How Can I DBT My Way Out of This?

Today is a really hard day for me. I feel sad and somewhat defeated and very much like I want to cocoon myself in a blanket and stay there for the duration of the day. I’m not sure if I’ll want to come out by the end of the day. I’d have to let you know then.

As I felt the sadness envelope me I immediately felt uncomfortable. I didn’t want to feel sad. I didnt want to feel sad symptoms. I didn’t want to cry. I didn’t want to feel the ache in my throat and my chest. I didn’t want any of it. I wanted to avoid it all. My first response is to suppress it and avoid it. I wanted to avoid it in my cocoon. But I knew that would probably lead to further rumination and potentially turning to my destructive behaviours when the sadness got to be too much and the cocoon wasn’t providing the suppression I had hoped for. I felt a little lost and unsure. What should I do?

Should I lay here and wallow in the sadness and just let whatever happens, happen, no matter how bad it could get? Should I lay here and wait for the thoughts to get worse and worse until the feelings become so unbearable that I will do whatever it takes to not feel the sadness, or anything else?

As I stared up at the ceiling feeling like nothing really mattered and that I would somehow end up screwed in the end regardless. I thought of DBT. It passed through my thoughts for a brief moment as if to remind me that it was there, but I almost immediately thought I don’t know if I want to “skill” myself out of this. I’m not entirely certain that I don’t want to just lie here and wallow in my sadness.

But it was starting to get hard. Really hard. It was starting to grip my body and my mind. And I wasn’t feeling so cool about this. Despite not being certain I wanted to “feel better”, I didn’t want to feel this either. The sadness was gripping me tightly, and I don’t like it. I feel stuck.

The DBT crept back in, and poked me again. “You have skills you can use.” But which one. Which skill could I use?

The truth is, when I first thought of using a DBT skill, I didn’t think of what skill I could use to help me work through this. I thought of what skill could help me suppress and avoid this emotion. I asked myself, how I could DBT my way out of this emotion?

So then I immediately thought of Opposite Action. Yes. Opposite Action would be good right? I want to hide so I should go out. I did actually want to go out but the pull to the cocoon was winning the tug of war. So this could work. Perfect. Problem solved.

Except…my problem wasn’t solved. Something about what I was doing felt wrong. It almost felt too easy. I sat up on the couch and thought of going out but then minutes later I laid back down again. No, I didn’t want to go out, I feel too sad.

I sat up again, but Opposite Action will help. Yes, do it, go out, be opposite. I will be skillful and do Opposite Action. But then I laid back down again. I didn’t want to do Opposite Action. I didn’t want to go out. I wanted to lay here. Didn’t I? I didn’t know. I didn’t know what I wanted.

I wondered if this was a good time to call my DBT coach/therapist for some help. Maybe she would know what skill I could use to help me avoid this unpleasant feeling of not knowing what I wanted to do, and maybe she could offer me some advice on how to DBT my way out of this.

So I texted her, and she was available to talk. I told her I felt sad. And I had no idea why. And that I wanted to go out but I also wanted to cocoon on the couch. I told her how I had considered Opposite Action but that something felt wrong using it. And that’s when she pointed out that it probably felt a misfit because Opposite Action is used when the emotion doesn’t fit the facts, or when acting on the emotion will be ineffective.

Hmm. Interesting.

She told me that another skill I could try is “Self-Soothing”. Just let myself sit with the emotion, and maybe have a hot cup of tea, or another “self-soothing” tip that would be taking care of myself. When she said that I immediately felt resistance. I didn’t want to sit with the emotion. It was already making me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to sit and have a cup of tea with it. But she did make a good point. I hadn’t realized until she said it that I was actually mis-using the skills. I was using them to avoid feeling anything.

When she told me that there were a few skills I could mix and match with to get through this, I felt relieved. She told me I could try self-soothing for a bit, and then maybe do Opposite Action, and come back and do self-soothing, or distraction, or the TIP skills. I suddenly felt like maybe I could do this.

I was honest with her that I didn’t want to sit with the emotion because I was afraid it would take me over and take me down. She understood, and that was why she suggested maybe just trying the self-soothe and see how it goes. And then maybe try a different skill like Distraction or even Opposite Action after. I felt a little more in control by the time we said good bye.

And when I got off the phone, I felt afraid. I was still concerned that self-soothing would turn bad, and without another thought, before I could do anything else, I started crying. My throat ached and my chest tightened and the tears fell. I almost tried to stop it but instead I decided to just see what happens. I felt comforted knowing I could call her back if i needed to, and so I just let the tears fall.

I don’t know how long I cried for, it felt like only 5 or 10 minutes but then the tears slowly stopped and the ache in my throat eased. I don’t know why I cried. I tried to think of what was making me sad but it didn’t come to me. It felt just out of reach but whatever it was it made me cry. How it didn’t occur to me that it really didn’t matter what the cause was, I don’t know. Because all that I know is that I was sad, and so I cried.

And I hadn’t even had the chance to plug in the kettle.

But you know what? I felt a little better. Don’t get me wrong, I still felt sad, and I still felt a little low, but I also felt like I would be okay for now. I felt like now I could go out. Now I wanted to go out, not as Opposite Action but because I wanted to go out. I don’t know if when I get out I may want to turn around and come back home. I may come back home and have the sadness still sitting there waiting for me, but in those few minutes of crying I had at least released some of the pressure.

When I had asked my DBT coach/therapist about picking apart the sadness to see why I was feeling the way I did, I thought it would help. She said that even if I picked it apart I would still feel sad. And sometimes it’s not about the why, sometimes it’s about what is right in front of you that needs to be addressed. Instead of trying to sort out the why, why not try just dealing with the tears pooling in my eyes, and making my throat hurt. Why not let the moment just do what it needs to, and then we’ll see about picking it apart.

It was a surprising moment. I’m not used to this. I’m not used to letting the moment be and not picking everything apart to understand why. I’m not used to just letting myself cry without knowing why. I needed a reason to cry, didn’t I? I needed a reason to justify my tears, didn’t I?

Apparently not. Because I did cry, and I don’t know why, and for the moment, I feel better.

I guess sometimes it’s better to not know why. Sometimes the sadness just needs a release, and the only thing to do is release it. I hope I remember that the next time.

Thank you to my DBT coach/therapist, for being there, and for showing me that I actually already knew what I needed to do.

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