I have been in and out of therapy since I was 13 years old. That’s over half of my life! Back in 2005, I did almost an entire year of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) before it was even a “thing.” I went through DBT with a group of 4 middle aged women. I was 17 at the time. Back then, no one was doing DBT. Of course now it’s become this huge thing and it seems like there are DBT groups popping up everywhere.

When I went through DBT, I made a “coping skills box.” I took this beautiful wooden box with a butterfly on it, and I cut up strips of paper. Each strip had a different coping skill, most were distraction technics to prevent me from cutting.

11 years later, I don’t really need the coping skills box anymore. However, I do still need the coping skills. My library of coping skills has grown over the years. Below are a list of my favorites:

  • Squeezing play-dough
  • Coloring
  • Journaling
  • Yoga
  • Breathing exercises
  • Calling/texting a friend
  • Watching a funny movie
  • Painting my nails
  • Cleaning
  • Do something nice for myself (Starbucks, a new shirt, time away from home by myself, etc)

Those were really easy for me to list because I have to work every single day to use my coping skills. It has been that way forever. When I don’t work to use my coping skills, the stuff in my head becomes so bad; things like self-injury and suicide take over all of my thoughts.

Even though using my coping skills is like second nature most days, every once in a while I become so dysregulated that I forget. That’s what happened last night. 

Last night was a really difficult night in my household. I’m basically a single mom 6 nights a week. My daughter is 2 and newly potty trained. She falls into that 1 in 3 statistic of girls who “stool withhold.” Basically, my kid needs to shit and refuses to because she “doesn’t want to.” Are you rolling your eyes, because I am. She’s been holding it for five days now. Five fucking days without shitting! We have literally tried everything. Last night, I was so stressed out about her not going that I was in tears. When we went to the pediatrician yesterday, she said I would need to give her a suppository. Well, that ended up just being super fucking triggering for my trauma memories and I dissociated and cried. It was awful; by far the very worst moment of being a parent to date. I eventually ended up emailing my therapist last night because the stuff in my head was getting bad again.

Even though I know what healthy coping skills work for me, it helps to have someone to remind me to use them. My therapist plays that role in my life very well. She’s quick to say, “Use your skills.” Sometimes that’s all I need. Other times she has to give me suggestions on what skills to use, but mostly she just has to tell me to use them. I don’t need this all the time from her; in fact most of the time now I don’t need her at all. But every once in awhile I get really dysregulated really quickly and I can’t think clearly enough to put a plan into action. Progress not perfection.

It’s easy to get caught up in the fact that I think at this point I should be able to cope with life on life’s terms without the help of my shrink. However, there was a time when my only coping skills were self-harming. And when I think back to that time period, I realize how much progress I’ve made. When you practice things consistently, it is amazing how much progress you can make. 

Today’s picture shows the progress I made in 4 months of practicing wheel pose. The picture on the left is from April, the picture on the right is from today. I love yoga because it evolves, just like my coping skills. If you do it inconsistently, you might see minor improvements, but mostly things just stay the same. However, if you really practice on a regular basis, you will see remarkable improvements.