Borderline Personality Disorder & Addiction

Letter from Nicole (Tennessee's wife),

To those of you who know my husband, Tennessee, know that he has the biggest heart. He is the love of my life but as many of you know, we've had many up's and down's throughout our 22 years of marriage.  Tennessee has bi-polar, BPD, and is struggling with alcoholism. As high functioning as he thought he was, thus, putting off getting help - he got to a place where he was not really functioning at all.  In December, he put a gun to his head and counted to 10. Luckily he did not go take that final step and I'm so grateful that this is a GoFundMe for treatment expenses and not funeral expenses(Note: All guns have been removed from our home and placed in a gun safe).

Tennessee isn't what most people would picture or stereotype as an alcoholic with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. He is funny! He tells jokes and can be life of the party. He loves his kids and wife more than anything and values family. He wants nothing more than to work hard and provide for his family. He loves to go hunting and fishing with his son, play video games with his daughter, and make fancy dinners for his wife. 

Life-long disabilities, mental health issues, and addictions are problems that most people don't like hearing about or want to deal with, especially on a long-term basis. There is a stigma that they are weak or should just try harder. Honestly, I didn't understand chronic severe depression and anxiety until Tennessee. How can he be so amazing and wonderful one minute and then be a shell of his former self the next? It's so painful to see him go through this.

He truly needs help and support. And I can't do it alone. Sorry, this is so long.  And thank you so much for the people who have already donated. I understand that some people want to stay anonymous, but I want to thank each and every one of you personally because your support means the world to us.

But we're still not there yet. We still need more help. I know money is tight for a lot of people, but even a $5 donation with words of love, support, and encouragement would mean the world to us. He truly feels like no one cares if he lives anymore and the world would be better off without him. It's a tragic state to be in.

The intensive therapy he's getting has been amazing but it's a slow process. He's is scheduled from 7:00AM to 10:00PM everyday while he's in the program. This treatment program is very specialized and very good.

I've been told "You're just throwing money away", which kills me to hear.  I know that we have maybe a 50/50 chance that he'll ultimately be OK but to me, those are good odds. And come what may, I know that we've done everything we can. If we do nothing, he won't make it.

Just like early intervention for a kid with disabilities, like autism, I was also told the same thing - "There's no guarantee that this will help." Well, it can't hurt either. But it did help.... tremendously. That therapy was life changing. And this therapy/treatment center could be as well.

And Tennessee is worth it. So even if you can't help with any kind of donation, I totally get it. But any kind of notes, messages, letters, cards, etc. would be HUGE. Tennessee needs to know that he matters and shouldn't be ashamed of having a mental illness. The more we can talk about it, the more people will understand it and there won't be this fear about it. It is scary, but knowledge is power so please help share our message.

Love you all,

Nicole Soderstrom O'Neal

Everyone who knows Nicole and Tennessee knows how much they have given to friends and family over the years, and what big hearts they have for anyone who is struggling. 

We are asking for donations to keep John in a safe environment where he can get the help he so desperately needs, and to support Nicole with this financial and emotional burden during this time. 

You can send an email of love and encouragement to [email redacted]

You can also Venmo Nicole directly at @Nicole-ONeal-10

Continue reading below to learn more about Tennessee's journey, Bi-Polar, BPD, and Addictions


All addicts start from 1 of these 3 things - 
1. Curiosity
2. Seeking pleasure
3. Numbing/escaping pain

Moral issue -  Why is it 'socially acceptable' to drink but once you become addicted then you're labeled 'morally bankrupt' or it's a 'moral failing' because you can't control yourself anymore?  No addict ever thinks they'll become addicted when they take that first drink or that first hit.

How many people do you know drink alcohol, smoke, or occasionally get high? How many of them are 'addicts'?  Anyone who has 'tried' these addictive substances didn't know how their brain was going to respond.  Addiction is 'a disease of choice'.  Once you are addicted, you are no longer 'choosing' to use. You're brain tells you that you 'have' to use in order to survive.  The mid-brain or the limbic part of your brain (the fight or flight survival section) takes over from the prefrontal cortex (the part of your brain that helps you make choices).  

Different areas of your brain control different functions. When you can no longer 'choose' to drink because you 'have' to drink, it becomes an addiction.  Alcohol and drugs fool your brain into thinking that it is much, much better than ever expected so it climbs up the survival list until it's #1.

Anytime the brain is stressed, it goes into survival mode. If you are an addict, your brain will request the #1 thing on your survival list.

Frontal Cortex - Executive functioning, planning, logical decision making, relationships & emotional attachments, etc.
Midbrain - Instinct, fight or flight, tells us to eat, kill, helps us survive, etc.

