Coping Skills: The Cornerstone of Sustainable Recovery


By Rachel Reiland

It’s one of the most difficult questions I’ve gotten since I’ve been touring for my book, “Get Me out of Here:  My Recovery From Borderline Personality Disorder”.
“So…are you cured?”

A part of me wants to knock on wood every time I’m asked this, as if my answer could jinx my recovery.

I’m not a big fan, by the way, of the word “cured”.  It makes it sound as if someone waved a magic wand and suddenly, poof, all my self-doubts, insecurities and irrational thoughts disappeared forever.  Recovery, however, is a different story.

Perhaps this is why I waited so long to come out and speak publicly about the book–I wanted to make sure that there wasn’t some vestige of BPD that would metasticize like a cancer cell and swallow me whole.

It has, in fact, been 16 years since I successfully terminated my therapy with my psychiatrist, Dr. Padgett.   That’s plenty of time to face all sorts of challenges inherent in life, the kind that could have capsized me.  I can now say with all honesty that, in fact, my recovery has been sustained.  The coping skills that were so foreign and seemingly impossible to me so many years ago are now ingrained in me.  While I am still subject to intense emotions at times, I know they are simply that–emotions.  Emotions do not equate to actions unless I make a choice to let them do so.  I also know that emotions are transient, like the waves of the sea.  If I ride them and do not try to fight them, they will subside into calm.

Even though my therapy opened my mind to a completely different framework of thinking and exposed a lot of the irrational fears that drove my self-destructive behavior, I am still inherently a passionate, feeling person.  This can be a good thing or a bad thing–depending on how I cope.  Over the years, I have relied upon coping strategies that have enabled me to live a truly satisfying life filled with love.

The moral of the story is not only that there can be light at the end of the tunnel, but I have been blessed with the coping skills to have been able to keep that light burning, regardless of the circumstances.

Here are a few things that have helped me maintain the gift of new life recovered from the ravages of the worst of BPD.

SIT WITH YOUR FEELINGS:  It doesn’t matter how intense or frightening the feeling or fear may be, so long as it is not acted upon, it remains only a feeling.   I’ve found that if I am harboring feelings that are hard to handle, I can go to a safe place–for me it is the bedroom–and park myself there until the feelings have subsided a bit.  I also use this time to explore the emotions in a rational light.

ACCEPT IMPERFECTION: Certainly, Borderline Personality Disorder is very stigmatized.  A lot of therapists don’t want to treat it. The term itself implies there is something wrong with the sufferer–and that is true!  There is something wrong.  The thing is, though, there is something wrong with all of us.  Once I reached what would be considered recovery, there was a long time I feared that one little episode could send me right back into a full-blown case of the disorder.  The reality is far more grey than that.  The thing is, every one walking around has imperfections–it is the nature of our existence. To borrow a term from alcohol and drug recovery, just because you fall off the wagon, doesn’t mean you have to stay off.

NATURE AS GROUNDING:  One of the best therapies for me is to connect with nature, which touches my soul without words or analysis.  I love to go hiking and walk along trails beside the river, anything that puts me in touch with the fact that I am just a part of something that is so much more vast than I am.  I’m a particular fan of sunrises and sunsets, the slowly evolving portrait of ever-changing colors.   I think of the scriptural reference to God taking care even of the birds and all the tiny creatures–I am part of that vast universe. There is something inherently calming in nature–it slows the churning currents of the feelings inside of me and brings me peace.  Sometimes I get “too busy” to take the time to experience the beauty around me–that is when I have to make sure I find the time.  If I find myself feeling a bit out of sorts, it’s amazing what a difference a trip to the park or to the middle of nowhere can make.

MAINTAIN SPIRITUAL CONNECTION:  My therapy and recovery journey started out on two tracks–psychotherapy and spirituality.  Just as I can begin to feel negative effects if I don’t connect with nature as much as I need, the same holds true with my spiritual journey.  I am a particular fan of silent retreats and quiet meditative prayer, as well as sung prayer.  So many times I feel like I want to tell my story of how my day is going and how it feels, I realize that I don’t have to relive it all.  I don’t have to pursue a spiritual journey intellectually.  All I have to do is be there, be present, and God will do the rest.  In my own Catholic faith tradition, I have found solace in Eucharistic Adoration.  If I sit quietly long enough, my emotions calm and I find answers within.  It doesn’t tak training to be able to do this; just a willingness to sit down anywhere–be it a church, a river bank, wherevver–and stay there for long enough to reconnect.

These coping strategies could rightly apply to just about anyone, regardless of whether or not they have a mental illness diagnosis.  The difference is, at least for me, that these things are not optional.  They aren’t “it would be nice ifs…”.  They are necessary to maintain my recovery, and in doing so, they also have the positive benefit of enriching my life.

RACHEL REILAND IS THE AUTHOR OF “GET ME OUT OF HERE:  MY RECOVERY FROM BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER.”  SHE WAS DIAGNOSED WITH BPD IN 1991 AND TERMINATED PSYCHOTHERAPY IN 1995,  SHE IS NOW DOING RADIO BOOK TOUR INTERVIEWS, IN WHICH SHE SPEAKS OUT TO RAISE AWARENESS OF BPD AND HOPE FOR THOSE WHO SUFFER.  FOR MORE INFORMATION AND AUDIO LINKS OF MEDIA INTERVIEWS WITH RACHEL, GO TO “GETMEOUTOFHEREBOOK.COM” OR GO TO THE FACEBOOK PAGE, “GET ME OUT OF HERE RADIO BOOK TOUR.”  RACHEL IS 49 YEARS OLD, IS A MOTHER OF THREE, AND WILL BE CELERATING 25 YEARS OF MARRIAGE TO HER HUSBAND IN THE FALL.
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5 Responses

  1. Thank you Rachel. So happy to see you’re doing well and can’t wait to see more from you in the future.

  2. Rachel,

    Thank you so much for everything you have done. Your book is an inspiration to many people. It helps people see they are not alone and that they can overcome any challenges they face.

    Thank you also for sharing some of the things that have helped you through the years. They are things that I personally needed to be reminded of at this time.

    It is inspiring to hear how well you are doing. :)

  3. I was wondering specifically what type of training your T had. Did he work within the DBT model, or was he someone with a humanistic approach; I also wondered if he had psychoanalytic training and if so, at which institute.

    thanks

    Sophie

  4. Thank you for this; it’s given me a lot to think about. I admire your honesty; it’s something to be proud of.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing how you’re coping.
    I shall remember: sitting with my feelings, connect with nature (take time to smell the flowers), and maintaining spiritual connection.

    I am a fan of silent retreats and contemplative prayer too!

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