This is ridiculous and completely irrelevant, I thought to myself as Kirsten explained the assignment for the upcoming week. I had quickly learned that my Tuesday night RO-DBT group, the one I agreed to as part of my treatment plan, was less a therapy group and more of a class. Each week we would learn a new skill, practice in class (usually in some sort of dreaded role play), and then have the assignment to work on through the week. And although several in the group were grappling with an eating disorder, some were not. We were, however, all proud, right-fighting owners of overcontrolled personalities. For all of us, our lives had become stunted by rigid, black, and white, rule-bound thinking. The women in the class understood the loneliness I suffered by isolating myself from others. They shared my need for structure and routine, and they all craved re-connection to others. Being with these women was like finding other humans on Mars. They were my people. So when Kirsten introduced our assignment for the week, all of us looked at each with an,“OMG she has lost her marbles," eye roll.
The skill was called VARIES. I understood the concept. For years, staying in my zone of safety was a non-negotiable must. Eating at pre determined times, only going to places I felt comfortable such as my gym, and tennis center, and hanging with people who did not question my thin body or isolating lifestyle choices were as important to my survival as breathing. Simultaneously so was ensuring I avoided situations such as travel with others, unexpected dinner plans, or wearing sleeveless shirts. Things that would make me feel nervous, watched, and uncomfortable. I spent over a decade planning my day to the minute, my food to the calorie, and social interactions to the word. I had a litany of planned excuses at the ready for comments that might come my way that made me feel uncomfortable and exposed.
But with this assignment, Kirsten was asking us to shake that up. Our task was to put down the planning and rehearsing and so something “silly.”
Her suggestions included;
Wearing rings on different fingers.
Use different bedding.
Write with a purple pen.
Ask to be called another name for a day.
Watch TV and repeat every other line in an Italian accent.
Communicate in mime.
Wear our underwear backward.
Talk to everyone wearing pink at a party.
Wear mismatched socks.
WTF, Really? I was irritated. I didn’t feel I needed more shaking. In finally committing to recovery, I had already spent months doing hard stuff. I had been forcing myself to eat more food, sometimes to the point of tears. I had painstaking suffered through anxious moments when I had to force my body to sit still, I had traveled…...with people! But I trusted Kirsten, more than I trusted myself. I had gotten myself into my anorexic situation and I needed her expertise to dig me out.
So, aside from miming (because thats a hard NO) , if picking ill-fitting Calvin’s out of my ass while people called me Brenda was something she thought could help to get my life back on track, then D’accordo, E cosi sia.
The VARIES skill was a game changer. It surprised me how making little silly changes started to" bring Sherri back” as Gretchen and Kirsten would say.
R: Participating in Tony Starlight's Christmas show fun, 12/2016.
L: Channeling my Little Bit Country on the Vegas strip,1/2017 .