Does recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder mean reconnecting with people that had to leave to take care of themselves? In my experience the answer is no. It is important to grieve, let go and move on and to learn from past failed interpersonal dynamics so that they are not repeated in the future. What was then, was then. This is now. There are new people to meet, new relationships to forge and as someone who recovered from BPD, I have my – a found, known, and emotionally mature authentic self to fall back on in the meantime in ways that I didn’t have when I had BPD.
I am asked often, as a Life Coach by loved ones of those with BPD as they grapple with leaving or going no contact, “What if I end the relationship and then he or she gets help and becomes this wonderful person?” This question can often keep those on the other side of BPD stuck in toxic unhealthy and/or abusive situations that erode their own sense of self. I address this what-if and what it means for non borderlines in my audio program, Breaking Free From The BPD Maze – Recovery For Non Borderlines Perhaps both those who have BPD and those who love or care about them, both need to learn that people sometimes come into our lives to teach us things and that there is no reason beyond the lessons the painful lessons to remain connected or to be dancing the dance of a toxic relating that is often enmeshed and codependent relating on the part of both the borderline and the non borderline.
A person with BPD wrote to me and asked:
“I was just wondering if, when you got cured of BPD, or at least were well on the way to recovery, whether you were able to heal any of the relationships that you had lost because of BPD issues? I have so many of those relationships, people that I miss and wish were back in my life. And if you did, I’d be interested in knowing how you went about doing that. Thanks a lot.”
Let me begin by saying that I am sure that there is no rule about this. I am sure that some people may be able to go back, and or want to go back to past relationships and try again, whether those relationships are with family, friends, or past love interests. This has not been my experience, nor is it a desire of mine anymore.
There was a time, when I would have answered this question differently than I will today. Not only did I have to recover from BPD to understand what I am about to share but I needed a few more years of just living fully-aware of myself and in relationship to myself and in healthier relationships with others to know what my answer to this question is. My answer is, no. I could only heal myself. I could not heal a relationship with anyone who either didn’t want to heal it or couldn’t heal anything because they still need to heal themselves. There is also the reality that even after I recovered from BPD, it didn’t change or take back the damage done and the pain caused and the heartache that I put others through. Sometimes there is just too much damage and pain to overcome.
Of course I share this answer after having tried in a couple of places to re-establish relationship to a family member and a friendship with an my first ex-lover.
In the case of the family member, my mother, it became painfully obvious to me that she and I had not had a relationship (certainly not one with any health in it) in my entire life. Okay, well, there I was healed, better, etc. so I thought well, I could try. In my trying it became apparent to me that the reasons why we had never had a relationship had much more to do with her than I. I had changed tons. My mother has not changed much at all. She still has very active BPD. What that meant was that there still wasn’t any common ground from which to work. In my recovery from BPD, one of the greatest gifts has been to come to understand that with most relationships, like childhood neighbourhoods, you really can’t go back. If you do go back, so much has changed. Life has a way of moving on without you and trying to go back when so much has changed, not the least of which is me and how I relate to others hasn’t worked out for me. I have found too that since I have changed so much, grown so much and have boundaries and a healthy relational style now that truthfully there isn’t a relationship from my past that it would serve me well to try to go back to. I have said my share of “I’m sorry’s” to those that I have hurt. I have written some letters too. But that’s about taking personal responsibility and was done without any desire or expectation to reconnect. I did not communicate to anyone who had set a firm boundary with me of not wanting to hear from me again.
I am a different person now. I have different wants and needs. Many of the people that I knew when I had BPD were also not well in their own ways. I have found it best, for me, in my life, to move on and to continue to meet and get to know healthier people.
I did reach back one more time with an ex-lover of mine. I had hurt this person a lot and I did feel very sorry about that. I wanted her to know that. I tried to relate to her in the present as the person that I am today. She was not in a place with her own issues that she could really appreciate this or meet me half way. She was still more in the past with who I was and her own issues. I have also since realized that my wanting to reach back to say I was sorry was very valuable. My wanting to reach back to validate her pain and experience was very valuable. Even though I sat and listened to her absent any judgment or defense of myself, I would later realize that my reaching back was not as much for her as I thought it was – it was more for me. And what was it that I so wanted? I had no clue. Only in retrospect do I know what it was I was seeking. I thought I needed her forgiveness. I wanted her forgiveness. It was not really something that she could give. What this experience taught me was that it was I who really needed to forgive myself. I have since worked on that and been able to forgive myself for those years in my life and for the behaviour, abuse, and pain that I caused both her and myself. Having forgiven myself I feel absolutely no desire or need to have her be a part of my life anymore.
