Here’s another highlight to our questionnaire on recovery, from an anonymous contributor. If you haven’t filled it out yet, please join in on the conversation and share your story about recovery here. Thanks!
What does recovery mean to you?
I think recovery should be about progress, stability, and not acting out. I actually don’t have five criteria, but that hasn’t been my situation for two whole years. I can understand the reason that mental health practitioners would have this definition, but I’m not sure it’s very helpful for consumers as a gauge.
I’m much healthier now than I was a year ago. Even if a BPD person still has five criteria, what if they started with nine? What happens if they still have five criteria, but they are less intense? What if they’ve gone from being repeatedly hospitalized being able to call a therapist instead, being able to hold a part-time job, and being able to maintain a few somewhat close friendships?
I think there should be something between “remission” and full-blown BPD that consumers can strive for, and this is mainly finding tangible evidence that the BPD person is becoming more able to cope than they were before.
What has been your key to getting from remission to recovery?
Well, as I stated above, I’m really not in either by the classic definition. However, the DBT study that I took part was a huge step in helping me to understand that change is possible and that I can choose how I want to live. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in general is very powerful and it helped me when my therapist would point out measurable results. Also, I have renewed my faith and sought support from family and friends.
All of these things help me make smart choices and stay more aware of the internal feelings that sometimes used to cause me to act without thinking.
Was there a specific point in your life that you knew you had “recovered?” What was that moment like?
No. I’m currently rebelling against the definition that says that some people in the world are totally healthy and some people are mentally broken or diseased. Everyone I have come into contact with in my life has some degree of neurosis, and I think that all people should be in a constant state of self-examination and striving to be more healthy. There are no perfectly healthy people, and I feel blessed that having BPD caused me to start my journey of self-examination earlier in life.
However, I can feel that I’m recovering. For example, three months ago, just as my DBT study ended, my life partner left me for another woman. As any normal person would be, I was devastated. However, I survived it, and, in many cases, I acted with wisdom and grace. I believe that the DBT therapy was what helped me to seek ways to behave with integrity even in life’s most difficult circumstances.
Frankly, the moment that all of this happened, I looked a mess, and I felt a mess a lot of the time, but I was able to forgive myself because I understood that everyone is a mess when they are going through the breakup of a serious partnership. Before DBT, I’m not sure I would have been so forgiving of myself.
Forgiving myself helped me consider better coping strategies and I absolutely know that I made better choices than I would have if I had never made efforts toward recovery.
What are some of the characteristics or traits you had to incorporate in your life to maintain recovery?
I engage in a lot of positive self talk because I know that it’s my invalidating thinking that keeps me feeling down. I think about my week in terms of building mastery and building in pleasurable activities. I make sure I have structure in my week, especially now that I’m single.
It’s really important for me to have internal rules that help me behave in ways that allow me to feel good about myself, so I make sure that I keep my house clean, do my laundry, and eat well. I try to exercise and make healthy food/lifestyle choices. When I make choices that I think are unhealthy or unproductive, I analyze them. I think, “why did I drink so much last night? What am I going to do differently in the future to help me be smarter surrounding that choice.”
Also, I work hard on building community, maintaining friendships, and being social. I give myself some down time, but I make sure that I’m doing social things throughout the week, calling people I want to keep in my life, being there for my friends as much as they are there for me, and finding ways to give to others.
Additionally, I forgive myself for having intense feelings. Diary cards are great, so I keep a log of my moods. I’m not sure I’m ever going to be the type of person who doesn’t have mood swings, so I’m learning to accept them and ride them like I’m surfing waves. Finally, I have a spiritual life now. I find that praying, meditating, and going to spiritual practice (for me it’s church, but I really think people should be able to find a practice that works for them, and that might be synagogue, a pagan group, AA, a meditation group, or something else) centers me, helps me stay in contact with other people who are trying to improve themselves and the world, and gives me new avenues for positive self talk.
What are some myths or misconceptions about recovery?
I think people think that recovery is about feeling different or feeling like a different kind of person, and I don’t think that’s always true. For me, recovery has mostly been about acting differently.
I still feel empty, have incredibly intense emotions, and lack that ever elusive “stable identity” everyone keeps going on about, but I act differently. When I feel overwhelmed by sadness, I pray, call a friend, or take a nap or shower. I don’t [self-injure]. If I think about killing myself, I don’t spend an hour planning it out. Instead, I try to figure out why I’m feeling that way, and, again, I call a friend, take a nap, do something to stop the ideation. In fact, I believe I will always keep the 50 things to do instead of self-harm at my desk.
Accepting rejection is hard, and interpersonal relationships are always going to be a struggle for me. I still get very angry sometimes, but I’m learning to wait before I react. I think that’s maybe 75% of my battle. Because my emotions are so intense, I just have to wait longer/calm them down and consider my own interpretations before I respond.
I feel like recovery is more about finding “hacks” that help us deal with having a certain kind of mind than changing who we are inside.
I guess, I think it’s a little like how people on the autism spectrum don’t see themselves as “neurotypical” (whatever that actually means). My brain is a little different than other people’s brains. I don’t resent that. I feel like it’s good in some ways. But, recovery is about fitting in, getting accepted, being “normal” enough to benefit from friends, responsibility, and love in the world. DBT has helped me do those things, and the benefits are enormous!
Do you think the journey to recovery could be taught to others? Why or why not?
Yes, absolutely! I think DBT is ingenious! It really worked for me, and I think it can work for other people. Other therapies are working too, and, while I think DBT should be a component of ALL BPD therapy, I don’t think it should be the only component. We can benefit from body work, EMDR, medication, and new therapies.
But, one thing is for sure, We CAN get better! I’m going to say that again: We can recover.
It’s been proven, and I feel like I’m living proof. I want everyone to know that they don’t have to stay stuck and can find real solutions to the problems they experience.
The other thing that helped me was seeing that I’m not alone. So many truly amazing and wonderful people have this condition. Thanks for allowing me to answer these questions! I look forward to reading your book and continuing to dialogue and learn more from other borderline people.