This is the final installment of my six part series on Borderline and Codependency in the BDSM community. In this post, I will outline resources to help the Codependent live a happier life.
If you haven't read the other parts, they are:
Part 1: [The Appeal of a Borderline Partner][https://vircotto.com/borderline-and-co-dependency-in-the-scene-part-1-the-appeal-of-a-borderline-partner.html] Part 2: [Warning Signs in Yourself][https://vircotto.com/borderline-and-co-dependency-in-the-scene-part-2-warning-signs-in-yourself.html] Part 3: [Warning Signs in Your Partner][https://vircotto.com/borderline-and-co-dependency-in-the-scene-part-3-warning-signs-in-your-partner.html] Part 4: [Stages of a BPD/Codependent Relationship][https://vircotto.com/borderline-and-co-dependency-in-the-scene-part-4-stages-of-a-bpdcodepdendent-relationship.html] Part 5: [Origins and Patterns of Borderline and Codependency][https://vircotto.com/borderline-and-co-dependency-in-the-scene-part-5-origins-and-patterns-of-borderline-and-codependency.html]
At over twenty pages, these blog entries have turned into more than a blog post. I'm considering turning the series into a small book. If people would like to see that book get written, please let me know either directly or in the comments.
I remember the moment as clearly as if it's sealed in glass like a paperweight. It was the summer of 2016 and my girlfriend had decided not to join me at TES Fest because she'd had a self-harming incident at NEEHU a few months earlier. Unsure of the cause, we'd collectively decided that it would be better if she didn't attend any long kink events for a while. So she stayed home while I attended TES Fest. A month or two earlier, I'd read a book on Borderline Personality Disorder and based on advice from the book, began the process of disengaging from the harmful patterns that had grown both familiar and crazy-making. It's easy to say that being with my partner was frustrating, but it's more accurate to describe the experience as living in a terrible version of Alice in Wonderland. One minute, I could feel like I was large and in charge, and the next minute, feel small and stomped on. Without a guidepost, nothing in my life base sense.
Reading about BPD helped bring things into clarity. I was not crazy, and I was not a horrible monster. I was just trying to get through a difficult situation without the tools to handle it. Moreover, the skills that I had learned: Non-Violent Communication, Active Listening and compassionate understanding actually backfired. These tools assume that the person you're talking to is honest, both with the other person and themselves. A Borderline's truth can shift on a dime, making such understanding difficult or sometimes even impossible. The more I tried to use these tools, the more they had me twisted in knots.
Well meaning friends and experts told me I needed to be more loving, patient and compassionate. They said if I were more loving, she would change and we would both be happier. They were wrong. Instead of making her the center of my life, I needed to shift my thoughts and attention towards the kind of life I wanted to live. Instead of focusing on the relationship I had, I needed to focus on the relationship I wanted, and I needed to establish boundaries of what I could and could not accept as part of that life. Finally, whatever boundary I did put in place, I would need to be able to accept the consequences and finality of that decision.
It's with all that swirling in my mind that I attended a class entitled "Finding Your Master Identity". In that class, the instructor challenged the audience (primary Dom/Top/Master types) on whether they were living their values and provided tools to us for finding the way from living our current experience to our goal. Doing the exercises, I became aware that I was not living in accordance with my values as a Dominant and that I needed to make a change.
An hour later- my girlfriend- the woman who had at once been my submissive (until she threw her collar at me in a fit of anger) called me. She was angry about something, though I don't remember what the fight was about. In her anger, she told me that she wanted to break up. Breaking up was a tactic she'd used before. She would say we were breaking up and I would chase her down (figuratively or literally), demonstrating my commitment to her and our relationship. She'd done it dozens of times, and every time, it tore my heart. I told her that she couldn't do that anymore, that if she was angry or disappointed, she could find other ways of expressing it and we'd work on it together, but if she said she was breaking up with me then it would be permanent.
