Life in a Bind – BPD and me

Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and my therapy journey. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org. I write for welldoing.org under the name Clara Bridges.

BPD as addiction

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Although I try to be as open in my blog as I can, there are still some things that feel too private to speak about. Sometimes a moment feels so special and precious I just want to keep it close to my heart where only I have access to it, rather than sharing it. And sometimes a moment feels difficult – really, really shockingly, life-changingly difficult, and I need to hide it away because it is also precious, but in a different way.

A few months ago I wrote about a very difficult weekend when I felt disconnected from my therapist. Though this was hardly unusual (!) it did come after a run of encouraging and affirming sessions, and a really positive break over Easter and subsequent ‘reunion’. I felt (and so did my therapist, I think), that a corner had been turned and some real progress was being made. In that context, then, the internal chaos and the ‘acting out’ that ensued (in the form of a string of emotionally volatile emails to my therapist), was a surprise and seemed like an unexpected step backwards.

In my post ‘A tale of three houses – therapy, progress and internal conflict‘, I wrote about my reflections on that weekend. I realised that: “Part of me wanted that sense of disconnection and separation – it showed that I still needed her, and it also held the promise of reconciliation. A sense of comfort and drawing close after a fight. I hadn’t realised until after that weekend, how close the connection is for me, between love and pain. And how much I need that sense of conflict, to feel alive. Not just because of an addiction to the intensity of feelings; but also because for me, individuating is associated with a struggle. And if I’m not fighting then I fear ‘not being’, or simply ‘being someone else’. ”

That incident of rupture and repair was a major turning point in my therapy. Or rather, it turned me back onto the road of progress that I had been traveling on for the last few weeks. But the way in which it did that was something I’ve never managed to write about – until now. And the reason I’m writing about it now is because I’ve been shocked into remembrance by this post, called ‘Between the chaos’, by blogger ‘Girl in Therapy’.  I’m not suggesting that her situation is the same as mine, and I’m certainly not writing this by way of giving her or anyone else ‘advice’. However, it did remind me how crucial that turning point was for me, and it made my blood run cold thinking what might have happened had I not listened – really listened – to what my therapist said to me then.

***

The first session after my chaotic weekend back in May, was preceded by an email from my therapist asking me to please think about what had happened over the weekend and what I was ‘doing to the therapy’, so that we would have the best chance of learning from it. The first part of the session felt surprisingly light-hearted – almost in the way that hindsight sometimes lends a laughing air to something that could have been very serious. Half-smiling, my therapist told me that she had actually felt very cross when she’d read my string of emails – I suspected she really meant ‘angry’. It occurs to me now that perhaps smiling is sometimes a defense mechanism for her, just as it is for me. I was apologetic, really apologetic. I knew that I had indeed ‘done something’ to the therapy, and that the ‘acting out’ was semi-consciously chosen (for the reasons mentioned above). And so the first part of the session was tough, but not hostile or frightening. We were engaged in a ‘repair’ and I was feeling connected.

The mood changed abruptly when I made a light-hearted comment about the fact that I was glad we were able to repair things, but that I knew myself and this was bound to happen again. I was almost saying ‘we’re fine now, until the next time……’. And all of a sudden her facial expression changed – I don’t know to this day whether the line of her mouth was hiding anger and disappointment, or sadness and pain. Perhaps it held both – it certainly felt as though she was holding in some strong emotion, and I’ve wondered whether she was also holding back tears.

She didn’t say ‘you’re not taking this seriously’, but at the same time I think my comment was evidence enough that the seriousness of what I was doing hadn’t really sunk in. She had no choice, I think, than to do what she did, which was to lay her cards out on the table and to make clear to me the situation as she saw it.

In my post ‘Addicted to feeling torn’, I’d written: “Perhaps the most difficult thing about moving forward in a particular direction is giving up the addiction to feeling torn. It feels like the only satisfaction that lasts. It is endlessly repetitive and effortless to engender…”. My therapist told me that she was glad I’d used the word ‘addiction’ – that she’d reached the same conclusion a little while ago, but felt that I needed to come to that realisation myself. I will never forget the way she spoke: the most serious tone I have ever heard her use, almost urgent in its earnestness as she said to me ‘this is a serious addiction’. She said it was as serious as any other addiction, and needed to be treated as such. It had an impact not just on me, but on those around me, including my family.

