Therapy doesn’t work! This is what I believed to my core until I started D.B.T four years ago
I had suffered from severe depression, anxiety and insomnia from the age of 12. My parent’s never got any help for me and thought that leaving me alone in my bedroom to “sort out” my own problems would be the best way of helping me. Avoidance was another strategy they would use. If there were any stressful situations coming up at school they would simply keep me home. If I got too “worked up” my Mum would give me Panadol or valerian drops.
I started seeing psychologists when I first moved out of home at the age of 24. I tried a lot of different medications and psych interventions but they all wanted to deal with what was current in my life. It worked in the short term but I would always slide back into a deep depression.
I’m married and have two amazing boys. Jackson who is 14 and Marc who is 11. I was hospitalised after both of their births for severe postnatal depression. I was suicidal both times.
I never knew and was never taught how to handle stress to regulate my emotions. By the time my youngest son was about 4 I was totally consumed by alcohol addiction and depression. This went on for a few years and no interventions helped long term with the addiction either.
After the death of my Grandmother, my addiction and depression was out of control. I ended up in a public psych ward for 3 weeks. My husband John had left me by this stage and taken the boys. After the psych ward I had nowhere to go so I went to Parkes in Springvale for 3 weeks.
John and I decided to try and resolve things and it was also around this time that I first went to St John of God Pinelodge Clinic where I met Jessica Pienaar Law for my first D.B.T lesson.
I was convinced that D.B.T like all the therapy I’d had in the past was not going to help me, but I was committed to trying for my sobriety, my family and my life.
Everything that I have learnt in D.B.T has changed my life.
Once I understood the origin of my emotion deregulation (particularly the invalidation) and knew there was scientific evidence behind D.B.T I actually had hope of recovery. The scientific evidence was the clincher for me.
I lived in a constant state of hyper arousal. I was always outside my window of tolerance. I never knew that I could bring myself back down, to ground myself using Mindfulness. I felt like I was at the mercy of my emotions. I would dissociate often but now I can bring myself back using the skills I learnt in Mindfulness. If I do start to dissociate now I just have to do a ‘check in’ with myself. I also need to make sure that I have regular meals and enough sleep and exercise as these can contribute to me dissociating.
Emotion Regulation was great to learn. I was always full of anger. I had no idea why I was so angry all the time. Once I learnt that anger is a secondary emotion and was covering all the fear, hurt, shame, guilt and invalidation that I had gone through, throughout my life and how deal with these emotions, the anger slowly went away.
In addiction I was an angry person but in early recovery I was very passive. I basically became a doormat. With Interpersonal Effectiveness I learnt to assert myself calmly and balance between my needs and the needs of others.
I also learnt through distress tolerance how to sit with uncomfortable emotions. At first it was extremely hard to do but with practice and time and self validation it got easier. I use distraction (watching something funny on YouTube with my family or watch my favourite series on my laptop) if I have had a bad day or feel overwhelmed.
Radical acceptance is a wonderful skill to have. Accepting events that happen in life using Mindfulness has kept me sane through some tough times. I used this skill “a lot” when my 14 year old went to Japan to study for 6 weeks with school. He was over there having a life changing experience while I was at home radically accepting that I was not in control of anything that was happening over there. That was really hard but radical acceptance got me through.
Doing D.B.T in a group was very beneficial. I no longer felt alone with my emotional struggles. Jess always made the boundaries of the group clear to us and reminded us frequently what they were there for. For example: Don’t get lost in detail. Stick to the situation and the thoughts and feelings that occurred. What skills we used and if they worked or not, and if not why they hadn’t worked. Getting people to stick to the situation and not get lost in detail was beneficial to us all because if someone went into too much detail it could be triggering for another member of the group.
If there was any conflict in the group Jess would intervene immediately and get the session back on track. She explained everything more than once and in ways that everyone could understand and always gave examples.
She was always patient but firm in a way that we always knew that she was in control of any situation that would arise. Doing this kept us all in our window of tolerance.
Lastly D.B.T has a ripple effect. My boys were 7 and 10 when I started D.B.T. I have taught them all the skills that I have learnt. They are growing up to be very well adjusted and grounded boys. Marc is in grade 6 and has just been selected to be Peer Support Captain for his school. Jackson still had a lot of anger from when I was in addiction but I stuck to my guns and kept living life in line with my values and the skills that I learnt in D.B.T., and now he too is reaping the benefits of living a more emotionally adjusted life.
I still have regular 1:1 with Jess. I see them as top up’s for my D.B.T skills. D.B.T works and I will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to learn it.