She insisted that she wanted to break up. I suggested to her that she might be worked up emotionally and therefore acting impulsively. I suggested that she might want to hang up, calm down and consider her actions carefully. I also told that if she broke up with me, it would be permanent- that unlike in the past, we would not get back together, so she needed to think about the decision carefully and not make any snap decisions.
In total, she said she wanted to break up five times. Four times, I explained to her, calmly, that this decision would be permanent and so she should take a break before making it final. I said that if she called me back in an hour or two asking to get back together that there would be no going back. Each time I told her that, she reiterated that didn't care and that this was her final decision. With that, our relationship finally ended.
We'd known each other eight years and been together as a couple across two cities; I'd supported her in moving (emotionally and financially). I'd supported her medical needs (including therapy), paid for her housing, paid for medical bills and everyday expenses. We'd been engaged; we'd been in a dynamic. And now it was over.
This sixth part of the BPD and Codependency Series has been the slowest one to write. While I know what I went through and what that healing process looked like, I feel hesitant in telling others that they can just do what I did and it will all be okay. The fact is that the process was excruciating and took up a big part of my life. I would like to say that this process was just a matter of reading a book and seeing things from a new perspective, but it was more like turning my soul inside out. There were parts of my past that I had never revisited. There were parts of my childhood that I hadn't even remembered. And while I'd like to report that I'm 100% cured, the reality is more that I feel like I'm in remission. I'm cured, but I still work to ensure that I don't slip into the old way of doing things. Usually, it works, not always, and I know that, like a cancer patient, I will always be at risk for the disease to return.
That said, I'm better now than I've ever been. I'm more secure than I've ever been. And for the first time in my life, I can genuinely say that I'm happy.
Developing A Plan
Before the breakup, I was already starting to read about BPD, and through that about Codependency. I'd bought and read several books on both, two of which resonated strongly with me. I realized that Codependency and Borderline were two sides of the same coin, forged together. I could not just "fix" my partner; I also needed to be fixed, with or without her. That recognition of my value above that of my relationship is what gave me the courage to ultimately set healthy boundaries, which lead to the end of our relationship.
After the breakup, I decided that I needed to come up with a plan. The more I dug into my Codependency, the deeper and more complex the issue became. I read book after book about how different people approached the condition and ultimately decided that I would create a multi-modal treatment plan for myself.
The first part of that plan was to continue to understand the origins of my Codependency. I needed to treat the disorder like a disease- learn how it develops, how it works, its symptoms and effects in an adult like myself.
The second part of the plan was to do "Family of Origin" work. I had come to understand that my Codependency was a product of my childhood and of needs that never got met and wounds that never healed. Like a child who grows up malnourished and has physical symptoms- I had the psychological equivalent of a deformity and needed, as much as possible, to heal.
The third part of the plan was to address my addictive behaviors. Much of Codependency is intense pain and loneliness. Because of this, Codependents learn coping mechanisms to make the pain manageable, which almost always include a set of unhealthy behaviors that had become compulsions or addictions. These addictive behaviors were getting in the way of my life in small and large ways, and I needed to fix it.
Challenges of Authority-Based Relationships in Codependency Recovery Work
Recovering from Codependency is a difficult and in some cases Herculean task. It involves taking every part of your life and taking it apart. I will elaborate more on this later on in this section, but specifically I want to address the issue of healthy boundary setting in the context of those who choose to engage in Authority Based Relationships.
The fact is that aside from a few blog posts from myself and a scattering of others. There isn't a lot about Codependency and Authority Based Relationships. The complexities of identifying and implementing healthy boundaries is so challenging that I wonder if it's even possible to establish those boundaries while inside one. For Doms, this change can be difficult. For Codependent dominants, there can be questions of dominance vs insecurity: Is the action you're taking over the submissive there only to satisfy some internal fear? There can be concerns about going too far: Is this decision for my relationship based on a reaction formation to the last relationship? There can be concerns over doing the same negative behavior twice, or falling into old patterns, especially with an established partner. For a submissive, I can imagine that the concern is even more difficult to navigate. Being a submissive is about explicitly giving up power, and to a lesser extent, identity to someone else. How in an environment explicitl meant to emphasize someone else's needs over your own, can you have your needs heard and met? How can you find the right balance between positive attention and appropriate distance? And how can you find a dominant who is charismatic but not overly narcissistic?