The ABC's of Addiction - 
Alters your state of mind
Becomes harmful to you and/or others
Can't control the behavior

Phases of Addiction - 
Phase 1 - Functional.  You feel euphoria.
Phase 2 -  Functional.  You need more to get the same euphoria but with less coping skills.
Phase 3 - Non-Functional.  You leave the 'functioning zone'.  The behavior is now drug seeking.  Without substance abuse, we can't properly function or feel 'normal'. We have to use in order to cope on a weekly or daily because we can no longer self-regulate.  The  more you use, the less euphoric you feel until you kill off your joy receptors. You can't wait to get through the work day so you can go home and 'relax'. You can't sleep unless you have something to 'take the edge off'. You can't wait to get to the weekend so you can 'unwind'.  You start 'isolating' and stop doing the things you used to enjoy. You start thinking dark thoughts like "My family would be better off without me."  
Phase 4 - At this point, you are depressed and anxious all the time.  You use just to try and feel 'normal' again but the more you use, the farther you get away from the 'normal' set point, which is why they say alcohol and drugs are depressants.  You cannot never use enough to ever feel good again. You just keep spiraling down until your body eventually gets too sick, you over-dose, or commit suicide. If you keep going down this path, the addiction will kill you.  


Columbine school shooting survivor Austin Eubanks found dead. He died from an opioid over-dose. Read how it started - very sad.

Austin Eubanks, a survivor of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, was found dead early Saturday, according to Routt County Coroner Robert Ryg.  Eubanks, 37, was found at his home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. There were no signs of foul play, according to the coroner, and an autopsy was scheduled for Monday to determine the cause of death.

During the Columbine High School shooting, Eubanks was shot twice – in the hand and the knee – and watched his best friend Corey DePooter die, as they took refuge under a table in their school’s library on April 20, 1999.  DePooter was one of the 13 people – 12 students and one teacher – killed in what was the worst school shooting in U.S. history at the time. 

While Eubanks' physical pain subsided after a few days, he was prescribed medications and continued to take them. His unwillingness to feel his emotional pain led to an opiate addiction that almost killed him.  He struggled with addiction throughout his 20s and went through multiple treatment centers.

He went on to serve as chief operations officer for Foundry Treatment Center and traveled the country speaking about his personal journey, as well as strategies for addressing the opioid crisis, according to his website.

Eubanks "lost the battle with the very disease he fought so hard to help others face,” according to a statement from his family.  “Helping to build a community of support is what meant the most to Austin, and we plan to continue his work,” the statement read. “As you can imagine, we are beyond shocked and saddened and request that our privacy is respected at this time."

Austin Eubanks, Columbine school shooting survivor


Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder 

Trying to define BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) is like staring into a lava lamp: what you see is constantly changing.  The illness not only causes instability but symbolizes it. ~Janice Cauwels

1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

Imagine the terror that you would feel if you were a child lost and alone in the middle of Times Square in New York City.  Your mom was there a second ago, holding your hand.  Suddenly, the crowd swept her away.  You look around, frantically trying to find her.  

This is how people with BPD feel nearly all the time: isolated, anxious, terrified at the thought of being alone.   This fear can also be expressed in other ways - rage, for example.  Feeling vulnerable and out of control can provoke anger.

2.  A Pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation (splitting) - 

People with BPD look to others to provide things they find difficult to supply for themselves, such as self-esteem, approval, and a sense of identity.  Most of all, they are searching for a nurturing caregiver whose never-ending love and compassion will fill the black hole of emptiness and despair inside them.

For people with BPD, the potential loss of a relationship can be like facing the loss of an arm or leg - or even death.  At the same time, their sense of self-esteem is so low that they really don't understand why anyone would want to be with them.  People with BPD are hypervigilant, looking for any cues that might reveal that the person they care about doesn't really love them after all and is about to desert them.  When their fears seem to be confirmed, they may:

-erupt into a rage
-make accusations
-seek revenge
-mutilate themselves
-have an affair
- do other destructive things

This leads us to the central irony of BPD: People who suffer from it desperately want closeness and intimacy.  But the things they do to get it often drives people away.  As torturous as this can be for you, imagine what it's like for the person who has the disorder.  You can take a break and get away from it for a while - go to a party, read a book, take a walk on the beach.  But the BP lives with fear and panic twenty-four hours a day.

Understanding Splitting
Many BPs fluctuate between extremes of idealization and devaluation.  This is called "splitting".   People with BPD often perceive other people as either the wicked witch or fairy godmother, a saint or a demon.  When you seem to be meeting their needs, they cast you in the role of super-hero.   But when they perceive that you've failed them, you become the villain.

