I recently attended a class at my church taught by a therapist who is experienced in and passionate about working with people who are recovering from trauma. It was the last of a three part class that taught both about the human response to trauma and ways that we can rewire and find freedom from trauma. In the conversation she brought up Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) concepts of radical acceptance and dialectics. While it has been a long time since I began my journey with these concepts, I was freshly reminded of my introduction to them and the amazing tool they have been in transforming my life.
Shortly before my suicide attempt in 2011 I had learned of DBT therapy and its success in helping people who dealt with many of the struggles that I was in the midst of. It was a newer therapy that was developed by a therapist at the University of Washington and one of the evidence based treatment centers was in Seattle, where I was living. At the time, I was strung out on drugs, unemployed, unemployable, deeply depressed and working as a prostitute to survive. I had no health insurance and I quickly discovered that DBT treatment was, and very often still is, very expensive and there are years long waiting lists to get into free programs.
I was determined to get help and reached out to the Evidence Based Treatment Centers of Seattle, I was determined to pay cash and receive treatment. However, I was only able to make the money through prostitution. This quickly became problematic as the therapist, correctly, told me that I could not expect to receive the benefits of treatment while engaging in a behavior as damaging as prostitution and the addiction that went with it. They were both self destructive behaviors that needed to stop and could not be the means of my recovery. While conceptually I understood this to be correct, I also had no other hope and that along with several other events ultimately led to my decision to take my life several weeks later in December of 2011.
When God interrupted my attempts to kill myself and the police officers intentions to shoot me, God provided resources in the way of a Buddhist friend, and Buddhist teachings that are the basis for the fundamental concepts of DBT. One of the key concepts of DBT is radical acceptance which roughly states that the only way to end suffering, which occurs as a result of pain and non-acceptance, is to accept reality and face the pain head on. I can neither ignore my pain and pretend to be ok, nor drown in my victimhood of all that has gone wrong. Radical acceptance teaches that the only way to truly end the suffering is to stand in the painful middle and face it directly. However, it recognizes that this can only be done in a setting of psychological safety where a person is able to let down their guard enough to actually embrace change. This leads to a concept that the teacher last night spoke of as “connect to re-direct”. I can connect with a person honestly in a moment of pain and empathize with them as a way to help them feel safe enough to begin to move themselves (re-direct) in a more positive direction. I do not move them, I join them and create a safe space for them to do the work.
The other concept is that of dialectics which is roughly a method of reasoning that allows two opposing views to be true at the same time. For example, I can both radically accept myself as a broken and flawed individual and have love and acceptance for who I am in this moment, and also believe that I have the ability to improve and I can seek to change and overcome some of my flaws. These two ideas seem to be opposite, but when believed together I have found them to allow me to rise out of depression enough to actually make the positive changes that I need to make to get myself out of the victim position I had lived in for much of my life.
Over the past 10 years I have done a lot of work around these issues and found them transformational in every aspect of my life. They changed the way I relate to both myself, and others and have given me the ability to transform my life in ways I never would have imagined possible. I cannot believe the life I have today after the place I was 10 years ago. Everyday I am grateful to God and to the people who have helped me over the past decade. I am so grateful that today I am able to walk alongside others who are in the same places I have been. I still have a long way to go, but I can both radically accept where I am right in this moment and also believe that I can do more and help more. I am so thankful I discovered DBT therapy and the concepts that have been a part of changing my life!