My DBT Journey
real stories, real people, real hope
My journey through DBT started on June 3rd 2021. I was in such a dark time in my life and felt like I couldn’t get out. I was experiencing chronic pain, discomfort, PTSD and Depression. My husband started researching counseling in about April because I was desperate for help. My previous counselors had thrown me into PTSD treatments without any preparation and beginning exposure therapy without tools to use for recovery. I was lost, shaken and seriously doubting anyone could help me. Through the research that my husband and I did, we found Transformational Behavioral Health. They had something called a DBT program that I’d never heard of. I was diagnosed with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) about 2 years before starting the DBT program. All the symptoms I had were explained in excruciating detail when reading about the treatment options for TBH. I was entirely skeptical about the process. When I picked up my book for treatment, all I kept reading were words like ‘Mindfulness” and “meditation.” If I wanted to recover effectively, I was going to have to buy into the hype. I'd practiced meditation and mindfulness before with previous therapists but nothing stuck. We even used singing bowls and mantras. I was sick of it all. That was until I had started getting about a week into the program. Not only was I given extensive information about skills to use to help, I was given an opportunity to start over. Fresh. Monday groups weren’t something I was looking forward to. I was suffering but like I said, absolutely desperate for help. So why not give this a shot right? Two weeks into DBT I started realizing what I was doing behavioral wise to keep me in my rut of depression. For the first time in a very long time I felt hope. Every meeting started with a mindfulness exercise. Every meeting ended with a homework assignment. I hate homework. But somehow, I was motivated to complete the assignments given. In the group I shared what I had written. If it was too personal I would share it with my individual therapist. Which I did often. We processed things like I never had before. Centering my emotions. Walking the middle path. Realizing that I could look outside of myself and realize what was actually happening around me. I became fully committed and engrossed in what I like to call “Class.” I felt myself coming back, someone I had missed for so many years. I wanted to keep going. See what happens. I use these tools given in everyday life now. They have become part of me, And if I’m confused about what to do, I reference my book like its an encyclopedia for trauma. I struggled for such a long time and now it was time to get my life back. And I felt it. I really felt like I was getting the help that I was so desperate for. I attended my last group on June 17th 2022. I couldn’t believe I had done it. Graduation was so overwhelming. I cried from happiness. Tears of joy spilling down my face as I spoke to my individual therapist about how far I had come. Not only did I graduate from the program, I also did intense PTSD exposure therapies and have made amazing strides in my recovery. I can finally do things I never could before on my own. I would recommend this program to anyone who is struggling with depression. Battling BPD is never easy. But with guidance and will and determination I was able to recover. My life has improved drastically. Don’t give up and really buy what the program is “Selling.” It will be the best decision you will ever make. Take your life back on your terms with new tools you never knew were available to you. Grow. Become strong and motivated. Become Wise. ~Janelle
Borderline Personality Disorder. A diagnosis that made me feel defined. I had spent hours through months of talk therapy. Yet my life still felt so out of control. I had just entered my 20’s and while everyone around me seemed to be thriving, I found that each day felt more and more heavy. It was a period in my life where It became apparent that growing up wasn’t what 12 year old me thought it’d be. I was aimlessly searching for some sort of direction and purpose. I had just gotten out of a relationship that shook my life upside down. I had suffered a break like never before. Although “borderline personality disorder” hung over my shoulders, I hadn’t truly experienced a low like that until heartbreak entered the equation. I knew I needed to do something but I wasn’t sure what. I just knew I was desperate to be “fixed”. The questionable answer arrived when my mother stumbled across information on DBT. Before I knew it I was headed to an intake appointment. I had so much internal defeat that the hopeful side of me was being masked by fear. I knew that In order to get anywhere I’d have to be vulnerable. I just wasn’t quite sure if i had it in me to trust a complete stranger with my secrets again. After leaving my first appointment I cried out of relief. I felt overwhelmed to say the least not knowing the extent of what I had signed up for. I figured that things couldn’t get any worse than what I was already experiencing internally. I had a difficult time being 100% honest in my first few sessions about how not okay I really was. Once I told my truth I started to feel safe. Week by week I was learning skills that I just didn’t get. To be honest it felt so silly. A lot of the skills I started to challenge during session. I was beyond frustrated and started to think that maybe it was time to just stop showing up. Diary cards everyday felt like a chore. I often found myself the day they were due scrambling to fill them out because I blew it off during the week. I couldn’t seem to take five minutes out of my day to make it apart of my daily habits. Which often led to extreme guilt and a feeling of failure. I was first hand experiencing behaviors of willfulness. Learning to be willing and understanding the difference between the two terms was the first step for me into fully accepting DBT into my life. It was a moment where I realized a cause and effect was happening. I started to to challenge myself into a different mindset. Through the year I had many prompting events that caused me to go back and forth on if I truly could manage all that I was feeling. One thing remained the same though and that was that I wanted to feel happy again because I knew I had felt it before. As the months progressed I started to develop structure in the program. I didn’t look to it as just a program anymore. I looked at it as a way to define what borderline is instead of letting borderline define me. If there is anything that I’ve learned in the last 4 years it’s that healing doesn’t happen in a straight line. There are days where things fall sideways. Or we find ourselves trailing backwards. Life happens it’s something that’s constant. Learning to be in control of your emotions and giving yourself grace on the days where that’s a-lot easier said than done can really change your outlook on life. It certainly did for me! ~ N
I would like to tell you about my journey before DBT and then what happened once I decided to be willing and participate. The first time I went to therapy I was 15 and my mom made me go because I was self harming. I resented it and just didn’t tell anyone what I was thinking or feeling or doing. My grades were not what they could have been and I did not pick the healthiest friends. I made it through high school and moved out to get away. I started drinking … too much. Once of my friends suggested I see a counselor. That one freaked out when I told her I was self harming or suicidal. Eventually, I ended up with a suicide attempt and woke up in the hospital. The hospital told me I had to do a PHP and then told me they wanted me to do DBT. I went to a therapist who said she did DBT and that lasted about a month. I guess I was too much for them. I ended up back in the emergency room This time they told me I had to do DBT at Transformation. I went just to get everyone off my back, thinking this is going to be like every other therapist I was forced to see. I dug in my heels. At first it was kinda annoying and kinda fun and kinda interesting to see this DBT therapist at Transformation hanging in there with all my willfulness.
