Over the next few blogs I want to talk about what recovery from BPD feels like. BPD is a disorder of dialectics, opposites and extremes. Sometimes a compliment can make us want to die. Recovery from BPD is not all sweetness, light and happiness and can be a harrowing, nerve-wracking experience. Revealing your trauma can be like reliving it. Making patterns and connections from the past to the present is enlightening but insight alone is not enough to change coping skills. Recovery can also feel fake, alien and unnatural. It’s like trying to make the world turn in a different direction by running backwards. You can feel like an actor on a stage with a script written by people who have never known what it feels like to want to slash their wrists, explode into a million pieces or throw themselves off a cliff. How do you retain the essential you, lose the bits that are not working to enhance and highlight the new person behind the personality disorder. We can be very attached to those parts that do not work well. You have to let go of who you thought you were. It’s making the unfamiliar feel familiar. If you could change your past, what parts would you change and would you change them?
Permanent change is scary and difficult to achieve.
Being the pilot in the airplane of your life can feel a lot like flying a real plane in a storm but being unqualified to do so. Being told or gaining awareness that you have a personality disorder can cause sadness, depression and anxiety. There can be much regret for a life unlived. Recognising you are fixed, rigid, unbudgeable and unbending in your response to people and in your outlook on life feels illogical. Understanding how you come across to people can be puzzling. My mother used to say if you can’t say anything nice about anyone then don’t say anything at all especially works for people with BPD. Think it, don’t say it. Permanent change take a long time, especially when you think everyone else needs to change and you are fine. The hardest part is realising that you need to change yourself. That involves insight and practice. Do not rely on your gut feelings. Learning that feelings are not facts, feels counter-intuitive. It also involves being counter-intuitive about emotional situations, something Marsha Linehan calls “opposite action.” If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result, then try “opposite action.” Fake it if you can’t feel it. Happiness can feel very uneasy. People will do anything to change themselves, except do something different.
Separating from toxic relationships causes separation anxiety.
People with BPD can become attached to people who are bad for our soul. Getting well can mean losing relationships. When you become non-reactive, other people may not like this. When you make an active choice not to react, they may question your loyalty to them. These are people who may have a vested interest in keeping you from being reflective and mindful. They may have separation and attachment issues themselves. This can cause a lot of anxiety because having a bad relationship can feel better than having no relationship. When you make a decision to delete people from your address book, the relief can be palpable and you wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. The hardest part about this is actually making the decision. I did this a few years ago and felt most empowered when I did it, rather like cutting out a cancerous growth. But you can still crave for that unworkable relationship years afterwards.
You now have to take full responsibility for your reactions to life.
Here is the frightening part. No-one can make you angry or upset. No-one causes you to cut yourself or guzzle a bottle of booze or throw a bunch of pills down your throat. When you react to something, it is always your choice. Learn different choices. If there is no DBT programme available at least read a book. Then you have the power to respond or react. Responding is empowering yet horrendous because you are changing your reaction, yet your body is on DefCon 1. Process that feeling. Learning not to self-destruct, cut your arms, or swallow your stash can be terrifying because the urge to do this is overwhelming, especially in that black swirling headspace. I have self-destructed and I have learned to not self-destruct. I learned this in therapy but I also had to practice it outside therapy. Fifty minutes, once a week gives you a tool. Use that tool. The first time you use the tool not to cut, drink or overdose gives you a body memory that stays with you the next time.
Remember you did not cause your BPD, but you are responsible for it.