Distress Tolerance

The first outpatient group I participated in was focused around DBT (Dialectal Behavior Therapy) and I can truly say that the skills I learned in that program, focusing on distress tolerance and emotional regulation, are truly helpful to this day when I am faced with a difficult situation.  Overall, my behavior, both in an out of active addiction, has been impulsive and highly influenced by immediate emotional reactions.  The intensity of the feelings I experience sometimes outweigh any logical or reasonable approach to any given situation.  The DBT skills I know and practice help me find a balance between reacting solely out of anger, fear, passion, or pain at an unhealthy level and acting after I take a moment to breathe and view situations for what they are objectively.

DBT has an acronym for everything.   While my teenage self rolled her eyes and scoffed at the tools to find a balance to attain level headedness and responsible decision making, the quick tips actually have gotten me through some immediate crisis situations over the past 5 years.  DBT speaks about the “wise mind,” as a state of thinking in a healthy in between emotional and strictly logical thought.  As humans, we are bound to have emotional reactions, whether we see someone else in pain, or see that same person celebrating an accomplishment.  Letting those deeply rooted feelings oriented responses be the leading force in decision making can be just as harmful as detaching completely, so we strive for balance.

My favorite acronym of DBT when it comes to handling situations in which my emotional response is intense and powerful is “Wise Mind ACCEPTS.”

Activities, Contributing, Comparisons, Emotions, Push Away, Thoughts, and Sensation

I can engage in an activity, like reading a book or going for a walk.  I can contribute to someone else’s life in a positive way by helping out and offering my services.  I can compare my current state to a similar one I have been in and made it through to offer some perspective.  I can recognize my emotions and become aware of things I can do to soothe their intensity.  I can push away anything that is taking up space in my mind that is not serving me in that moment.  I can stimulate my other senses in a soothing way to calm my body before I approach the stressful situation.

Practice and implementation of these tools takes time and patience.  Using these tools and the other skills I have learned with DBT have alleviated so much weight from my daily life and has overall helped me become a more useful and productive person.  The seemingly small tasks that used to overwhelm me and fill me with anxiety are more approachable, and my ability to tackle difficult situations that life throws at me unexpectedly gives me hope that I can live freely.

Progress, Not Perfection


“We seek progress, not perfection,” was one of those cliché sayings I resented hearing over and over again before committing to actually working the twelve steps.  My misconceptions of AA and the program of action laid out in the Big Book fueled my own flawed belief system which centered around perfectionism and unrealistic expectations.  As much as I can set a goal to be the best at something, or be perfect, that in itself is not feasible simply because I do not know what perfection looks like on its own.  The process of reaching a goal and the moments of experiencing life as it goes on weighs more heavily on my character than any sort of end goal.

My time spent in rehab is a perfect example; The end goal was to complete programming, and get out of treatment.  That simple success means nothing on its own.  Rather, the things I learned and my overall experience and the memories I carry with me have contributed more to my sense of self and character than a simple certificate of completion.

Applying this logic while working a spiritual program of action is important to maintaining my sanity.  While I have developed a newfound desire to be the best version of myself and be of maximum service to the fellowship, I am still human and I still experience moments of anger, resentment, and laziness.  That does not make me a bad member of AA, rather, it makes me just like everyone else.  While I would love to be able to wake up every morning and be of optimum usefulness, sometimes I stray a little bit from the path I want to be walking.  As long as I recognize the progress I have made thus far, hold that awareness close to my heart, and strive to make positive changes, I do not have to worry about being perfect, for it is unrealistic and irrelevant to the lessons I learn on a daily basis. I don’t want to reach a point of perfection because I need to keep learning how to improve and grow.

Control And Acceptance

Alcoholic tendencies in my life are far more insidious than the simple inability to control my drinking.  The discomfort and fear I used to be able to mask with a drink or a drug are deeply rooted in my desire to control the world and the things that happen around me.  When I take a step back, when I put my ego to the side and see things for how they truly are, not just how they affect me and my perception of what is right and wrong, they become a little easier to digest and accept.  Acceptance of all things outside of my control provides a sense of comfort I am unable to find on my own volition.  While I do not possess the ability to control other people, nor should I have that power, I am able to allow myself to give myself a break and accept people for who they are without judgement or anger towards them.  A simple deep breath, a few moments to pause- that’s all I need to practice.  Once I can separate my immediate sense of self, full of disorienting panic at the lack of control I have over circumstances, the more I am able to focus on what I do have control over and what is worth my time and energy.  I am responsible for myself and my reactions to the things that happen around me, not for those things outside of my control, and the Serenity Prater is a simple yet powerful reminder of just that; Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Knowing the difference has come over time through trial and error and a lot of patience.  Surrendering my controlling nature has provided me the opportunity to focus on what I am able to do to benefit myself and others, empowering me to be the best person I know how to be.


“When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.” Alcoholics Anonymous pg.417