Because people with BPD have a hard time integrating a person's good and bad traits, their current opinion of someone is often based on their last interaction with them - like someone who lacks a short-term memory.

Normal persons are ambivalent and can experience two contradictory states at one time; BPD's characteristically shift back and forth, entirely unaware of one feeling state while in another.  At any particular moment, one is either "good" or "evil"; there is no in between, no gray area.  Nuances and shadings are grasped with great difficulty, if at all.

All-or-nothing thinking may appear in other areas of the BP's life - no just relationships.  

You [the person with BPD] may strive valiantly for perfection and feel, at times, that you may have achieved it, only to condemn yourself when the smallest flaw appears.  When you are good, you may feel entitled to special treatment and live outside the rules made for others. You may feel entitled to take whatever you wish and have everything good for yourself.

People with BPD are fully convinced their feelings and beliefs - be they positive or negative - are unquestionably true.  Therefore, your mission is to maintain a consistent, balanced view of yourself despite their ups, downs, and sideways.

I always had this insatiable hunger for something I couldn't define, except to call it the bottomless pit of need.  Something that made me scared to get close to anybody for fear they'd discover I was rotten and disturbed. So I diversified.  I had lots of friends and didn't get too close to any of them.  If I let my guard down and one friend found out how weird I was and they backed off - well, I had fifty-nine others.

But now a romantic relationship has kicked in.  the stakes are high, with one person meaning so much. This is different - the guy needs me, too. So maybe it's safe here. Be with me, please. Every day and every night.  Look at me, listen to me.  I"m here. See me?  I'm here! I'm here...Oh, this is incredible!  Finally, the one person who can take all of this need!  What a relief!

Hey...wait a minute!  He's resisting this - says he wants to watch TV in peace, says he's got something else to do.  What the hell do I do now?  Ooohhh, am I frustrated...Damn it.  I hate this guy!  I let my guard down - doesn't he know how hard it was for me to do that? How dare he rather watch TV than talk to me? How dare he rather be out with his friends than be right there? How dare he find out what kind of a completely disturbed person I am?  I'm furious.  And I'm embarrassed as hell.  He's seen the bottomless pit of need.

Embarrassed, I lash out.  Let him have it!  Hey, guess what, buddy -- I don't care about you.  Take this--take that!  I rage, I scream until I collapse in exhaustion.  And then I wake up and I see how much I hurt him.  And I despise myself more than I could ever imagine.  I'm scared to death.  Because I just know he's gonna walk.  I'm so vulnerable.  I"m not tough. Please don't leave.  I do need you!  How can I show you?

I cry, I beg, I tell him what an incredible man he is, how patient he is.  I just know you hate me!  You should hate me!  I'd be better off dead.  You'd be better off without me! No, I mean it -- I wish I were dead...He's relenting a bit.  Oh, please, let me make this up to you.  Let's make incredible love anywhere, anytime!  Let me know you the best side of my passion.  Whew! He's back.  He's still around.  Thank goodness I didn't blow it permanently.  It feels so good to be with him. He cares.  I need him.

When I realize that I've caused irrevocable damage -- when the cycle has repeated itself so often I"m convinced that I've irrevocably blown it--whether or not he has reached this conclusion--I cut the cord and find somebody else. And go through the whole damned thing again.

~Rachel Reiland, author of Get Me Out of Here: My Recovery From Borderline Personality Disorder

3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self 

By the time people reach their twenties and thirties, their self-image is usually fairly consistent.  Some people also go through a midlife crisis in their forties, when they question the choices they've made.  But most of us take certain things for granted, such as our likes and dislikes, our values, our religious beliefs, our positions on important issues, and our career preferences.

Lacking a Sense of Self

But the searching never ends for people with BPD.  They lack an essential sense of themselves, just like they lack a consistent sense of others.  Without a sense of self to cling to, they are like passengers on the deck of a ship during a typhoon, getting tossed about and battered.  They frantically look around, searching for something to hold onto.  But all they see are other passengers wearing life jackets, lashed to poles for security.  As another wave roars over the deck, they grab onto someone else's pole and hang on for dear life.  But the life jacket is only big enough for one person.  And the pole can't withstand the combined weight and is starting to crack.

Identity diffusion
refers to borderline patients' profound and often terrifying sense that they do not know who they are.  Normally, we experience ourselves consistently through time in different settings with different people.  this continuity of self is not experienced by the person with BPD.

