On Monday, May 1st I graduated from Portland DBT Institute! I said goodbye to the therapist I have become so attached to since March of 2016.
I hate saying goodbyes. In particular to therapists. We are expected to open up to a therapist and to be raw and honest. It typically becomes one of the most valuable relationships I have. But, there will always be a goodbye. That relationship won’t continue forever. When friendships fade we experience a loss, but we know we could reach out to that person if needed. Or we may very likely see them around again. But with a therapist… depending on the therapist or establishment you may be able to write them to update emails. But, you can’t just ask to have coffee. You may never see or hear from that person ever again. Granted the same is true for former friendships. But, a therapist is a person who may have been there for you when no one else was. That person has suddenly become a part of the past, and it may always remain that way.
I have a really strange relationship with vulnerability. I think being raw and honest is a beautiful thing, and I love when people are able to do that in front of others. I think it shows real trust. I am insanely good at crying and letting myself feel all of my emotions, but only when I’m alone. It’s an extremely rare sight to see me cry in front of others. I certainly do, but only with a very select few people. That isn’t because I don’t have people I can trust, and be vulnerable with. I absolutely do. But, something about the tears in front of others freaks me out.
Years ago that was never an issue for me. Then I had a few friends who told me a few different times that I was too much for them. They said they couldn’t be my therapist and I needed to stop treating them like one. I shut down. I internalized their words to mean that I can’t be raw with anyone because I’ll be a burden. No matter how many times the people I’m close with have told me that isn’t the case it’s still a battle. I can feel the sensation of my body tense up when it fears that tears are approaching if I’m not alone. It feels like I have to grip the handlebars with all of my strength when I don’t want to cry in front of someone.
So in preparation for my farewell session on Monday, I was initially going to write my therapist a letter. I told myself it was because I didn’t want to freeze up and forget something. A few days later I realized that wasn’t actually why. I knew that if I just read him a letter it wouldn’t be as emotional and raw of an experience. I knew the likelihood of crying went down.
I decided to not write that letter. I chose to just be in the moment and say what I was feeling. I still didn’t end up crying, but I did get choked up. I told him that before I started at Portland DBT I honestly didn’t know what to expect in my recovery. Would I ever be able to not rely on food as a coping skill? Would this program create a solid foundation so that I can stop being in and out of treatment? I wasn’t sure. I told my therapist that I have never felt so stable and grounded in all my life. I told him that I feel like I am truly discovering who I am. I told him that while I know he has said that he doesn’t deserve credit for my progress that I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for him. As I told him how much I have appreciated all that he’s done for me I noticed tears surfacing upon his face. I knew at that moment that even if I didn’t cry he was proud of me for being authentic.
DBT has truly changed my life for the better. Here is an example of what I mean by that –
The last few days have been pretty rough. I’ve been dealing with a lot of really intense emotions. As I got ready for bed last night and filled out my emotion and behavior tracker for the day I noticed a huge milestone. I rated the day with a strong sense of sadness. Then I rated my binge urge zero. I had to do a double take because that is so unlikely. In the past, a high level of sadness equated to at least a moderate bingeing urge. I thought about why there was literally no urge whatsoever. I knew that the reason I was sad hit me pretty hard, and I knew that nothing would be able to fix or even numb it. I knew no amount of food or anything could change the pain I was in. That’s when I knew how much I had truly changed. I realized that I needed to just sit with the sadness because nothing could make it go away.
I can’t say thank you enough to my Portland DBT therapist. He helped me conquer my anxiety around flying, roller coasters, and Ferris wheels. He helped me find ways to cope that didn’t involve food. He has helped lift me back up after a slip. He has constantly told me how proud he has been of me abstaining from behaviors. He helped me deal with fear in general, and find the value in exposure therapy. He has helped me manage my stress increasingly better as time went on. He has been one of my main supports through all of the ups and downs the past 15 months. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Nick. I am extremely grateful to have had you as a therapist. You have set me up for success, and I know I will continue to make you proud.
Lastly, tomorrow is my 8-month behavior free mark!! I’m extremely proud of that. Even more so with how difficult the last few days have been. Recovery IS possible!