I don't have the answers to those questions. I only have my own experience to go on and so my only advice is to be honest. Be honest with yourself and with your partner. Be honest about what you need.
An Aversion to 12 Steps
Many of the resources I consulted discussed and advocated for 12 Step Programs. I have an anti-12 Step bias. While I recognize the value in 12 Steps for some people, my mother's involvement in 12 Steps was a contributing factor in her leaving my family, and she often used 12 Step programs to avoid dealing with her issues and instead focusing on others.
I later learned that this was just narcissistic behavior. My mother wanted the attention and admiration that stemmed from being "needed" by the other members. Still, because of this experience I am personally very critical of 12 Steps, not only because of my own experience but also because 12 Steps mixes treatment plans with its own ideology and presents it as a science. While I know several people who have been helped by 12 Steps, I know others who have "failed out" of 12 Steps. The research on its efficacy is less than stellar, yet our court system forces people to attend 12 Step programs, not only endorsing its ideology, which includes a religious/spiritual component.
I mention all this because I want to make it clear that I have an anti-12 Step bias, but that it's often recommended by experts that I respect. If you feel that 12 Steps works for you, then please feel free to do is But if 12 Steps has not worked for you, or you have negative feelings about 12 Steps like I do then you should know that it's possible to recover from Codependency without 12 Steps.
Remember, it's the goal that we care about, not the journey getting there.
Borderline Personality Disorder Resources
My journey in breaking free of Codepdnecny began with realizing that my relationship was broken. While not everyone may have this same experience, I am willing to guess that most people who have Codependency find themselves in the same bad relationship pattern, either with a Borderline or another Cluster B personality disorder. Being able to realize that the relationship is unhealthy is the first step in being able to help yourself.
My first blog posts on the topic were about just this topic- being able to identify problematic relationship patterns. What I didn't do was discuss the next step in setting healthy boundaries or provide a framework for establishing better communication patterns. That's because the audience for this series isn't people in standard inegalitarian relationships, but instead in authority based relationships. I wrote this series for both doms and subs to provide guidance for navigating the waters of personal boundaries within two healthy individuals in an authority-based relationship is already a complex topic on its own, without the added complexity of BPD. Ultimately my relationships with narcissists began to disappear as my healing process began. I know it's possible for two people to recover together, but that wasn't my experience.
In my journey, I read a lot of books, read lots of articles and watched lots of videos. I've selected the resources I found most helpful.
Stop Walking on Eggshells (Book/Audiobook)
If I had to choose one book that was most influential in helping me understand my relationship with my Borderline partner and helping me realize my Codependency, it is Stop Walking on Eggshells. I strongly recommend this book to anyone who has resonated with my posts. I also recommend it to Borderlines who see the destructive patterns in their own relationships and see their partners suffering and are looking to help their partners make sense of it all.
If you end up finding this book helpful, you may also want to look at Randi Kreger's other books on the topic of Borderline.
This book helped clarify the patterns of behavior that I saw an experiencing. It explained the history of BPD in the individual and its diagnostic history. It gave me the tools to set healthy boundaries, as well as to turn the mirror back at me, as a Codependent, on the things that I needed to do to change my life.
If you only get one book on Borderline, this should be your book
The Secrets of Limit Setting (Video)
While reading Stop Walking on Eggshells, I watched a video from the author on limit setting, a topic she gets to towards the end of Eggshells. If you want a preview of the very end of the book, this talk will provide that. I recommend that if you decide to watch it without reading the book first, that you read the book and watch it again.