Instead, BPD patients are filled with contradictory images of themselves that they cannot integrate. Patients commonly report:

-feeling empty inside
-feeling there is "nothing to me"
-feeling that they are different people depending on whom they are with
-being dependant on others for cues about how to behave, what to think, and how to be
-feeling that being alone leaves them without a sense of who they are or with the feeling that they do not exist
-feeling panicked and bored when alone

A sense of inner emptiness and chaos renders BPD patients dependent on others for cues on how to behave, what to think, and how to be, whereas being alone leaves them without a sense of who they are or with the feeling that they do not exist. This, in part, accounts for these patients' frantic and often impulsive efforts to avoid being alone, as well as their descriptions of panic, crushing boredom and dissociation.

Never Good Enough
- While a BPD may have difficulty with self-definition, he may also feel that no matter what his identity, he's never good enough.  

Some people with BPD become extremely successful at what they do.  They become known for their achievements at work, in their community, or at home.  But they often feel like actors reciting their lines.  When the audience goes home, they cease to exist.

People with BPD:
-base their self-worth on their latest achievement - or lack of it
-judge themselves as harshly as they judge others, so whatever they do is never good enough
-see themselves as helpless victims of other people - even then their own behavior has affected the outcome of a particular situation

The Role of Caretake -
Another role common among people with BPD is that of helper or caretaker.  This more positive role may help provide them with an identity, heighten feelings of control, and lessen feelings of emptiness.

I have a chameleon-like ability to take on the coloring of the individual I am with.  But the act is done more to fool me than to fool them.  For the time being, I have become who I'd like to be.  

I am not some kind of Machiavellian manipular with nothing better to do than ruin lives.  The process isn't even really conscious.  It's been going on for so long now that I don't even know who I really am.  I feel unreal -- like a phony.  If I had any true control over it, I'd simply revert back to "myself", whenever I felt threatened. But I don't know who that is.  ~Salia (BPD)

4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, shoplifting, reckless driving, binge eating)

Everyone has urges they would love to indulge if they could: eat every chocolate in the box, buy a great new sweater in every color, or drink one last glass of champagne to toast in the New Year.  Most people have varying abilities to control impulses and delay immediate gratification.  They're aware of the long-term consequences -- in this case, weight gain, a massive credit card bill, or a nasty hangover.

But people with BPD are characterized by impulsivity -- even recklessness.

People with BPD may also try to fill the emptiness and create an identity for themselves through impulsive behaviors such as binging and purging, indiscriminate sexual activity, shoplifting, compulsive shopping, drinking, or substance abuse.

BPD and substance abuse disorders often go hand in hand.  A study reported about 23% of BPD patients had a diagnosis of substance abuse. 

Borderline substance abusers:
-are likely to abuse more than one drug (a frequent combination is drug and alcohol abuse)
-are more likely to be depressed
-have more frequent suicide attempts and accidents
-have less impulse control
-seem to have more anti-social tendencies

IMPORTANT: If the BP in your life is actively abusing drugs and alcohol, it can be difficult to determine what behavior is related to BPD and what is related to substance abuse.

5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats - 

According to the DSM-IV (2004), about 8-10% of all people with BPD commit suicide.  This does not include BPs who engage in risky behavior that results in death, such as drinking and driving.  Suicide and other impulsive, dysfunctional behaviors are seen as solutions to overwhelming, uncontrollable emotional pain:

Suicide, of course, is the ultimate way to change one's [moods]...Other, less lethal behaviors can also be quite effective [in changing the BPD's mood]. Overdosing, for example, usually leads to long periods of sleep; sleep in turn, has an important influence on regulating emotional vulnerability...Suicidal behavior, including suicidal threats,  is also very effective in eliciting behavior from the environment -- help that may be effective in reducing the emotional pain... In many instances, such behavior is the only way an individual can get others to pay attention to and try to ameliorate his/her emotional pain.

Self-Mutilating Behavior - 

Self-mutilation, without suicidal intent, is another BPD behavior that is very difficult for family members to understand.  Examples include:
-breaking bones
-head banging
-needle poking
-skin scratching
-pulling out hairs
-ripping off scabs

Sometimes, dangerous or compulsive behavior can be a type of self-mutilation -- overeating to the point of obesity, for example, or provoking physical fights with others.

Self-injury is a coping mechanism that BPD's use to release or manage over-whelming emotional pain -- usual feelings of shame, anger, sadness, and abandonment.  Self-mutilation may release the body's own opiates, know as beta-endorphins.  These chemicals lead to a general feeling of well-being.  

Self-mutilation can become addictive, much like smoking, and the urge to do it can be just as powerful as a smoker's urge for another cigarette.