It felt deadly serious – literally, it felt as though what she was talking about was a matter of emotional life or death, and I was shocked at the turn the conversation had taken. And then came the moment that I’m sure any therapy client dreads, but which many therapy clients with BPD not only dread, but on some level feel is inevitable. She told me that the weekend’s events had even led her to think about whether she had reached the limits of her experience and expertise, and whether she was the right person to help me.

It is impossible to describe what that felt like, and how devastating it was to hear. And yet I want to make this completely clear, particularly for those who fear such a loss, or who have suffered one – I am absolutely sure that she hadn’t ‘had enough of me’, she wasn’t fed up, and she wasn’t ‘getting her own back’. I told a handful of people what was going on, and my husband said something that was probably the single most insightful and helpful thing he’s ever said to me in relation to my mental health difficulties. He told me that the reason she might be thinking of referring me on, was that she cared about me and if she couldn’t help me, she really wanted me to be with someone who could. In a subsequent conversation a few sessions later, she did refer to the fact that it wouldn’t be ethical of her to continue to see me if she wasn’t helping me, and that she was also conscious of the wider context – my husband and my children. In essence she was aware of the fact that by helping me, she was also helping them, and that the reverse was also true.

It was clear that she said what she did because she cares about me and my progress – as she has said on a number of occasions since, she considers our work really important. She was never about to abandon me – but she was seriously concerned that she wasn’t helping me, and from both a human and an ethical perspective, she couldn’t let that continue indefinitely.

***

Those memories and emotions all came flooding back when I read this section in ‘Girl in Therapy’s post, ‘Between the chaos’:

I am progressing, growing…. This is growth! All our hard work is paying off. And…… it’s boring! Yup. Boring.

When you’ve lived your entire life at an elevated level of fear and chaos, when your brain has literally been wired to live in a constant freeze/fight/flight zone… when the people who are meant to look after you and keep you safe are the ones hurting you and their love can’t be trusted….. Well, you start living your adult life that way too, because it’s all you know.  My emotions are used to fluctuating wildly, everything feeling more intense and dramatic, that’s where I live. That is my normal. This solid place where everything is okay is a nice place to visit but I can feel the pull of “home”.

The pull of home – the connection between love and pain, the need for conflict and intensity – reminded me so much of my addiction to feeling torn. I felt shocked, worried, sick, and afraid. Danger was screaming at me, and that is why I’m writing this post. Yet at the same time I want to say again that I’m not suggesting that what happened to me, will happen to ‘Girl in Therapy’ or to anyone else reading this, though ultimately what happened to me was a very very good thing indeed. But when I read that paragraph and it all came flooding back, I knew it was the right time to write about what happened – not because someone else needed to hear it, but because I’d finally found the words.

Having said that, I do really want to convey, with the same urgent seriousness that my therapist did (while knowing, like she did, that only self-realisation can have a lasting impact) – that BPD and addiction don’t just go hand in hand, BPD is in many ways, an addiction. The precise nature of what you are addicted to may be different to the precise nature of what I am addicted to. But the whole nature of BPD is that it tries to keep us trapped and coming back for more – more intensity, more love, more pain which seems like the only route to love, more chaos. Its draw is undeniable; without it we do not feel alive, and we don’t know who we are.

But we fail to see that it’s actually the beauty and the stability and the love between the chaos that is what we really crave. And yet we’ve learned no healthy route to get there, and we’ve learned that it doesn’t last, and things change. And so we feel we have to test its reality and show that it’s still intact, via the bizarre mechanism of breaking it and putting it back together again, repeatedly. For me, the turning point that I’ve described seemed to accelerate progress in therapy, and among all the markers of progress has been a realisation and conviction I’ve never had before: that genuine, deep joy and connection, trust and security make me feel better, happier, more fulfilled and alive, and are much more worth having, than any degree of intensity or cycles of rupture and repair. And those are things that I have found through therapy, and through my relationship with my therapist.

A few years ago, when a different therapist asked me whether I could think of any feelings which were better than the intense highs of BPD, it seemed obvious to me that the answer was ‘no’. Whereas now, whenever I’m tempted by the ‘pull of home’, the memory of that realisation and conviction makes a liar of my addiction, and reminds me there is something better – and that I have a new home.

