Last Wednesday marked my last DBT group session. I have officially completed one year of DBT. I’m amazed that I finished – amazed that I even lived through that year, to be honest. In some ways it flew by but in most ways, it seemed to last an eternity.
As part of our last session, we watched a TED Talk by Dr. Brene Brown, a renowned expert on shame. I won’t summarize her talk here because you should just watch it (or any of her talks for that matter) but suffice it to say, shame is pretty much the cornerstone of most mental illness. It separates us from each other, keeps us not just in pain but in the dark with that pain, afraid of any light that may fall on our most vulnerable and (we think) unloveable aspects.
Many parts of Brene Brown’s talk really hit home with me, but one thing in particular stuck: “We were born to tell our stories, not keep secrets.” According to her, secrecy is the key to shame. Openness/honesty are its cure. It’s time for me to be honest.
There are certain things I’ve never shared on this blog even though they play a crucial part in my BPD. I’ve told myself that I don’t want to offend, don’t want to hurt anyone with things that may upset them or prove too triggering to read. The truth is I’ve been ashamed. Utterly ashamed of the choices I’ve made, the person I’ve been, the things I’ve done.
My story has mostly been told in bits and pieces, and every time someone tells me they can relate to part of it, I’ve felt about a billion times better (so here goes). We’ll fast forward through the 20ish years of pulling my own hair out, shoplifting, starving, cutting and sheer ingrained misery. Depression and BPD ruled my life, ruining my connections with others, cutting me off from the human race. When I moved to England for school in 2008, I felt like someone had opened the door to the cage. I didn’t feel like me anymore – and it was wonderful. I could be happy. I could be outgoing. I could be whoever and whatever I wanted to be – no one on the entire continent knew who I was or what I was “supposed” to be like.
Almost immediately, I fell in love. Hard. The way only a borderline in denial can fall head over heels in love. I felt like I’d found the key to everything I’d always heard about, read about, longed for. Another person to complete me, fix me, be my everything. Sure there were issues and warning signs, but they only added to my dark and twisted fantasies about what love was supposed to feel like: surely it was supposed to hurt? That’s what all the songs and movies tell us, right? So what if this guy seemed to get off a little on hurting me – well placed verbal barbs were only a chance to grow closer through the classic ‘hurt – fight – make up’ cycle. Exhausting but rewarding. As my brain grew accustomed to the thrill rides and rushes of an abusive relationship, I became both abused and abuser. I grew into each role simultaneously, saying and doing things that would have appalled the old, shy me. It felt empowering to hurt – and even to be hurt. I felt like our love was some dark, exclusive secret – only we two knew what it was to be truly inseparable, truly “in love.”
The additional factor here was that the guy I loved was a chemistry PhD and deeply into drugs. He’d use his lab spectrometer to test cocaine, ecstasy, and different amphetamines for us. How caring, right? As I snorted white powders with him or collapsed after a night of drinking and sex, I’d think of my grandmother, funding my education from back in North America, unaware of the mess I had become, unaware of how disgusting I was, unaware that she no longer had anything to be proud of in me. I felt myself spiralling out of control but I was addicted to every aspect of the ride. One day, I assured myself, all of this would come right, all this would resolve itself and I’d be left with a magically perfect love and none of the dark sides.
There were hints of physical abuse but never outright domestic violence – until a crisis hit.
*WARNING: TRIGGERING and/or CONTROVERSIAL MATERIAL. Please do not read if your own mental well-being is at risk.*
The next part is difficult for me to even write, and forms the core of my PTSD.
I was raised in a very religious (Christian) home. I’m still not sure how I feel about that. But I do know that I was taken to anti-abortion rallies since I was about six years old. As I outgrew my parents’ strict beliefs, I failed to outgrow the shame that they were designed to inflict. Yes, I had no problem with sex before marriage. Yes, I was pro-choice – adamantly. Yes, I disagreed with just about everything they had forced on me as a child. But fuck it all if it didn’t feel just like divine punishment to have my life fall apart the way it did – to know that I deserved it.
I missed my period.
That sentence conveys a feeling that I believe only other women can truly understand.
Did the alcohol and drugs mess with my birth control absorption? Maybe. Did I fall so far off the rails that I was neglecting to take it properly? Yes. Whatever the cause, I found myself shaking with terror and perpetually nauseous.
And here the BPD screwed me over worse than it ever had before. Did I go to my boyfriend and beg for his love and support? Nope. Couldn’t possibly. It was my shame, my punishment, my fear. And I felt more alone than I ever had before, plunged back into the darkness I thought his love had pulled me out of. I told him what was happening. He suggested we still go out and try to have a good time that evening. (BPD voice: He doesn’t care, he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t love you at all or he’d get it.) As the night went on and the voices got worse and worse, he asked me, yelling over the music in a crowded bar, why I was being such a bitch.
I hit him. He hit me back. As I hit the floor and my hair fell across my face, the last details of my fantasies crumbled and disintegrated forever. I had needed him more than ever. I was beyond terrified. He had called me a bitch and hit me. It was all my inner self needed to know that this was the way things should be. The way they had always been and the way they always would be.
The following hours and weeks are a bit of a blur. He was kicked out of the bar. I was asked if I wanted to press charges. I said I didn’t. The next day, in a shaking voice, I arranged a pregnancy test. Six weeks along – hence the endless nausea. I went to London and was given drugs to terminate the pregnancy. Sitting alone in the small apartment of a friend who was out of town, I threw up and bled and threw up and bled until I gave premature birth. I’ve had my leg ripped open and cauterized by a motorbike. The pain wasn’t even comparable to this. All I could think between blinding bouts of pain was that I deserved God’s hatred – deserved everything that was happening. I wondered if I’d die and what my family would think when they found out how – how disappointed and disgusted they would be.
Weeks afterwards, my (now) ex-boyfriend had me kicked out of the place I’d lived. He’d tried to apologize. He’d tried in so many ways. A small part of me ached to accept it, to take him back and try to regain even a shred of what we’d had. The majority of me knew it was way too late, too far gone – and I hated him for it. I hated him for everything he’d done, everything he hadn’t done, and the pain he never had to suffer – only me.
Bitter and broken, I came home and existed. There’s no other word for it. I barely remember my initial year back home – I spent the majority of my time dissociated and mindlessly occupied, or crushed by the secret agony and self-hatred I carried and trying to cut it out of me one way or another.
The rest of my story, most people know. Even my family (thanks to my roommate, who eventually became totally overwhelmed by my suicidal depression) know how fucked up I was/am – they just don’t know why. They may never know why. But I thought it was important that someone know why. Even if you hate me for it as much as I grew to hate myself – at least you know why.
Do I still hate myself? Do I think I did the wrong thing? Can I accept the DBT reasoning that I did the best I could with the circumstances and information I was given? I don’t know. I don’t know if I’ve come to terms with any of it. But I feel like this is the first step – just accepting that it happened. It all happened, and it’s over. And I’m still here, whether or not I like it all the time.
The only person I’ve told all this to in “real life” is my current boyfriend, A. Sometimes I agonize over whether or not I made the right decision in telling him any of it. Last week, A. wrote me this note:
Congratulations on finishing your classes at the hospital. I am so proud of you for facing your past, and I appreciate the chance to play a part in your future. Thank you for giving life and love a second chance. My life would not be the same without you and I am prepared to support you through whatever our future holds.
Connection comes from vulnerability and honesty – not from shame and secrecy. And without connection, I think we’ve all learned that life isn’t worth very much at all. So thank you if you’ve taken the time to read this – thank you for taking the time to connect with me, and please let me know if I can do the same.