BPD's reasons for self-mutilation vary tremendously and include:
-to feel alive, less numb, and empty
-to feel more numb
- to express anger at others
-to punish themselves or express self-loathing (more frequently among BPDs who have been abused)
-to somehow prove that they are not as "bad" as they think they are
-to relieve stress or anxiety
-to feel in control of their pain
-to bring back a sense of reality
-to feel "real"
-to seek relief from emotional pain, frustration, and other negative feelings by focusing on physical pain
-to communicate emotional pain to others or ask for help

Here are words from BPs on self-mutilation - 

"To tell you the truth, I think I did it so someone would notice that in fact, I needed help."

"When I cut, I don't have to try to explain how bad I am feeling.  I can show it."

"When I get angry at someone, I want to destroy, hurt, or kill them.  But I know that I can't really hurt that person. So I take out the anger by cutting myself or pulling out my hair.  It makes me feel better at the time, but later on, I am ashamed of myself and wished I had not done it."

"For me, the scars were just outside paintings of what my parents did."

People with BPD are often very aware of their own reasons for self-injury.  But an intellectual understanding doesn't make it any easier to stop.  

6.  Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)

When most people feel bad, they can take steps to feel better.  They can also control, to some extent, how much their moods affect their relationships with others.  People with BPD have a hard time doing this.  Their mood may swing from intense anger to depression, depression to irritability, and irritability to anxiety within a few hours.  Non-BP's find this unpredictability exhausting. 

7.  Chronic feelings of emptiness

See #3

8.  Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)

BPD rage is a usually intense, unpredictable, and unaffected logical argument.  It is like a torrential flash flood, a sudden earthquake, or a bolt of lightning on a sunny day.  And it can disappear as quickly as it appears.

Some BPDs, however, have the opposite problem: they feel unable to express their anger at all.  They fear they will lose control if they express even the slightest anger, and at other times they fear that targets of even minor anger expression will retaliate.

BPDs feel all emotions intensely, not just anger.  People with BPD are like people with third-degree burns over 90% of their body.  Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.

9.  Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

Have you ever arrived home from work without remembering how you got there?  You've traveled the route so many times that your brain let your eyes and reflexes do the driving.  This "out of it" feeling is a mild type of dissociation.

People who are severely dissociating, however, feel unreal, strange, numb, or detached.  The degree of dissociation can vary from the car-trip-home variety to the extreme dissociation characterized by multiple personality disorder, now called "dissociative identity disorder."

People with BPD may dissociate to different degrees to escape from painful feelings or situations.  The more stressful the situation, the more likely it is that the person will dissociate.  In extreme cases, people with BPD may even lose all contact with reality for a brief period of time.  If the BPD in your life reports memories of shared situations quite differently for you, dissociation may be one possible explanation.  

Additional BPD Traits

Pervasive Shame

Toxic shame is experienced as the all-pervasive sense that I am flawed and defective as a human being.  It is no longer an emotion that signals our limits; it is a state of being, a core identity.  Toxic shame gives you a sense of worthlessness, the feeling of being isolated, empty, and alone in a complete sense.  Exposure to oneself lies at the heart of toxic shame.  A shame-based person will guard against exposing his inner self to others, but more significantly, he will guard against exposing himself to himself.

Undefined Boundaries

People with BPD have difficulty setting and maintaining personal limits -- both their own and those of others.

Control Issues

People with BPD may need to feel in control of other people because they feel so out of control with themselves.  In addition, they may be trying to make their own world more predictable and manageable.  People with BPD may unconsciously try to control others by putting them in no-win situations, creating chaos that no one else can figure out, or accusing others of trying to control them.

Those who must control everything fear being vulnerable.  Why?  Because to be vulnerable opens up one to be shamed.  Control is a way to insure that no one can ever shame us again.  It involves controlling our own thoughts, expressions, feelings, and actions.  And it involves attempting to control other people's thoughts, feelings, and actions. (Bradshaw 1998)

Lack of Object Constancy

When we're lonely, most of us can soothe ourselves by remembering the love that others have for us.  This is very comforting even if these people are far away -- sometimes, even if they're no longer living.  This ability is known as object constancy.

Some people with BPD, however, find it difficult to evoke an image of a loved one to soothe them when they feel upset or anxious.  If that person is not physically present, they don't exist on an emotional level.  The BP may call you frequently just to make sure you're still there and still care about them.

To help the BP understand and better cope with fears of abandonment, the person may keep a photo of you nearby or carry something you gave them to remind them of you, in the same way that children use teddy bears or blankets to remind them of their parents' love.  These strategies help the BP, often reducing their anxieties and fears.  Usually, the result is less clingy behavior, which can bring some relief to the non-BP.

