“Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.”
Read that again: Frantic efforts to avoid REAL or IMAGINED abandonment. My significant other recently got on a plane to visit his family and do business in England. For a whole month. I have known about this planned trip for about a half a year, and I was doing pretty well with it all up until a few days before he actually left.
At that time, I began to notice an increase in my usual frequency of nightmares. I was waking up all hours of the night with panic attacks: heart and mind racing, sweating, feeling cold, having diarreah — the whole kit and caboodle.
On the afternoon that I took him to the airport, my emotional vulnerabilities showed up. Now, I want to remind myself that anyone who is about to experience a long separation from someone they love will naturally experience sadness and, perhaps, some anxiety, so I know that it is normal that I felt these things.
I also felt more intense emotions that I, luckily, pretty instantly recognized as needing regulation. I felt myself escalating, having some self-harm thoughts, and feeling like I was going “out of control.”
Now, this is growth…I saw a cat food can lid on the counter waiting to be recycled. My emotions were so intense that I had an impuslive thought that I wanted to just cut myself with it. Within seconds, my Wise Mind kicked in, and I thought, “No I don’t; I just don’t want to feel THIS way.” That was my cue to start engaging in the DBT skill of opposite action.
Before that, I held an ice cube in each hand (also a DBT skill) to create an intense, but non-harmful physical sensation. As I squeezed the ice cubes in my hands and watched as the water melted down into the sink, I realized that it was helping.
I then thought about the fact that I had a choice. I was at a fork in the road. (Mind you, this ENTIRE time, and for days afterward, my physiological stress symptoms were at a high — tense muscles, clenched jaw, having to run to the bathroom, adrenaline rushes, heart racing, etc.)
In the past, I have gone to what I now consider extremes to feel safe and as if someone else were taking care of me (…“Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment…”). I would allow my emotions to escalate to the point where I would vomit. Between that and the diarreah, my appetite would be low, so I would be eating and drinking less. I knew that, should I become at all dehydrated, I could go to the ER, and they would HAVE to help me. They would take care of me. They would let me lie down in a sterlile hospital bed with warmed blankets. They would put an IV in me and keep checking in on me to make sure I was ok. I have done this scenario countless times.
I was heading in that direction — the thoughts were there…the physical sensations — when suddenly, Wise Mind kicked in: “I have a choice right now. Yes, I can go to the Emergency Room, but what will this accomplish? Is doing this in alignment with my goals of being well, improving my relationship, and growing as a person? My SO is gone for 30 days. I can get as sick as I want, let my emotions get out of control, and cause myself suffering, or I can choose –right now, in this moment — to take control of my mind and calm down.”
The day after I dropped off my SO, I had DBT group. It went really well. I did my homework (the 1a Worksheet where you describe your emotion in detail), and I presented that in the group. The other group members where very supportive. The doctor said she was proud and that I should be, too: “Crisis averted.”