One Year of Peer DBT

I was on a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy waitlist for eight months before I was finally told that the program I was applying for would be $375 a week with my poor insurance. I felt hopeless that the resources that I felt I needed were beyond my reach. I had finally begun working again after COVID and was rebuilding my capacity, but my current job was barely covering the costs of rent, utilities, and gas. I thought about just going through the workbook on my own but it felt overwhelming when looking at the thick book and I knew I wasn’t likely to hold myself accountable for something that felt like work. I felt stuck. It was Heather who suggested – why not start a group and do it with others?

It seemed preposterous at first, I wasn’t a DBT therapist and I’m not sure anyone would want me to talk about something that I’m just learning myself. At the time I was spending some of my time volunteering with some of the local mutual aid groups. Food distribution, simple enough. People need food to survive and the fact that some communities, mostly lower income communities of color, were food deserts was a clear example of the system not providing for the people. In particular with the impact of COVID it made sense – grocery store overflow that would become food waste could be brought to the people, those who were well off could donate extra income to help buy supplies and food could be brought directly to the door of those who need it. Furthermore by going out we connect with communities we wouldn’t normally meet, we make new friends and give back, share a skill or pass along a resource of our own, and we all take care of each other. We fill the gaps, we care for our neighbors, we care for ourselves, we build the world we want to see.

In the world I want to see mental health resources that people need to survive are not held behind an inaccessible paywall. Nor are they handed down in hierarchical relationship with one over the other, but instead collectively adapted to our unique stories and paths. So I looked around – I made some posts that I was looking for online DBT resources that I could share and almost immediately someone replied and passed along PDF’s of two DBT workbooks. We take care of each other.

I searched around and quickly found two therapists who believe DBT can be helpful for anyone and everyone should have access to it and had made a podcast talking about the skills the same way they would in a group session. I began listening to DBT and Me where they talked about how DBT had changed their lives, helped them heal, and eventually helped them support others in healing. Filling the gap, that was why they went into the field. We take care of each other.

I took a step forward and proposed a group. The whole workbook looked daunting but all I had to do was one skill, or one concept, each week. Recovery is a process, a walk. I was upfront that I was learning and each week I was just listening to a podcast and reading a few workbook pages before group and that I hadn’t gone to school to learn all about them. Each skill was new to me. But that was okay, because I wasn’t there to teach, I was there to learn as well. All I had to do was commit to my own learning and then hold the space. I could be myself and we figured it out together. We take care of each other.

One of the first skills we discussed was Wise Mind – this is the place in between emotion mind which is passionate but often rash, and rational mind which may be productive but cold. The spot where we are honoring our emotions facing towards our goals. Balanced, true, sometimes uncomfortable but honest with ourselves. A Peer Recovery Specialist Training was happening soon. I didn’t think I was ready for that kind of step, my emotion mind was fearful of making decisions. My rational mind told me instead I should be looking for a full time job. But what did I really want? In Wise Mind I knew, I wanted to fill the gaps, to care for myself and others together, and I wanted to play some little part in building the world I wanted. I have never been a person that could be happy in some high paying office job, but I also knew I had to take steps to move forward in my recovery – so through Wise Mind I went forward with the training. I will complete 500 hours soon which will end my supervision and I will move forward as a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist, the next step in my recovery process.

Through DBT I learned Mindfulness. I’m not yet where I want to be, and still often find myself focusing on multiple things at once, going on autopilot, or getting drawn out of the moment, but I’ve taken steps. I didn’t even get distracted writing this story (yet!) Through DBT I learned emotional regulation. I still find myself catastrophizing sometimes but now I listen to what my emotions are telling me, I hear them, and then let them go on their way rather than let them drive my actions. Through DBT I learned about distress tolerance. I still feel sad at the state of the world, the changing climate, and the friends we’ve lost, but I know how to accept reality rather than fighting it so that I may see more clearly the things that are within my control to change. Through DBT I learned about Interpersonal Effectiveness. I still get in arguments with loved ones, find myself being unfair, or have trouble setting or accepting boundaries – but my friendships and my relationships are the strongest they’ve ever been. My loved ones light my life and make me happy to be alive and I now know clearly, a moment of hardship can exist within a loving relationship and together we can build a solution. We take care of each other.

We have completed the workbook, but of course the process will continue and so we start again, and every week I spend an hour and a half learning and growing with my peers. Sometimes groups are tough, sometimes there are disagreements on how a skill is interpreted – whether to stick close to the book or expand into discussion, and that’s okay. There isn’t any right way. The most important step is showing up for ourselves and through caring for ourselves we take care of each other.

DBT Skills And Strategies meets virtually from 6pm-7:30pm on Thursdays with occasional exceptions for the Robin’s Hope Bimonthly Membership Meeting. Check the Robin’s Hope Calendar for the most updated schedule.

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