 

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5 thoughts on “BPD as addiction

  1. Sirena’s post also touched me on a very, very deep level, and so has this! What’s best about this blogging community is that we can learn from each other and relate to each other and know we aren’t alone, even if our experiences aren’t exactly the same (of course).
    (and a “by the way” – my blog has gone private, but if you are interested in requesting access, I’d be happy to let you in!) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My therapist tell me a lot that there’s intimacy to be found in the ruptures, the arguing, the negative behaviours. It’s like a developmental phase for the child who will seek negative attention if there isn’t enough positive attention because any attention is better than none at all, and negative attention is still contact.
    If you think about it, the rages, the emailing etc is still intimacy because it locks you both into a bubble of conflict together.
    I agree with a lot of what you’ve written here but I do feel like it’s harsh to call it an addiction. Somehow that word to me implies that you have/had the choice of operating in the highs and lows zone, when really there is no choice… was no choice. That word implies to me that there is wrong doing, bad choices that got you hooked instead of your young child brain being moulded that way, that your adult brain literally is missing the neural-pathways that can help you regulate, help you know that there’s a different and better way. To me addiction in these situations feels blaming and shaming. We didn’t choose to ingest these ways of being. We didn’t swallow something to make us addicted to the highs and lows. Just because that’s where we live (in the highs and lows) as adults, doesn’t mean we choose it. It’s just that we’ve never been taught anything different. No one has ever came into our world and stayed long enough to help us grow the necessary neural pathways that will help us find a better way of interaction.
    It takes time to grow them and I actually agree with you when you said ” it will probably happen again.” Because just like a tiny child has to learn through repetition, so do our adult traumatised brains. My therapist always says that she has no doubt it will happen again…. because that’s how we learn, that’s how we find that there’s a new and better way.
    That’s not to say that your therapist wasn’t right to point out her anger at your emails. You should know how your behaviour impacts others and that’s all part of your development. But mentioning referring you on as a result of your behaviour under the guise of her feeling like she’s perhaps not helping you makes me feel uneasy, it would put fear into me that I had to conform, had to “be good”, had to appear to progress quicker than I actually was just to avoid abandonment.
    But you say that it worked for you, it gave you the push you needed and if that’s the case that’s great. We all need different things from our therapists and it’s interesting to see how others work so thanks for sharing.

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    • Hi Sirena thank you for your fantastic comment! I was wondering whether you’d be happy for me to use it in full in a follow up post? It made me realise how much I neglected to say in this post , that is important to point out, I think. I agree with a lot of what you’ve said regarding therapy helping us to develop new neural pathways and helping us to move forwards developmentally – I’ve often spoken about BPD being as if our development in some ways was paused at the toddler stage. What I failed to make clear I think, is that I’d already done all if this multiple times with my therapist and what made it different this time was that we both had reason to believe that some of those changes and that ‘growing up’ was already well underway. This meant that although past ruptures and similar behaviour was not ‘chosen’ , on this occasion I definitely had more awareness and more control, and more choice in the matter, and moreover I was aware of that. The response you thought her comments would trigger in you were exactly what they initially triggered in me. However, she made it clear she was committed to me for as long as it takes (up to retirement!) and that speed of progress was not an issue. My potential refusal to develop and grow, even when I had the tools and new pathways, was a different thing however……as you say though, even someone at a similar stage in their therapy may not have responded positively to that approach – we all need different things and the therapists task is to try and decipher what we each need and what will work best for us ! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi, you’re welcome to use my comments.
        I’m interested to know how much of it was choosing deliberately to stay in an old pattern of behaviour, how do you know it was a conscious and deliberate act and not just a blip, a kind of one step forward 2 step back kind of thing? Even if it was a refusal to grow…. isn’t that therapy gold? To be curious about what’s behind that?
        I just wonder how much of her threat to terminate instigated a forced adaptation in you? I only ask because that’s what it would have done to me. I don’t know your therapist or your relationship so I am not criticising, it’s just the questions that came up for me.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I am not sure whether it really is the same, but I was thinking just this afternoon about how I can miss feeling suicidal, which is weird given how it does not exactly feel good! And yet, I miss the intensity of the feeling, the kind of sharp focus that it brings with the absolute priority of That Feeling over everything else.
    And for once… I tried to convince myself that actually… it was a good goal to make my life fulfilling enough, and to participate in my life (if that makes sense) and growth intensely enough to not fall into the temptation of missing the desperate lows.
    Sorry if I am not making any sense and thank you for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

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