Because We Shared Maladaptive Behaviors

I’ve been drowning in my thoughts for nearly a week. It’s exhausting, painful, and overwhelming. Yet, when I feel like I’ve reached my breaking point, something else fuels the fire, and my mind spins even more. Tonight as I sat in my Disciple Bible study group, I felt everything bubbling up to the surface and knew I was about to explode. So, I tried to discreetly get up and leave the room (an impossible task in a small group setting).

I went to the bathroom and reached for a coping skill I’d learned in DBT: I splashed cold water on my face. As soon as I turned the water on, the thoughts simmering inside me shifted toward the past. Because as you can probably guess, tonight wasn’t the first time I’ve walked out of a group when my thoughts or feelings started to consume me. In fact, I did it back in 2018 during DBT group… and it was somewhat because of Emily.

Sharing in Safe Spaces

If you’ve ever been to any form of group therapy, then you have probably experienced the joy (and pain) of check-ins. These can happen in various ways, depending on the type of therapy, the group leader, and the amount of time the group has. However, check-ins typically involve everyone having a chance to share something, and it isn’t always pleasant.

In dialectical behavior therapy, you do a lot of worksheets. And, when I say a lot, I mean multiple worksheets per week because nearly every skill you learn in the modality has a worksheet that goes along with it. Many worksheets are meant to be utilized repeatedly each time you encounter a situation that requires skill use. Then, you bring these worksheets to your individual therapy sessions and to the group so you can share them.

One week during check-ins, Emily had done a worksheet after using a maladaptive behavior (self-injury). Unfortunately, we both frequently used that maladaptive behavior. Listening to Emily discuss it raised my feelings, and I felt the urge to engage in the behavior. So, I quietly left the room (or tried to) and went into the bathroom to TIPP (splash cold water on my face).

Eventually, I went back into the room, participated in the rest of group, and hoped no one cared about my brief departure.

But, if you know Emily, then you know these truths: Emily is very aware of others and their feelings, and Emily always assumes everything is her fault.

When the group session ended, Emily asked me, “Can we talk?” I nodded, and we went to our usual conversation spot: the parking lot. I knew exactly what would happen, but I knew I had to let it play out. So, Emily started apologizing, which turned into her spiraling about how terrible she was. I told her it wasn’t her fault and said, “You can’t be responsible for everyone’s feelings all the time, Emily. I am the one who experienced emotions about what you shared; they’re my feelings to own and deal with.” Of course, we laughed because we’re both people who think everything is our fault, and the irony that we’d end up having a conversation about this issue was nothing short of hilarious.

Accountability is Key

Although there were times (like that day in group therapy) when having the same maladaptive behavior could be problematic, our mutual “issue” actually helped Emily and I work together to “break the habit.” Self-injury can be a very difficult thing to discuss with people because the only people who usually understand are people who also engage. So, we made a pact: we’d hold each other accountable for using healthy coping skills and reach out to each other when we were struggling with urges.

I can’t speak for Emily, but I’d like to think that this pact helped us kick this “habit” to the curb. I know that, for me, having someone I could talk to was incredibly helpful. And, even when I couldn’t care less about myself, my desire to keep Emily from engaging pushed me to do the same.

Over time, we held each other accountable for other things too. There were many nights when Emily would come over for dinner or send me pictures of her meal because accountability kept her from restricting. When I wanted to do something impulsive, I’d check in with her about it first, and she’d usually talk me out of it or provide some humor to distract me until the urge passed.

I know that, personally, I was the healthiest I’d ever been (at least mental health-wise) by the time Emily and I started dating. It’s another reason I was so certain she was my person: we brought out the best in each other.

Trying Not to Relapse

A few weeks ago, I thought I was starting to find my stride with this whole grief thing. Unfortunately, the past week has pushed me to a breaking point again. Everything since October has been an uphill battle, and I never get to catch my breath. A few months ago, there was a night where I almost threw in the towel, and if I’m completely honest, my thoughts this week have wavered on that same dangerous edge.

But, because of Emily, I’m trying my hardest to keep my head above water and not drown. I know that she wouldn’t judge me, and I know she’d understand anything I do. Deep down, though, I also know she’d want me to fight. She’d want me to live.

So, until I can stand on my feet again and make decisions for myself, I will simply rely on Emily for motivation and accountability. Even if that means I have to walk out of rooms and splash cold water on my face. I know she’d understand, and she’d even tell me to do whatever it takes.


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