PREFACE: Last year, I got a nifty little certificate that declared I had graduated from a Dialectical Behavior Therapy program, meaning I was not longer meeting the diagnostic criteria for the mental illness that had sent me to the program in the first place.
This did not mean I had been “cured” of Emotion Regulation Disorder (or, as the evil dwarves of the psychological underworld still like to call it, Borderline Personality Disorder), exactly. No, no. For ERD, there is no cure. There are, instead, therapies that teach people like me which of my everyday and, to me, benign behaviors are seen as Fucking Crazy Bullshit by Everyone Else.
In DBT I learned new skills and behaviors that, when practiced with diligence for the rest of my damn life, will allow me, at best, to Fake Being Normal well enough to pass, most of the time. Each moment, it seems, is still a fight not to go slip-sliding back into that cold, dark hole where everything fucking hurts.
I’ve decided that the best use of this blog might be to talk about my post-DBT day-to-day life, the setbacks and successes. Hopefully these little stories will help those with ERD feel less alone, while shining light for normal people on what it is like to actually live inside the broken mind of someone with this severe mental illness.
So, lately I’ve been getting over someone. I am always getting over someone. If I’m not getting over someone, I’m obsessively getting INTO someone else. There has always been a someone, since I was fourteen years old, and that someone has almost always taken up most of my energy and thoughts. That someone almost always falls very hard for me, because we with ERD can seem incredible, at first. Invariably, though, that someone will soon discover that loving One Of Us is like chewing sugar-coated razorblades, and they retreat. This is why one of the hallmarks for my disorder is tumultuous and unstable personal relationships. I piss everyone off. Friends, family, coworkers. I don’t realize I’m doing it, till it’s done. Usually I just think I’m standing up for myself, or educating them. Heh. Nope.
So, anyway. Lately, I’ve been getting over someone. He was a colleague and a friend, and we sometimes crossed the line into lovers. He is 18 years my junior and was clear from the start that any physical relationship we ever had would be “just for fun” and would never lead to more than that. “I will never be your boyfriend,” he said, very clearly. He is holding out for a woman “at the same stage I am, who fits my life and goals,” which means, basically, someone who isn’t one year into menopause and can have his children. Fair enough.
When I was emotionally regulated and reasonable, I could love without condition and accept what we had for what it was. I was open and caring without becoming attached. I was very Buddhist about all of it, letting him come and go as he pleased and never seeking to possess, knowing I was just a placeholder. But as time went on and we got to know each other better, and even threw the word Love back and forth, I became attached.
In my attachment, I did what many with ERD do, which is I created a fantasy world that did not look like reality. In that world, he would realize we were soul mates and meant to be. We would adopt babies and I would have cosmetic surgery and never grow old. He would stop looking for others.
That never happened.
What happened? He kept feeling exactly as he’d always felt, except less and less so as I obviously grew more clingy, needy and attached. One day, as we were working on a script at a bar, I grabbed his hand and asked him when he was going to just stop fucking around and be my real boyfriend. That was the beginning of the end. Things got more tense from there, and finally came to head with him telling me he didn’t love me, didn’t care about me, and had been with “many women since I started seeing you, all of them far more interesting than you.”
So, yeah. That was a wake up call. Now, I know it seems like he’s an abusive asshole. But people like me tend to push decent, honest people to the point of HAVING to say things like that, because unless it is spelled out, we just don’t get it. Even after he was super clear about this, I continued to roll around in my fantasy. He was perfect for me, and he’d come around. He’d realize it.
So, this is where I was when I finally realized I needed to STOP and DO DBT and FAKE BEING NORMAL until I stopped breaking my soul against the jagged rocks of his truth. I’ve spent the past week coming to grips with reality, using a skill DBT calls RADICAL ACCEPTANCE. People like me tend to ignore facts that hurt us, and create elaborate fantasies instead, then try to jam everyone into our stories. This has made me a very good novelist and screenwriter, but not so good at life.
My mind keeps wanting to go back to the comforting lie. Him, marrying me someday. Him, telling everyone how amazing I am. Him, looking me in the eyes and telling me he can’t live without me. None of that happened. None of that will EVER happen. I have had to mentally tell myself over and over and over to STOP fantasizing. I have made myself radically accept the truth – a thing that healthy people would have done automatically.
One of the saddest things about living in this elaborate fantasy has been that I have been emotionally and practically unavailable, for 7 months, to at least two very decent men with whom I might have actually had the sort of relationship I was pretending I’d one day have with the other dude.
Healthy people are able to accept that someone else likes them, thinks they’re beautiful and brilliant, and even likes having sex with them, but doesn’t think there is a future because of the 18 year age difference and desire for children. A healthy person doesn’t take this personally, but instead realizes that it is true, practical, and just the way things go. Someone with ERD, however, tends to derive much of their sense of self from other people, and therefore feels as though they will literally disappear and die if the object of their affections doesn’t want them. Knowing this, recognizing it’s happening, does not mean it doesn’t happen. It just means I get to start the difficult work of dealing with it.
A very important skill I’ve been using for the past two days is PUSHING AWAY. Now that I have RADICALLY ACCEPTED this dude will never be mine – and never was, even when he said he loved me – I must start to PUSH AWAY obsessive thoughts about him. Like? Imagining him with all those other, superior women, for instance. Or dreaming of losing 50 pounds and blowing his mind when I look better than every model or actress in New Mexico. Thoughts like that. Negative fantasies, positive fantasies, fantasies fantasies fantasies.
I’ve found that if, every time I start to indulge a thought of him or us, I instead turn my mind to running scales (I play saxophone) in my mind, visualizing playing the hardest of the scales (Eb minor? Hello?) then my biochemistry comes back to normal and the emotional pathways don’t get lit up all out of control. And it’s a good thing. When the pathways DO get lit up, I tend to do awful self destructive shit like compulsively text him, or call him, or try to figure out a way to get him “back” even though he was never mine.
When I stand back from it all, and write it out, and look at it, the conclusion is easy: From his point of view, I look like a lunatic. But I don’t have to. I can radically accept the truth, and push away the thoughts, and focus on doing things for me.
This is shit normal people do instinctively. We don’t. But I’m learning. Still.