Interpersonal Sensitivity

Some people with BPD have an amazing ability to read others and uncover their triggers and vulnerabilities.  One clinician jokingly called the people with BPD 'psychic'.

BPs often have an astute ability to identify and use social and nonverbal cues of others.  BPs can empathize well with others and often understand and respect how others feel, and they can use these skills to "see through others."

As adults, BPs continue to use their social antennae to uncover triggers and vulnerabilities in others that they can use to their advantage in various situations.  Therapists who work with BPs can attest that BPs have a "gift" for knowing how their therapist is doing that day (for example, tired, worried, sad, angry) and will often bring this up during the session.

Situational Competence

Some people with BPD are competent and in control in some situations.  For example, many perform very well at work and are high achievers.  Many are very intelligent, creative, and artistic.  This can be very confusing for family members who don't understand why the person can act so self-assured in one situation and fall apart in another.  This ability to have competence in difficult situations while being incompetent in seemingly equal or easier tasks is known as situational competence.

One borderline woman says, "We know deep within that we are defective.  So we try so hard to act normal because we want so much to please everybody and keep the people in our lives from abandoning us."  But this competence is a double-edged sword.  Because they can appear so normal, high-functioning borderlines often don't get the help they need.

Narcissistic Demands

Some people with BPD frequently bring the focus of attention back to themselves.  The may react to most things solely on how it affects them.  Some people with BPD draw attention to themselves by complaining of illness; others may act inappropriately in public.  These self-involved characteristics are defining components of narcissism; narcissistic behavior can be especially taxing on non-BPs, as the BP may not even consider how their actions affect others.  About 25% of people with BPD also have narcissistic personality disorder. 

Manipulation or Desperation?

It's no secret that non-BP's often feel manipulated and lied to by their borderline loved ones.  In other words, they feel controlled or taken advantage of through means such as threats, no-win situations, the "silent treatment," rages, and other methods they view as unfair.  We believe that, in most cases, the BP's behavior is not intentionally manipulative.  Rather, this kind of behavior can be seen as desperate attempts to cope with painful feelings or to get their needs met -- without the aim of harming others.

The Non-BP Point of View

Almost universally, the non-BPs say they feel manipulated by the BPs in their lives.  If the non-BP doesn't do what the BP wants them to do, the BP may threaten to break off the relationship, call the police, or even kill him or herself.

The BP Point of View

The terms "manipulation" and "emotional blackmail" imply some sort of devious, planned intent. While this may be true for some people, borderlines who appear to be manipulative usually act impulsively out of fear, loneliness, desperation, and hopelessness -- not maliciousness.

People with BPD do influence others, such as through the threat of impending suicide or through communications of intense pain and agony.  But this, by itself, is not evidence of manipulation.  Otherwise, we would have to say that people in pain or crises are "manipulating" us if we respond to them.

Although [people with BPD] can be apparently manipulative, they don't think about the behavior as such.  They're trying to meet their needs in the only way they know how.  Somebody has to relieve their anger or anxiety or distress or sense of impending annihilation right now.  They are trying to elicit a response to soothe them, to help them feel better.

It is important to understand the difference between manipulation and desperation.  The BP's behavior is more about them than about you.  For example, it may help to be able to look at a self-mutilating BPs  behavior as self-punishment rather than as a way to "trap" the non-BP into a relationship.

Under stress, they cope through self-destructive behaviors, such as self-injury and suicidality.  The term for this is "acting in" -- as opposed to "acting out".

Coping Techniques - 
Acting In: Mostly self-destructive acts such as self-harm or suicidality.
Acting Out: Uncontrolled and impulsive rages, criticism, and blame.  These may result less from a lack of interpersonal skills than from unconscious projection of their own pain onto others.

*Dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria.  It's a mixture of depression, anxiety, rage, and despair.


In therapy this week, we learned how stressful it is to try and 'fit in' as opposed to feeling like you 'belong'.  This is a difficult concept for people with BPD since they don't have a solid sense of self-identity and often act as a chameleon and mimic those around them to 'fit in'.

Understanding the difference between 'fitting in' vs 'belonging' is critical for someone like Tennessee, who has borderline personality disorder and his biggest fear is abandonment because he struggles so much with self-acceptance, low-self-esteem, and relationships with others (see below).

Borderline Personality Disorder 
is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes a pattern of unstable intense relationships, distorted self-image, extreme emotions, and impulsiveness. 

With BPD, you have an intense fear of abandonment or instability, and you may have difficulty tolerating being alone.  Yet inappropriate anger, impulsiveness, and frequent mood swings may push others away, even though you want to have loving and lasting relationships. 