To me, my recovery has been about grieving, remembering, letting go, and moving on. Things happen in life for reasons that we can’t always understand. The time that we spend with someone, or the time that our lives intersect is not dictated by whether or not we are ready to do the best with the time that we can. Sometimes we aren’t. Sometimes we can’t. The challenge here is to be able to accept that. To know that loss is a normal part of life. To then be willing to move on and let those people go is the difference between mental health and a lack of it.
Know that any regrets you have over past relationships are valid but that you do not need to reconnect with any person to work those issues out and to do better with others from here on out.
I am sure there are cases of people who go back to friends or family and perhaps are able to work things out as they get healthier. But this can only be done when the people that you go back to are also healthy. In my life, the people that I knew were not healthy. Simply put, most people that hung around with me or that would continue to be in my life in my worst borderline years, were not healthy. The healthy ones walked away to take care of themselves. I have never had any desire to reconnect with those who walked away from me. I understand why they walked away. I applaud (and respect) them for taking care of themselves. Their walking away, over time, taught me so much about what I needed to change in myself if I wanted to have consistent relationships in my life.
The loss, rejection, and abandonment, that it felt like to me, at the time, when I had BPD and others left my life, were seeds planted that would teach me lessons that were central to my recovery.
I have nothing to prove to them or to anyone else about my mental health now. I have moved on. I know different people. The people that are in my life now would not have given me the time of day when I was borderline.
From my experience I believe it is best to let go and move on. I cannot undo the past. I cannot take back the damage I did to anyone when I was borderline. I have to live with that grief. I have to live with the knowledge of the damage that I caused in the replaying out of the damage that was done to me – damage that I had to take responsibility for in recovery – responsibility for resolving and healing which meant letting go of blaming those who had hurt me. This was the only way to transcend the victim mentality that I had when I had BPD. It was the way that I found my way through it all to mental health. I am grateful for that. That has to be and that is enough. I believe I lost the right to know the people that I hurt, lied to, manipulated, used and treated (often) so coldy. I am okay with that. As part of taking responsibility for my actions and my life I accept the losses that I have incurred and I let them continue to serve as a lesson so that I never again repeat those dynamics with anyone in my life now.
As you recover from BPD you will (if you don’t already) come to know the pain of remorse and regret. It is deep and profound. You will also, as I have, come to know how to deal with it.
I cannot say that everyone should do as I have done, but I can say that I have made the choices that I have made because in taking responsibility for my past I know that it would not serve anyone I knew or myself to re-engage any relationship that was attempted and failed with good reason. It is those failure and hurts that we must learn from. We then take that knowledge into future friendships and relationships and we do better. I know I have.
What I needed to do was to heal myself. I have done that. I continue to grow and to learn. Past relationships are in the past. I cannot heal what has happened in the past. I can only unburden myself of it as others unburdened themselves of me and my chaos when I was borderline.
It was the nature of my wounded inner child to want to repair and or fix past relationships always in the quest for the mommy or daddy I needed but never had. It was like banging on my head on a wall. It felt so good when I stopped it. It felt so good when I learned to just grieve and let go of what wasn’t a part of my past. Many of the people I knew in my past were people that I tried to live through because I didn’t know who I was. They were people who I thought I needed to make me safe. Now, and since recovering from BPD I realize that they were people who I used and did not respect because they were seen and experienced more as my parents by me than they were seen and experienced for the people that they actually were. The damage that does needs to be respected and left alone. My integrity, now, would not allow me to reengage these people at all.
Make amends wherever you can if you are so inclined but don’t have any expectations as you do so. Look ahead. Don’t look back.
Does Recovery Mean Recovering Lost Relationships? In my experience, no. Recovery means that I now have the tools and mental health with which to build new relationships. Recovery means that I no longer need the past, the relationships from the past or the people to whom I tried so miserably to relate to in the past. Recovering truly means putting the baggage down and recreating yourself and beginning anew.
Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder means that I had a new-found respect for the boundaries of others. The people who had to leave my life to take care of themselves created boundaries that I would not cross to try to mitigate my own remorse or regret. What I learned in my recovery was that I only had control over what I could change in myself. I only had control over forgiving those who had hurt me in my childhood and forgiving myself. There wasn’t to be any redemption for me in the eyes of so many that I hurt in my borderline past.
© Ms. A.J. Mahari – December 24, 2000 with additions February 17, 2009 – All rights reserved.