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Borderline Personality Disorder: Healing in Bali

The difference between my young Borderline self and my older, somewhat wiser Borderline self is that I may still have the same intense feelings of rage, paranoia and injustice, but I now sit in those feelings and try to discover what they mean to me and channel them into a different, more positive direction. Instead of hating civilisation and its discontents I embrace the suffering, look inward and transform it into a learning opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. Part of that was learning to love what I already had instead of seeking out what didn’t belong to me and never would. The Buddha said, “Suffering is inevitable.” And it is – sometimes. It is what we do with that suffering that counts. I had to learn to lie down beside the Borderline bull, embracing her lacerating horns at a level we were both comfortable with.

After fifty years of eating disorders, lap bands, a small bowel obstruction, kidney cancer, malnutrition, metabolic syndrome and diabetes type 2, I was further diagnosed with a lump on my ovaries in August 2012. So I went to see my disease-free, de-toxed, slim, fit, healthy, yoga-inspired, meditative, free-range, organic, body-centred clinical psychologist who advised to me to do what she had been advising me to do for the past 17 years. Look after myself, be kind to myself, be gentle with myself and start to eat and exercise accordingly. What would you know about life? I thought, as I threw my last sugar binge in her outdoor bin before taking off on holiday with my husband.

Bali for me is usually one long, eating/drinking self-indulgent binge punctuated with cheap shopping sprees in and around Kuta – buying clothes I never wear and items I would sneer at back in Australia. This time we stayed at Lovina Beach and Ubud and I made the epiphanous decision to eat organic vegetarian, drink detox blends and spend as much time as possible being mindful at the Yoga Barn. I also relished the idea of torturing myself by hiking 500m almost vertically down (and back up again) to see the spectacular Munduk falls, as well as trekking through the Balinese National Park before embarking on a canoe trip across a mountain lake. Apparently I had not punished myself enough because later on we walked 5km through stunningly green rice paddies under the blazing Balinese sun to digitally capture some fluorescent-blue Papillon butterflies, blood-red mayflies, friendly but boringly beige frogs and the many indigenous birds whose fleetingly quick movements made me feel as though they were suffering from some form of avian ADHD.

I bought no commercial goods in Bali but came home with a replenished body, a renewed spirituality, a rediscovered soul and a magnificent collection of nature photos David Attenborough would be proud to own. Our Ubud accommodation overlooked 180 degrees of rice paddy fields where I captured this image of a Java Pond Heron who had just caught a huge, hapless frog in its mouth. There was much spiritual meaning in this photo for me. Some days we are the heron and other days we are the frog.

Heron and frog

I had come back from Bali with much less internal baggage than I had taken because, still detoxing and exercising a month later, it was discovered my ovarian lump had disappeared. As well, much mindfulness, meditation and mung-beans had smoothed and refined the sharp horns of the Borderline bull and were now gently but firmly nudging me along the right path rather than endlessly stabbing with furious intent along the wrong one. That was a clear defining sign from the Universe that I had been given a second chance at life.

I fully believe in the mind/brain/body connection. I believe that what we put into our bodies affects our feelings, and this affects how we process our thoughts and all are intimately linked and entwined to our particular behaviour and make us who we are. Clean living equals clean thoughts or at least the ability to process them in a different more thoughtful, reflective and uncluttered manner. I learned to separate me from the rest of the world. I learned that I still have the same old problems after I have eaten, drunk, drugged or smoked in my futile attempts to smother the enduring shame of unspeakable, unbearable pain of existing in a world that constantly misunderstood me. Those days I was definitely the frog.

I started to use the words self-responsibility and empowerment and learned to apply them to my life. When I pried into her personal life, my therapist gently pointed out that she was very angry with me without raising her voice. This was an entirely new experience for me; I was far more used to a violent vocal reaction which effectively suppressed all forms of further communication on the matter. So I punished her with fifteen minutes of the best silent treatment I could dish out all the while fantasising about Revenge by Suicide. To me what I had done was not that bad (I thought she was being far too touchy and sensitive) but because my normal behaviour is another person’s abnormal, I needed to learn what sort of behaviour was socially acceptable to others so I could “fit in” – whatever that meant.