Back from the Edge (Video)
After reading about Borderline from me and others, you may be questioning if there is hope. This documentary from New York Presbyterian Hospital is an honest look at Borderline Personality Disorder and has stories from several Borderlines and couples where one person has BPD. The documentary is raw, and even disturbing at times, but provides an honest look at BPD, its treatment, and possible outcomes.
A Borderline partner can be challenging and destructive, but the research (and indeed the diagnosis) for BPD discusses short-lived relationships because when confronted with Borderline behavior, most people will disengage. While the relationship may still be difficult or painful, the damage is limited because the relationship didn't last long.
When you see a long-term relationship with a Borderline, it's more likely that the non-BPD partner is a Codepdnedent who sees their partner's behavior as painful, but not entirely out of the pattern that they're used to. Since Codepdnents almost always grow up with a narcissistic
The Human Magnet Syndrome (Book/Audiobook)
The second most useful book for me was the Human Magnet Syndrome by Ross Rosenberg. This book describes the development of both narcissism and codependency, and how they're usually related to similar childhood experiences. He describes how the two traits attract one another in an unhealthy relationship.
I found this book extremely useful in understanding and diagnosing the psychological issues I was having, but it was very low on solutions. Still, I recommend it strongly because it gives a framework for understanding both Codependency and the various narcissistic personality disorders (including BPD).
The Codependency Cure (upcoming book)
Ross Rosenberg discusses his next book as if it's a done deal. Unfortunately, while I heard about its upcomming release in 2016, it's still not out.
But what does exist are videos and blog posts by the author on his model for Codependency that he'll use in his next book, as well as a video lecture series by the author intended for clinicians. The new book (and video series, which I purchased and watched) focus on the recovery path. He renames Codependency (which is not a DSM recognized disorder) to Self-Love Deficit Syndrome and shows a nine stage recovery path: http://humanmagnetsyndrome.com/hmsblog/?p=3426
While I have mixed feelings about the name change, the path that Rossenburg outlines is very helpful and effective. Rosenberg's Youtube channel ( https://www.youtube.com/user/clinicalcareconsult ) has many Codependency recovery videos, and it's also possible to buy the same lecture series that I did, though they do not offer much in the way of a practical guide to recovery.
John Bradshaw (book, Audiobook, videos)
Without a practical guide to recovery from Rosenberg, I had to come to find another resource for recovery and healing. Ultimately, after searching a great deal, I found John Bradshaw's work resonated strongly with me.
If you were around in the 90s, you might have seen Bradshaw's lectures on PBS. He popularized the phrases "Inner child" and "Walking Wounded." His premise is that many disorders that we see, including addiction and codependency spring out of dysfunctional upbringings and that by understanding those dysfunctional family dynamics and then re-living those experiences, we can come to a place of healing.
For Bradshaw, understanding and re-living painful childhood experiences is not an intellectual exercise- it's something you have to do- and it's painful. Through his program, you will re-live the trauma of your childhood, both overt (such as physical and sexual abuse) as well as covert abuse, such as abandonment. Through this re-living, you can uncover truths about yourself that you weren't aware of and use the tools of an adult experience the heal the wounds of the inner child.
I read one of Bradshaws's books but found the videos to be far more helpful and powerful, particularly his "On the Family" and "Homecoming" series available here (http://www.johnbradshaw.com/products.aspx). "On the Family" helped me make sense of my experiences as a child- understanding the dynamics of my family, of my parent's families and how they came together to shape my upbringing and the way that I turned out. The Homecoming series took this knowledge and helped me bring it back to my modern day experience. It allowed me to unlock memories of my childhood that I had repressed, helped me understand my past relationships, my family relationships, and even my friendships. Homecoming gave me the tools to help me dig deep and come to a healthier place.
This work is not to taken on lightly. There were times watching and listening that I was frozen with emotion. There were other times when I cried and still more times when memories came back to me after having been repressed from my psyche.
