Borderline Personality Disorder: A Survivor’s Story

I was a very emotional child.  I always wore my feelings on my sleeve, face and everyone around me knew what they were.  I felt so deeply, and romanticized myself as a “dark writer” like Emily or Charlotte Bronte.  How do you know that “things” are not normal when you have no yardstick to compare your life to others?  I always judged other people’s outsides by my insides:  I felt so horrible with no self-esteem, and everyone else was laughing, pretty, joyous, focused, respected by others, and popular.  I managed to make the cut to be a 2-year member of a prestigious performing choral group my last 2 years of high school.  Nothing since then has measured up to that accomplishment in my mind.  (But, after much thought, I have found that 20+ years of sobriety from an addiction has merit, as well.)

At the age of 14, I found that alcohol gave me courage, vivaciousness, attractiveness.  I did not actually drink alcoholically until I was about 22.  When I drank, I did not feel the dull ache of my emotional pain;  the searing, flesh-ripping agony of having to live within my own skin.  The enhancement-of-my-moods drinking, to regular addiction to alcohol,  and finally the disease of addiction only took about 8 years.  The near-fatal car accident came 5 years later, but it took another 8 years of drinking research to see that something was definitely wrong with my life, the promiscuity, the turmoil, the friendships that left my world, the divorces, the shame of who I was.

My sobriety for the 1st 11 years (1989-2000) was typical of the normal ups and downs, as I was told by others.   I would say, “I never hurt like this when I was drinking.”  AA members would tell me, “Yes, and you were numbing your feelings.”  But as time wore on, I was really feeling everything with such vividness.  I often was experiencing a sensation of having my fingernails ripped off.  And I was sober.  Something was not right with me.  I knew it deep down inside.  Then I had a nervous breakdown at age 46 (in 2000).  I couldn’t stay employed and I couldn’t stay in a relationship.  But I did stay sober.  Four more years brought me to a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) by a psychiatrist and my significant other.  I was relieved somewhat, but then things did not get easier for me.

I started into DBT Skills Group, (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) in May 2004.  I learned all about my disorder, about how to regulate my emotions, just how HARD IT WAS to regulate my emotions when the racing train in my mind was about to run off the track, about WHY I did the things I did while stressed, and just how insidious and lethal BPD was.  I learned all of this by going to Skills Group, by reading, by attending a Women’s Process Group for 4 years, with therapy, and interacting with other dually-diagnosed Borderlines.

There is hope.  Borderline comes in many varying degrees.  Some outgrow it in later life.  A higher percentage of Borderlines than of drinking alcoholics commit suicide.  Oh yes, and the SIB, (Self-Injurious Behavior)….like cutting, head-banging, driving recklessly…did not appear on my radar until after I got into DBT Skills Group.  Why was this?  I was constantly picking off emotional scabs from my past by re-living my many errors of judgment, and resulting disastrous results.  But I found there was hope, or so I was told, by my therapist.  But I seemed to be getting worse, not better.  Why?  What the heck was wrong with me now?  Alcoholism was just a symptom of a deeper-lying problem – and the BPD diagnosis seemed to be the answer to the remaining questions and problems.

Back in May 2009, I started a website on Borderline Personality Disorder.  The site started out being for Borderlines only.  Then I expanded it to be for the Non-BPD’s (those who love a Borderline);  finally I took it out to also be directed at and for the Professionals who deal with Borderlines.  I have learned so much about this disorder.  Earlier in 2009, I was put on Cymbalta to help me.  It primarily relived some physical pain, and my hot flashes…which was a good thing.  But the Borderline symptoms persisted.  My significant other was frantic, frustrated and was constantly faced with “should I put her in the hospital?”  Then his therapist suggested that he start reading some books about taking care of himself.  And he followed his doctor’s advice.

I read some of the books, put them on the website, and did more research.  My own DBT-trained therapist suggested that we try Mentalization, which is putting myself in others’ shoes (my family, my significant other) and try to see things from their points of view and empathize with them.  Hmmmm.  I think of all the trauma-drama in the last 8 months, and then try to see me through their eyes….and Oh My God!  I did not like what I saw, and that left-brain way of thinking about Me and my Borderline Behavior, brought me up kinda quick.  This just might work.  I read that Schema Therapy integrates elements of cognitive therapy, behavior therapy, object relations, and gestalt therapy into one systematic approach to treatment.  Schema therapy has recently been blended with mindfulness meditation, with very effective outcomes.  It just might work for me.

So, as I have found and related to you as a reader:  BPD is tricky, is everywhere, can trap you into a denial state, is not curable, is treatable, and the outcomes can be very different for individuals.  So where is the Hope?  The truth is that the alternatives without any form of treatment are disastrous.  With Borderline:  one either does SOME form of treatment to recover, or becomes a suicide statistic or suffers the horror of harrowing experiences of self-deprecating acts.  So DOING ANYTHING about this disorder, can start your journey of recovery.   A sort of “fine-tuning” of my DBT, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and self-discovery through working the Twelve Steps has been what was needed for me.  Combinations of several therapies can be very effective, just as medication combinations can work extremely well for one patient, but not as well for another.

With my own admission as being a full-fledged, alcoholic who was barely functioning in my world, I was enlightened by a series of self-realizations, as I listened to the stories of others.  Many alcoholics, who had also been beaten up pretty bad by their life and poor choices, (and found the light through Alcoholics Anonymous), told me this:   I can recover, or be institutionalized, or die.  As a Borderline, I can recover, or suffer, or die.  I feel that “Catch 22” doesn’t even begin to describe the bind that I sometimes feel as I live my life.  Now.  Still today.   With both maladies, I deserve to give myself, my spirit and my mental health every possible method or opportunity to take the path of recovery.  Along the way, I am told I will learn who I really am, and my purpose in this lifetime.

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Amy Allison is a survivor of Borderline Personality Disorder and severe Alcoholism, born of a tumultuous home life of mental illness in both parents and alcoholism in her father.  Since her BPD diagnosis in 2004, she has found success and profound life shifts via Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, as well as working the 12 Steps of Recovery and pursuit of her own spiritual growth .

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