An unedited post…
There are 4 parts of DBT: Emotion Regulation, Mindfulness, Distress Tolerance, Effective Interpersonal Communication. I learned them during my first time in a partial program. They helped with anger management and emotional control. At the time, I did not know about Dissociative Identity Disorder, alternate personalities, or triggers. All I did know was that my anger and fear overwhelmed me to the point where I stopped thinking, stopped talking, and started reacting.
The partial program helped me deal with my present distress by teaching me to stop and think before reacting (mindfulness). And after the experience, look back and analyze what happened to identify feelings and reactions to feelings (mindfulness).
Once I understood my feelings and reactions to them, I could plan ways to change my reactions or not react at all (distress tolerance) through coping strategies like distractions, self soothing, meditation, exercise, etc.
In order to do the above, though, I had to learn what emotions were and how they affected my body/mind/self (emotion regulation). Then find ways within my control (diet, sleep, exercise, relaxation, positive experiences, self-talk) to help me regulate my feelings when I felt overwhelmed or distressed (emotion regulation).
And then I could find a language to help me communicate my feelings to myself and others without crossing boundaries or compromising safety (interpersonal communication).
This all worked great until I discovered that my distress feelings and triggers were not from the present time. Most came from flashbacks, body memories, or remembered experiences triggered during stressful encounters with people or certain environments. And as much as I tried to use DBT, it didn’t work. And I got really frustrated. Especially when my family shunned me and turned up the pressure to fall in line or else.
That brings me to the second partial experience. It was not helpful or positive like the previous one. But it did help me better understand the people in my family and their struggles. It also helped me get in touch with my alters. For the first time, I could clearly hear them in my head and recognize when I switched. And we could communicate with each other.
My time with these people: younger and older, but not really in my age group, from different life situations and cultures reminded me that I am only responsible for myself and my choices. I can’t change or help people who aren’t interested. I can’t be around people who have issues accepting my real self too. All three of those situations combined make for a very unhappy individual in an unsafe environment.
So I took what I learned from them and shared it with my therapist. We agreed that my family wasn’t safe to be around at the time. It was necessary to put my emergency plans in place and walk away for real. And also to learn more about the voices in my head. They needed the coping strategies and tools in my tool box as much as I did.
And when they started practicing DBT too, life got a lot less scary. Communication at work improved. My work environment got more comfortable. I was able to take better care of myself at home because advocating for myself was easier.
And my alters had something to keep them busy while I worked. Yes, multitasking again. Different alters, alone or in groups, practiced DBT and other coping strategies on the inside while I or someone else lived and worked and did chores on the outside. It became a main staple in “acting normal” and surviving in the outside world. We set up an elaborate communication and transportation system so that everyone had immediate access to each other, but also privacy and alone time.
And I learned that solitude is very important because the “alone time” gives all of us in the system dedicated periods of “together time” like family time. They all get a chance to be in control of the body and interact safely with the outside world. We all get to do activities together and share information. And there’s time for meditation or exercise and self care. Everyone gets a voice and an opinion. Sometimes the adults act like adults and make the final decisions. Other times, it’s a community decision.
But we’d never have known this or be able to put ourselves first without having learned DBT.
And this is why I and others who write here struggle with how to write about what DBT means to us. Because DBT is meant to be used in groups with other people and a moderator. But we use it to help our internal system and work sometimes with our therapist, but not a professional moderator (like group therapy). And our way of meditation is more like in martial arts (original training) or Buddhist practices not what Ms. Linehan teaches.
Now that I spend more time in the outside world, my solitude means a lot. The times I spend walking from place to place during commutes are less about interacting with people on the street and more about catching up with my alters. If that makes me less approachable, appear snobbish or remote, or act confused/abrupt, etc. then I’m okay with that.
I don’t want or need a lot of people in my life. And the people in my life are ones I cherish and value; relationships to nurture and build on. So yes, I put myself first and everyone else next. Then I put time into relationships I care about with people I care about. The rest will come as life changes.
Thanks for reading.