After about 4 months of that, my therapist was still actually smiling and happy to see me every week and not judging me. I decided I was tired of being miserable and I might as well start really investing in getting better. The hardest part was deciding I was going to be willing. Once I dived in, I found the daily diary cards to be a sort of cheerleader for me to remind me what I could do. I started practicing the skills every day and started being honest with my therapist. I am so very glad I did! My life has changed so much!!! I love life and I love being alive. When I get upset, I can reorient myself and it does not “ruin my day.” I am finding “contentment” in every day, probably in every hour. I set limits on unhealthy relationships and now have friends who are positive and give as much to the relationship as I do.
What I want to tell people who are thinking about DBT. Give it a chance!! Even if you have been to other therapists, or other places that say they do DBT and are not real certified programs, give “real DBT” a chance. Your therapist will want you to keep track of skills you use daily. When you are marking the skills, it is a reminder to go do something skillful before you go to bed! You will also keep track of your “target behaviors”, whatever that is for you. If you do one, your therapist will do a chain analysis to see what led up to it, what made you vulnerable to doing that, what you were thinking and felling and others were doing, and what you got from the behavior, what you wanted and what you didn’t and then had to deal with. After doing one of those, I lied and said I didn’t have target behaviors. My therapist said let’s think ahead to if you are tempted and what that might look like. And we did a couple pretend chains. I learned so much by doing this! So my advice is don’t lie to avoid doing the links in the chain because you will learn a lot and it will help you to think and feel better! Keep going to the class, keep seeing your therapist every week, keep doing the homework and diary cards. About halfway through I was really glad I did. I can truly say I thank my DBT therapist for my life. Even more than simply being alive, I truly now have a “life worth living” ….. every day!! Thank you so much! 😊
(signed, a patient who went there about 5 years ago.)
So, before I was receiving help for BPD, I didn't know how to effectively get what I wanted or needed in any capacity. I was a people pleaser to the extreme, I didn't understand boundaries or personal space, either other people's or how to set my own. I would throw tantrums, shut down, pick fights, threaten to hurt myself, anything to keep that person from not giving me attention because I felt if they stopped, I would lose them, and they would abandon me. This led to me being in extremely toxic relationships for years, where we would both abuse each other and hurt each other instead of communicating.
I tried therapy before DBT but I kept ending up in the hospital because we never practiced how to manage what I was feeling. So I was still hopeless and having these outbursts of anger, despair and suicidal ideation. After the second round in the hospital, they recommended DBT. I really liked CBT, the homework and routine of it kind of calmed my little squirrel brain long enough to stop hurting myself. I wasn't sure DBT was much different, but they said it was better for BPD.
At first, it was a lot of work, almost too much. I wasn't sure it was worth it but I thought what could be worse than living with no purpose. My boyfriend at the time was very encouraging and he would listen to me talk about the weekly skill. So at first we started with mindfulness and the STOP skill. I distinctly remember that skill being the first because it had never occurred to me that I could just step back. I didn't have to go at it right away. I was mid roommate crisis and we had just had this huge fight because my BPD told me I had to escalate. I've used that skill countless times now, and each time it's a marvel because taking a pause is so helpful. BPD makes emotions seem like the be all end all, the only thing that has ever or will ever matter. This skill really helps, I like watching baby sensory videos during my first step of stop because it makes it easy to be mindful and present. There's bright colors, happy music, and it's cute. You can pick a new one each time.
The mindfulness was my favorite part of the entire DBT program, my mind used to be a jumble of rumination and hurtful thoughts. I would get stuck for hours sometimes on one thought and it felt like I was being buried, like I couldn't live with myself. Now I can observe my intrusive thoughts and say "you have a place and I recognize you but you don't hurt me anymore". It's also been really helpful to keep me present. I love using the observe and describe skills on my cat. I meditate like that, deep breathing and just watching her. It goes like this "apple is purring. Apple moved her paw. Apple is thwipping her tail." You can also do that when you're out, that one is more challenging because you need to add nonjudgmentallness to it. When a judgment comes into my brain I like saying "who cares? It doesn't affect me." Meditating like this keeps me ground and, in the moment, so I can just be in my brain without it bouncing around.
I used to feel like my only purpose was pleasing people. Like if I wasn't the center of everyone's world or attention I would simply cease to exist. Now thanks to DBT I've been able to separate myself from toxic relationships and I don't need people to validate me. I'm working on losing weight now for health reasons and I can be my own cheerleader through it. It's okay to not be all or nothing and I'm finding it true in everything. I don't really like my job and I can find pieces I like. I can find that balance with most things now, and if I can't, I can always go to the beach and sit and watch the seagulls. I'm happy and at peace, it takes some work to use the skills sometimes, but I don't hurt like I used to.
~ anonymous adult