'Fitting in' is not the same as 'belonging' - 

Belonging is not fitting in. In fact, fitting in is the greatest barrier to belonging.  Fitting in, I’ve discovered during the past decade of research, is assessing situations and groups of people, then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them.  Belonging is something else entirely- it’s showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are – love of gourd painting, intense fear of public speaking and all.

Many of us suffer from this split between who we are and who we present to the world in order to be accepted, (Take it from me: I’m an expert fitter-inner!) But we’re not letting ourselves be known, and this kind of in-congruent living is soul-sucking.  Just think of your junior high and high school years! Oh, the angst! 

The truth is: Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you're enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. When we don't have that, we shape-shift and turn into chameleons; we hustle for the worthiness we already possess. 

~Brene Brown


What My Creator Originally Intended

Some time ago I read about extensive cleaning and restoration work being done on a very famous chapel.  Its frescoes were caked with centuries of dirt, soot, and other foreign matter.  Artisans painstakingly removed layer upon layer of grime in search of the original masterpiece.  Before half the project was completed, a minor controversy ensued.  The artist’s original hues were far more colorful than anyone expected.  They radiated with dazzling brilliance but the world had grown accustomed to the dark, murky forms that had been in the chapel for so long.  The cleaned portions appeared quite garish by comparison.  These half bright, half dark images became a strange paradox. 

The process turned into a troubling dilemma.  Should they complete the restoration, or should they cancel the work and return it to the way everyone was used to seeing it?

As I worked on Step Two during my years in Al-Anon, I have faced the same kinds of questions.  Growing up in the family disease of alcoholism, I always saw my life through thick and murky layers of the disease.  I had no idea what was underneath.  As I began to practice the principles of Al-Anon, changes started taking place.  I was so accustomed to the way my life had been that these alterations seemed awkward and ugly at first.  Like the half-restored artwork, there were parts of me that didn’t fit with the rest. 

I had two choices. I could stay the way I was, or I could continue being restored to what my Creator originally intended.

Fortunately, like those in charge of restoring the chapel, I decided to trust what my Creator originally intended.  In time, the new parts blended in and didn’t call attention to themselves in such a displeasing way.  The more I was restored, the more consistent I became. 

I was hidden under years of pain, shame, guilt, and suffering.  Step Two made my life brighter and more beautiful than I ever thought possible.  The potential had been there all along, waiting for the hand of a loving Power to bring it to the surface.  The process is restoring me to a life of beauty, love, serenity, and sanity.

What My Creator Originally Intended, pg 22-23
Paths to Recovery

Fortunately, like those in charge of restoring the chapel, I decided to trust what my Creator originally intended. The potential had been there all along, waiting for the hand of a loving Power to bring it to the surface.  

I was hidden under years of pain, shame, guilt, and suffering. 


I’ve seen so many GoFundMe’s come across my news feed. Some I read. Some I don’t. Almost all are worthy causes. To be honest, I think I’ve donated to maybe 2 of them.  After this experience and once we’re back on our feet, I want to be able to pay it forward and give a little more every chance I get.

These donations have meant so much and have given us so much hope. I’m especially humbled by how many friends of friends have donated because they’ve never even met us, they’ve just heard of our story.  Bi-Polar, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Addiction are all very difficult to live with AND treat. We CANNOT do this on our own.  

In only 9 days, we reached almost a ¼ of the way to our goal!!!  And again, I’m so thankful for the donations in order for Tennessee to continue to get the treatment that he needs and so that he knows that people care.  Please continue to share and know that every little bit helps!  Love, Nicole & kids

Tennessee has been in the treatment facility for exactly 4 weeks now.  He has been through detox, been stabilized on his bi-polar medications, he’s attending daily AA meetings, working the 12 steps, and has gone through several rounds of family therapy.   As his therapist says, “He’s not out of the woods, but he’s certainly on the hike out.”

He feels very safe and likes the therapists and doctors he has been working with. Along with addiction recovery, mental health therapy, they also focus a lot on healthy eating, exercise, good sleep habits, and spending time outdoors.  This week, the treatment center took a group down to Moab, UT and did a 7 mile hike to some of the arches. They're all very sore but they loved the day-trip. I'm sad that I have no pictures but no cameras or cell phones are allowed at any time, which is understandable.

Arches National Park, Moab, UT

Tennessee is half-way through his in-patient treatment and then he will continue for another 3-6 months in an intensive outpatient program, if funds are available.  He will continue to work on changing negative thinking patterns, improving positive behavioral changes, and learning healthy coping skills.  Overall, he’s working on managing his thoughts, perceptions, and behavior. 



