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As a DBT clinician, our work is substantially different from more traditional therapies. We collaborate with our patients on target behaviors that keep them in suffering – and we actively work to help them build awareness and skills to better manage their emotions around these behaviors. The work is challenging and worthwhile. Especially when you receive the following in your inbox from a former client. I adore you Jen E and thank you for allowing me to walk a small part of your journey with you.

Dr. Michele Lob PsyD., MFT, CEDS

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Jen Eggerts

Hi, my name is Jen.

Labels. We all have them. We all use them. While part of me would like to be able to stand out in the middle of an open field and start denouncing every label I have ever had, I know that labels are necessary. We are thinking beings trapped in emotional bodies and the predominant way that we communicate with one another is through words. So much can get lost in translation and so easily. Labels help us make sense of otherwise indefinable phenomena. The hope is that we can make sense of the labels and find a way to live a fulfilling life inside our own skin. On a good day my thoughts flow without judgment, my emotional body remains both open and protected and my words flow directly from my truth with positive intentions. Translation: I don’t always need to identify with my labels.

When I am in this free flowing space, I really try to appreciate it. Why? Because sometimes I still see my labels. It is so much better today, but I used to rely on them without fail. It was the only way I, or my loved ones, could make sense of what was happening to me. I can remember being labeled (negatively) very early on in my life. My parents expressed that I was hyper-sensitive, highly reactive, afraid and anxious from a very early age. I cannot remember feeling normal; ever. I was different before I knew that I was supposed to be the same.

By both biology and trauma, my life has been filled with longs streaks of depression, anxiety and dysregulation. Because of the abnormalities in my behavior, I am well acquainted with labels. I was diagnosed with anxiety at 11, OCD at 15, anorexia at 17, PTSD at 21, alcoholism at 32 and BPD at 33. While all of labels are accurate, it wasn’t until I tried committing suicide at 33 that an effective treatment (DBT and Dr. Lob) found me. At that point, I had been in residential treatment three times before and I had a basic understanding of DBT. In all reality, I knew just enough to think I knew what I was talking about. Barely. 🙂 Thank goodness Michele has a sense of humor.

So, there I was; well labeled, borderline suicidal (pun intended), and VERY well defended. I remember two things about that first meeting: being terribly anxious and beyond intrigued. Michele didn’t mince words with me. She started talking about DBT with the precision of a surgeon and let me know in no uncertain terms that I would get out that which I put in. In return for my effort: the potential of a life worth living. She handed me no guarantees. I appreciated her honesty. Rather than scare, deflate or anger me, I saw it as a puzzle. How do I extract as much as I can as quickly as possible? I figured I’d have this DBT thing down in three months flat. No problem. Famous last words.

I was wrong. Comically so, in fact. I remember going through every skill in the manual, reading up on it and then writing down a real life example of how I would use it. At that point, I was still very attached to my intelligence; the well worn path of perfectionism informed many of my choices. I was tired of screwing up, I was mortified that I ended up in the psych ward and I was convinced that with enough intelligent banter and finesse I could hide the fact that I was terrified and didn’t want to be alive. Wrong again.

Michele, not surprisingly, was far more aware of my distress levels than I was. Early on in our relationship, she asked how I was doing using the skills in the manual. I, in my “intelligent star student hat” replied, “Great—this is easy.” You could have heard a pin drop in China it was so quiet. She looked back at me with both serious and loving eyes and said, “simple Jen, not easy.” Though I understood the difference in terminology, I had no clue what she actually meant. DBT, while easy to learn, can be difficult to use when in distress. It takes real commitment. Her response was enough to open a willingness in me that probably saved my life.

Fast forward three years and I am considerably more proficient at DBT. It was so effective that I began to seek out as much information as I could about mindfulness and meditation. With guidance, I have continued to progress in my ability to regulate my emotions, tolerate distress, be mindful and to both create and maintain healthy, loving and stable relationships. Today, DBT is part of my central processing and I use in EVERY aspect of my life. The practice of mindfulness led me to yoga and meditation as well. All three are now cherished aspects of my healing and recovery.

So, what else has changed? I remain in recovery from both my eating disorder and alcoholism. I am still in therapy and I do attend AA. Whether or not these are necessary to keep my recovery in tact is no matter to me. I choose not to risk losing the freedom, peace of mind and emotional stability I enjoy today. I use distress tolerance skills every day. Mindfulness and meditation keep my nervous system stable. I am able to work through trauma with a therapist without dysregulating. Though DBT skills have become second nature I still fill out a diary card once in awhile. I never want to get so far away from the practices that got me here that I cannot remember how to use them.

I have also reached a level of peace with my labels. What I am or am not is of less importance to me than who I am. DBT paved the path of self-discovery for me. In the last few years I have built a relationship with myself. I trust myself. I love myself. I am stable. I am strong, empathetic, genuine, generous, kind and loving. Today I lead with those attributes comfortably from a place of peace within myself. There are still times that I dysregulate; there are still periods of intense discomfort; I still get triggered. Today, however, I also know that these periods will pass. I know that using skills will temper the discomfort. I believe in myself. That, friends, is a miracle.

Keep working for the miracle. You are far closer than you realize.

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