantly reduced my stress and anxiety at work.

I communicate much better with my husband.

I was so afraid of judgment. But I am in a much better place now when it comes to communicating my feelings and emotions with my husband. I feared his judgment - what would he think of me if I told him how I was really feeling? "I'm supposed to be like this or like that," I used to think. But really, he just wants me to be me. 

He's the epitome of what I've been searching for my whole life. And by opening up to him and participating more and communicating more effectively, our relationship is growing by leaps and bounds. He is my person and he knows more about me than anyone in the whole world, and that doesn't scare me anymore.

I judge myself less.

It's amazing how the DBT skills become part of everyday life. They really are life skills and they help me to trust myself and trust that it's OK to be me. I was running a 15k race (my longest race so far) and I almost quit after mile 7. During that mile, I decided I needed a buddy to help me through the next mile or so, so I tapped a woman on the shoulder and asked if she wanted to pass the next mile with me. It was something I never would have done six months ago. 

I would have 1) quit when I felt like quitting or 2) I would have never talked to someone I didn’t know. I would have thought, "What will she think of me? She'll think I’m a weirdo." 

Well, instead, using my DBT skills, I just jumped in, what's the worse that could happen? She could have said, "No, I'd prefer to run alone." And then that'd be it. Nothing more, nothing less. But she didn't. She and I talked for the next mile and it got me back on track and I was able to finish at my goal time. I would have never thought that DBT skills would come up during a race.

I self-harm less.

Trigger Warning (TW)
Before DBT, I didn't really have thoughts of alternate forms of dealing with my emotions. My emotions would build up and I'd need to release, so I'd cut or punch myself. In the past five months, I have cut only three times and I have only hit myself once. Those times I was so angry the next day that I had gone there, but I reminded myself that it's ok. It's just a bump, not an end. I use distress tolerance skills a lot these days. 
End Trigger Warning

When I'm feeling anxious, overwhelmed or like I’m about to explode, I either sit in the shower and just focus on the water hitting my back. Or I have a session with the punching bag we bought a few months ago. Those are my to go-to activities for avoiding self-harming behavior. Also, I talk to my husband. When I'm feeling on the edge, instead of running away from him and trying to hide my emotions, I open them up to him. Getting them out and talking through them also helps tremendously.

I am able to accept my past.

Radical acceptance is one area that has taken me a long time to truly understand and practice. There is a lot of things in my past that I am so ashamed of and have kept hidden and pretended that I didn't do them. This has been the most challenging part of my work - looking back at the things I did and my ugliness that I pretended didn't exist. 

It's hard to look at things as they truly were and it's even harder to really accept that they happened and move forward. But I can't move forward if I don't get the demons out and face my actions. And I certainly don't want to be stuck in the past. 

So I'm getting there. I accept that things happened, but I do not think they are OK. This all just strengthens my desire to never return to those places and be that person ever again. The other thing with radical acceptance is that it's helped me in every day life. 

If something doesn't goes as planned or I mess up at work, I try my best to say, "It is what it is. I can't change it now. What can I do in the future?" This has greatly reduced my stress level at home and at work and especially with my family. Holding on and trying to control everything just leads to build up frustration and negative emotions - living more freely and accepting life as it comes has helped me to be a more relaxed wife, mother, step mother, daughter, sister, friend and employee.

My life isn't perfect and it never will be. But with continued focus and practice with DBT skills, I think my life will continue to significantly improve. I'm already starting to feel that this truly is the start of a life worth living. DBT has saved me and become integrated into my life in ways I never imagined. The skills truly are becoming my behaviors and I have to try less. I'm able to just be me - the me I have always wanted to be.

-- Heather
Breaking Free/Becoming Me

A note from Debbie:

Encouraged by Heather's story? So was I!  The barrier to DBT has often been one of accessibility, i.e., "there is no DBT in my area." This is no longer true. Because of my own success story with DBT and those like that of Heather,  licensed therapist Alicia Paz and I came up with a solution. To learn more about how you can take online DBT classes and learn these skills to change your own life from anywhere in the world, visit DBT Path to learn more. 


  1. Love Heather's site!

  2. an excellent post filled with hope and inspiration, I'm especially excited about the work skills. I can't wait to get to fixing those!

  3. I had started taking DBT classes shortly after I was diagnosed with BPD, but I stopped going after a month or two. I think my biggest barrier at the time was that I did not have an understanding of BPD, so I was really unsure of what I needed to focus on changing and why. The DBT classes were full of good skills and advice, but I wasn't sure of where I needed to apply them in my life. I also started to become anxious about going to the group a couple times a week. Again, in hindsight I believe it was due to not fully understanding why I was there. I have a much better understanding of BPD today and I think it would be a better time for me to go back and try to take the DBT classes again.

    1. You have so much insight about your experience, Elaine -- and glad to hear you'll be starting up DBT again with a whole new perspective!



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