So as well as eating properly and exercising regularly, I was now learning how to regulate my emotions and tolerate distress without self-destructing and threatening suicide. I was to learn that lesson over and over and over again before it sunk in. I pushed my trusted therapist to the razor-edged abyss of her genteel anger where she saw perhaps abandoning me was the only way to reduce her own considerable stress tolerance levels. However, years ago she had made a promise never to abandon me, even though I made every attempt I could to make her throw me out of her professional life. I wanted to turn her life-long promise into my self-fulfilling prophesy. Her compassionate loving/kindness was driving me insane.

There must be easier ways to earn a living than being a DBT therapist. Not that she is one. I was assigned to her 17 years previously in a public mental health facility and I followed her into private practice. I used to think she was an Ice Queen, a Frigid Wicked Witch of the World of Therapy and paradoxically (because we Borderlines LOVE contradiction) fell deeply in transference with her. There is also an authentic bond between us that is part nostalgia, part business transaction, part mentorship, part symbiosis and mostly mother/daughter role-playing. Slowly I am starting to see her point of view. This can only happen with all-encompassing trust, respect and honour.

Being Borderline means that my logical, rational cortex goes off-line under severe stress and my immature, unplugged, raw and naked amygdala takes over like a black, seething, swirling vortex where the perfect storm of rage, paranoia and suicide-ideation collide. When my therapist went on holiday or away for the weekend, I learned to send her a polite email telling her to have a wonderful relaxing time instead of decompensating, booking into the nearest psychiatric facility and threatening to self-destruct. Those were the days I firmly embraced the heron.

I once had an adverse life event, picked up my 17 year old son from school, went to the local shops and had a road rage incident of such epic proportions I was prepared to die in a blaze of glory rather than move my car and let the other person pass. It was survival of the fittest and surrender was not an option. Charles Darwin might have applauded my efforts at self-preservation but everyone else involved was appalled.

That was the way I had lived my life – eat or be eaten. I’d lost my husband’s family, many employment opportunities and plenty of friends along the way. But I consoled myself thinking it was everyone else’s fault and nothing whatsoever to do with my repeated behavioural patterns.

My psychologist and I worked on many issues and it was her tough loving/kindness on a harsh family experience that finally permeated and infused my essential being. It was this feeling that shifted and cracked the Teutonic plate of self-hatred inside of me, something that was toxic, concrete, rigid, inflexible and unmoving and from the shattered remains arose an expanding, ethereal and cloud-like softness that had the feeling of self-love, self-forgiveness and self-acceptance. I had never felt more vulnerable, exhausted, uplifted and transformed all at the same time. It was a harrowing experience not unlike passing through the fires of hell and experiencing rebirth on the other side.

Peeling off the placental shawl and cutting through my own umbilical cord that had attached my whiny-self to my long-suffering therapist, I noticed that my old destructive addictions had given way to new, rich oxygenated life-giving ones. I am now addicted to good wholesome food, great health and much well-being. My husband and I like getting up at 5am and going for long walks in the bush, jogging at the gym, walking on the beach, and hiking up mountains. We dusted off our bikes and permanently traumatised our two teenage boys by purchasing matching bike-lycra and think nothing of riding 40km before breakfast. I now have stable employment and good relationships. I have lost 30kgs in six months and gained new vitality of body, mind and spirit.

I embrace Buddhism and being rather than destructive thinking and doing. I have learned to relax and live and let live. Suffering is not as inevitable as the Buddha made out. One can choose to suffer or one can embrace an imperfect world, let go of what is not necessary, and in the wise words of my sometimes devalued/mostly idealised therapist, “Take the bull by the horns and rejoin the rest of the world.”

Picture: Sonia Neale Bali 2012

Borderline Personality Disorder: Healing in Bali

Sonia Neale

Sonia Neale was recently awarded the Inaugural Barbara Hocking SANE Australia Fellowship to study and research Borderline Personality Disorder overseas in the USA, Canada, UK and Ireland. Her previous Psych Central blog was called Therapy Unplugged. She is the author of two books, The Bad Mother’s Revenge and Death by Teenager, both published by ABC Books/Harper Collins. She lives in Western Australia, is married with three adult children, has studied psychoanalytic psychotherapy, has a Certificate IV in Mental Health and is studying for a Psychology/Counselling degree. She currently works as a peer support worker in the mental health field.

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APA Reference
Neale, S. (2013). Borderline Personality Disorder: Healing in Bali. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2020, from


Last updated: 12 Sep 2013
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