I also want to warn the reader that Bradshaw does not take a positive view toward either Authority-Based Relationships or Sadomasochism, describing both as an outgrowth of a damaged psyche that needs curing. I don't think that he is familiar with the kinds of relationships we have or the care we take them. But either way, you can easily ignore this viewpoint and still get an enormous amount out of reading/watching/experiencing these series. I credit them in large part to my recovery.
The Solution To Social Anxiety: Break Free From The Shyness That Holds You Back
Talking about social anxiety in a post about codependency may seem like a departure from the point, but for me they were deeply intertwined. There were thoughts that ran through my head. These thoughts would come up at different times, but almost always when I was especially nervous or especially happy, and they would always come in the form of a set of judgements or instructions, such as telling me that everyone in the room hated me, that no one could love me, that I should kill myself. Even during relationships, these thoughts would arise, telling me that my partner would be happier if I were dead, etc.
Maybe because they were part of my everyday experience, or maybe because I was embarrassed about it, I never brought these thoughts up to my therapist, but they were intrusive. Imagine being on a date that's going well, and as your kisses move downward, in your mind you hear "She probably hates this. You should leave. Get out now." A mood killer to be sure.
"The Solution to Social Anxiety" was a book that I picked up because it was on sale, but it transformed a lot of my life. In it, the author addresses the exact experience I had- intrusive negative thoughts. He discusses their origin- as a mal-adapted defense mechanism and then slowly goes through exercises to address them with strength and compassion.
Because I also suffer from social anxiety itself, he also provides exercises on conquering your fears. His process pushes the reader forward while always helping them stay motivated and supported.
Many of the techniques Dr. Gazipura (the author) uses are cognitive behavioral approaches that I was already familiar with but reintroduced with new vigor and a fresh approach. Being able to identify and address these negative thought patterns was a huge contributor to my overcoming my Codependency.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
In my twenties, I prided myself on not being an addict. I had friends and family who smoked, drank a lot or did drugs. I never smoked, never did recreational drugs and I drank only occasionally. I didn't know it, but I was an addict. And I still have addictive tendencies.
At some point in my early thirties, I became addicted to porn and masturbation. While porn addiction sounds funny, it was a serious problem. At some points, I was watching porn up to five times a day. The pleasure of orgasm would let me escape my world and my feelings. But unlike the satisfaction of good sex (or even good masturbation), the high only lasted a few moments and then I was back to my normal life experience.
This addiction affected me and I decided to quit. I joined the "Nofap" community, which talks about he problems that can come out of porn and masturbation addiction. Nofap promotes an abstinence model. They talk about quitting cold turkey, celebrating milestones and documenting your journey of just how long you've gone without PMO. I tried my best to follow their process. I'd last about ten days have an overwhelming need to masturbate, do so and feel bad about having broken my winning streak. I'd decide to get back on the wagon the next day and try again. This pattern lasted months. All the while, reading about the dangers of porn addiction and scaring the hell out of myself.
Quitting cold turkey wasn't working for me. Abstinence from masturbation and porn wasn't working for me. The more I tried, the more difficult it became, and while my will power was strong, the needs grew stronger, and then I subsequently felt weaker. I needed a different approach.
That's when I found Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. ACT (pronounced "act") teaches a different model entirely from what I'd heard before about addiction. ACT isn't specifically for addiction, but the model works well. In a nutshell, ACT talks about our values. Our values are individual, but they're the things that we want in our lives. That might be career success, or friendships, family, etc. And then we have barriers to getting those things. That might be anxiety, or depression, or addiction.
And that's where ACT takes a very different approach than other approaches to addiction I'd seen or used previously. It teaches that when we have an addictive thought or feeling, we can address it like we would a choice, weighing our values against the immediate need and making an informed decision on what to do. There's no right or wrong decision, only behaviors that get us closer to our values and behaviors that take us further away from our values. And slowly, bit by bit the addictive behaviors loose their power. There are just choices.
