You are not your behaviour.
"I repeat - you are not your behaviour".
Also imagine an RP BBC radio voice announcing this in the style of a documentary about World War 2.
This is something I've often said to people - and it's true. But there is some confusion here: many of us fall victim to thinking that we cannot change our behaviour, because it decides our identity (or our identity decides it) - it's down to our personality; it's 'who we are'.
For BPD, as with many other disorders, the sense of self is something of a confusing concept to begin with - or maybe that's just a universal thing - and I think this is because these behaviours can be all-consuming. If I manage to stop one, or in rare circumstances all, who am I left with? Is there even a me underneath all of this? So many layers I'm like an English spring wardrobe.
I've had BPD since I was 14 (or more likely from birth and just cemented a bit later on) so it's been shaping my behaviour for a very very long time (apparently age is something to be ashamed off despite it not being in anyway a choice, but I'm 35). I have no memory of a 'me' without it. But am I less 'me' because I no longer choose to harm myself in a way visible to others (whilst arguably continuing in ways that are more easily hidden)? Of course I'm bloody not. I'm stuck with me. For life. And beyond. Whatever the 'hell' that turns out to be.
Over the years I've had a lot of what are known as 'target behaviours'. At any one time I could be doing any of them, but always at least one. Taking drugs (including prescribed ones), drinking, promiscuous sex (although mainly due to being so drunk I have no memory of it - both dangerous and also questionable when it comes to consent...), restricting my diet, cutting myself, scratching holes in my scalp, having violent relationships, the list goes on. Just because I change these behaviours, it doesn't mean I'm changing myself. I'm still me, no matter how much I hate myself. As a teenager, I was given a weekly appointment with the nurse at my GP surgery, just so they could dress the cuts properly. This is actually one of the times I felt the NHS served me well. I wasn't made to feel like an attention seeker. The nurse dressed my wounds as she would've done for anyone else. She talked to me like a human being and that mattered to me. I never saw anything other than concern in her face. For anyone who questions harm reduction - I.e. Telling people how to self-harm as safely as possible rather than simply say 'stop doing that!' - think about that. One of the only perks of being thin at the same time was that I had a little less flesh to maim.
Behaviour may be caused by something we can't control - this might be a developmental difference like autism, a cognitive difference like dyslexia or a mental illness. Sometimes this is true. If we've not had the opportunity to learn and hone skills that enable us to change our behaviour in spite of whatever impairment we have, then of course it'll be more or less impossible to modify behaviours produced as a result. For many there are no skills that will enable flawless interactions with the rest of the world. Neurodiversity accepts this and I'm a huge believer in acceptance of differences in the way people perceive the world. But with some intervention, some of us have the ability to learn to adapt our more harmful behaviours in order to make life easier for ourselves, and for others around us. We may not even need intervention - we might just learn through experience. Adapting how we behave does not mean we are changing the person we are. We'll likely still enjoy sport, and still hate Marmite. BUT The key question here is: Why the hell should we change?
I often hear people talk about their partner's expectations in a relationship, something like this:
"You knew I smoked when we got together - why do you want me to change now?".
Well, firstly let me just say if you're really defined by nicotine then frankly you probably should have sex a bit more, and if that means spending less time stinking of cigarettes well then 'suck it up' in a less nicotine smeared way. I'm an ex-smoker and therefore it's my duty to get all holier than thou when talking about smokers. Now I'm not for one moment imagining that my behaviours don't affect those close to me anymore. I'm fully aware that my rigidity when it comes to my diet is probably a) very annoying, and b) very dull. We don't go out for dinner anymore. We don't sit around the table and eat of an evening. I get very cross if someone eats my special 'safe foods'. But I'm at a point (I hope) where I can happily source those things for myself without expecting others to be always considering whether I will or won't join in. I do my own food shopping and everyone else can eat whatever they want. I'll even sit down for a social occasion and not eat without any wringing of hands, and it's not that it doesn't bother me, but that I know it's my problem.
Back to the point in hand; Recently it was self-injury awareness day. I am aware. And because of me, my parents were also horribly aware. I can no longer ask my mother how it made her feel to see the result of my apparent hatred for my flesh, but I knew. I've not cut myself since 2004, the year she died. 11 years have gone by since I said goodbye to what had been my friend and coping mechanism, but had been turned against me by someone else who tried to control me because his own demons were controlling him. A sort of never ending control loop, if you will. So I changed that behaviour, but lo and behold, I'm still me. I will probably think of cutting myself on and off for the rest of my life. Of all the target behaviours I've had this one seemed the most immediate release. I'm attempting to use writing as an equally immediate tool, but it's not as easy to do. That's probably an unfathomable concept if you've never had the experience, so you'll just have to take my word for it. This literal and metaphorical release stuff is starting to become common knowledge now that we're beginning to talk more about mental health.
I've just graduated - 'graduated'! Ha! - from an 18 week stint of therapy, where I learned a lot about why I've behaved the way I have since forever. It was both amazing and chilling to spend time with a group of other people who knew. They understood. We probably could've finished each other's sentences, such was the synergy between us all. Even though I've left the group, I still feel a huge sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of the people I met there. I found it heartbreaking to see two of them become inpatients again before they'd even finished the DBT course. I wanted to remove their pain but still the voice in the back of my head wanted to make it about me somehow - because I've never been a 'proper' patient - I've never been admitted and had my struggle confirmed. I'm fully aware of the ludicrousness of that statement, but as much as I want to make it untrue, it just isn't. Maybe it's because I'm expressing that I need to know what I am before I can start to fix me. I'm not fully ill, I'm never always fully ill.
Eating disorders are by nature competitive. There are angry souls littered across the Internet, refusing to 'share tips' with others, saying they don't want someone else to die if they help them out. What they really mean is that they don't want someone else to do it better than them. Of course nobody wants to admit it. We want to be the best at our behaviours. I once found out very unexpectedly that a friend of a friend (who I happened not to know very well at the time) was also a cutter, and she had a lot more scars than me. Up until then I genuinely had no idea that other people did it too, let alone that there might be someone else who actually did it more than me. That feeling of not being ill enough is the one thing that makes being ill unbearable. Having to go that step further just to prove how fucked up you are.
Somewhere underneath all of the bullshit about harm reduction being 'not sharing tips' and about mental illness being about membership of some sort of special club that normal people aren't allowed to join, there's a need to just be honest about it. It's not wrong to feel you're competing with your fellow thin person. We'd be much better off stripping back the layers of rubbish and just saying it all - if it's all out there it's less inside our heads, and that must be good.
My behaviours are not me. But I have to be me.