Through this, I realized that the thing I was doing in my masturbation habit was disassociating and that I had other disassociative habits, including suicidal ideation.
For some people, thoughts of suicide are frightening. To me, they were a source of a lot of odd pleasure. I'd fall into a gentle place in my mind thinking of my death. The feeling was like a warm blanket wrapped around my mind as I imagined my demise. It was both frightening and reassuring. I realized that I had become accustomed to the process of disassociation during these periods and the "warm fuzzy feeling" was a form of escapism. I realized I was living much of my life in my head, disconnected from the situation at hand.
Food also can be a source of emotional regulation, and as someone who is overweight, I recognize the part that emotional regulation has played in my eating habits, especially binging. And I even found other ways that I was disassociating, including suddenly becoming exhausted during periods of intense argument, up to and including falling asleep during a fight.
All of these activities were ways that I had learned to tune away from intense emotional experiences. ACT teaches you to identify these moments of avoidance and use the practice of mindfulness to identify the experience as a whole, including your actions, and offer you an opportunity to make a choice. That does not imply that the choice must always be the right choice, but by moving the experience into the conscious mind and fully experiencing both choices, the individual is empowered to make new choices that better fit the current situation.
ACT is not only a tool for handling addiction. It is equally useful for anxiety and depression, as well as a host of other issues. ACT is part of what's called the Third Wave Psychology, which mixes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with the practices of Mindfulness and other schools of thought that are usually associated with Buddhism.
ACT : Acceptance Commitment Therapy (video)
This brief video explains ACT simply. The video is dense and covers a lot of topics, but it outlines the ACT vocabulary, ideology, and process. I like it and recommend it to people who are curious about the process.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Second Edition
This is the definitive book on ACT, written for experts and clinicians. I include it here because it's the definitive guide, but I don't recommend it as a resource for self-help. For a psychological theory, this book is very readable and easy to digest, but for a lay person, this book is dry, thick and hard to read. I include it only for completeness.
Get Out of Your Mind & Into Your Life (Book and Audiobook)
Steven Hayes views ACT as a program that doesn't necessarily require a therapist to implement and that people can and should be empowered to help themselves. Get Out of Your Mind is a guide through the ACT process. I will admit that it's a little dry for a self-help book, but that the book lacks in story, it makes up for in education, process and exercises that guide and teach the reader.
Get Out of Your Mind the best book on ACT that I know of.
Some final thoughts on ACT
ACT doesn't make your problems go away. That may seem counter intuitive. People often want a solution to a problem. They want to stop doing thing that's hurting them, or stop feeling the way they're feeling, and they try to eliminate the source. That's not what ACT teaches. It teaches you to accept your feelings and work with them and through them. There's no battle of will power either. You just slowly learn to make a different choice, and my experience is that as I made new choices, it became easier and the thing I relied on became less desirable.
I still masturbate, by the way. It's not near as often as it used to be- maybe once or twice a day, or sometimes once every three or four days. I don't think much about it anymore. And I still enjoy porn, but it too doesn't have the same power over me. My relationship with these activities has changed. They're still enjoyable, but less so, and because of that, I can enjoy them on occasion without being compelled by them.
Final Thoughts and Dedication
I'd love to be able to say that after all this my life is perfect. It's not, but it is very different. I'm happier, more secure in myself and my life. I had to let a lot of people in my life go but I'm closer to those who remained. I'm less stressed, less hurt and angry. I have more tenderness and love in my heart for those around me. My life isn't perfect, but I'm satisfied and happy, maybe for the first time in my life.
And I want to dedicate this section to my amazing partner Lara. Much of this process was done on faith. I had to believe that a new relationship style was possible, but it's with Stargazer's love, support and dedication that I have been able to experience it. She has been loving, caring and supportive in a way that I have never experienced before. While I believe I would have come out of this regardless, having her in my life has made my life easier and made this process faster and more enjoyable than I could have known. Thank you Pumpkin.