1. Tennessee has completed his 'detox' and in addition to adjusting his medications, they've also added a medication to help reduce the alcohol withdrawals/cravings.  I don't know what this medicine is called. He told me but I've never heard of it. He says it makes him feel a little sick so he doesn't like it but it definitely reduces the cravings for alcohol.  Apparently, the 'craving's or 'withdrawals' can be very intense.  

2.  He is on Step 2 of the AA 12-step program. Each week, he is supposed to write up his thoughts and present to his group on his next step.  This is a hard step for him because he is trying to figure out what his definition of 'God' looks like or what his 'Higher Power' actually is. He throwing out everything he has been taught and wants to start from scratch and figure out his own beliefs.

3. He's also been working on cognitive distortions, specifically on 'splitting', which is essentially all or nothing thinking. He says he really struggles with this.  Splitting is a coping defense mechanism people with BPD use to avoid rejection or being hurt. It means that someone is either good or they are bad. There are no good people who make mistakes.


Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy tries to identify and change negative thinking patterns and pushes for positive behavioral changes. DBT may be used to treat suicidal and other self-destructive behaviors.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
is a type of psychotherapy that can be used to help manage bipolar disorder. Psychotherapy may involve a one-on-one interaction with a therapist. ... Although there are many approaches, they all involve helping patients manage their thoughts, perceptions, and behavior.

How is DBT different from CBT?

is simply a modified form of CBT that uses traditional cognitive-behavioral techniques, but also implements other skills like mindfulness, acceptance, and tolerating distress. The good news is that DBT has been found to be considerably more effective in treating people with borderline personality disorder.



Nicole & Nathan are working on - 

1. Homework given by Tennessee's therapists and ongoing therapy for co-dependency issues, which Nathan and I both struggle with.

2. Going to Al-Anon meetings at the Cirque Lodge, working the 12 steps, and getting a sponsor.

3. Learning self care and detaching with love (I didn't cause it, I can't control it, and I can't cure it - "Let Go and Let God" Those are the 2 motto's we hear every time.)

4. 1:1 counseling for each of us to help us 'cope' and set healthy boundaries.  We each have our own issues to work out. Everyone wants to know how the kids are doing. Nathan is angry. Brooke is depressed. We're working through it.  One day at a time.

*Brooke is under 18 so she cannot be part of the treatment program's family therapy.  She does, however, get to see Tennessee on Sundays and makes him a weekly letter.   Her 1st letter made me laugh because she said "I hope you get a dope roommate!" She didn't know that 'dope' had several meanings besides 'cool'.   Hahahaha! I love her innocence!

Tennessee helping Brooke catch her 1st lizard - 

Tennessee helping Brooke catch her 1st lizard - 



One of the difficulties of living with a mental illness or addiction is all the negative assumptions people have about those illnesses. If you have a broken arm, those around you rally in support, sign your cast, and are understanding when you can't lift things, and make accommodations for that broken arm. 

But when the disability isn't visible, suddenly there is a lot more eye-rolling and judgments headed your way. "Well, Leila is feeling sad today, so won't be at work." co-workers say of someone with debilitating depression, and assume that Leila is being lazy. 

Having an addiction is seen as weakness. That someone having an addiction meant that they weren't strong enough to handle regular life like all the rest of us "normal" people. 

How is it that our society, so advanced in so many ways, is so behind when dealing with the issue of mental illness? Is it because it isn't visible, and we only understand what we can see? 

Is mental illness something that people just sweep under a rug, because we don't want to deal with it? That we don't understand it, so we fear it?

Let's break down the barriers here! As we show what it is like to live with a mental illness, please try to have an open mind.

In reality, we need to change our perception of what a person with mental illness looks like. Because it could be ANYONE!!! 

Tennessee with Nathan


Our deepest gratitude to the people who have been so generous with their finances and with the heartfelt and loving notes they have been sending! It makes a world of difference to have tangible notes that we can give to Tennessee during therapy sessions that show how much people care about him!

During his stay at the inpatient treatment center, Tennessee isn't allowed any outside contact except for 10 minute phone calls to Nicole and his kids twice a week, and group therapy that Nicole can attend once a week with him. Tennessee is kept in a very structured therapy program 7am-10pm, which is wonderfully healing for him! But having notes to bring him of people who care and are supporting him means more than you could ever know! So thank you thank you from the bottoms of our hearts!


Nicole's husband, John or "Tennessee" as his friends know him, has struggled for years with borderline personality disorder (BPD), bipolar disorder depression and anxiety. 

Tennessee seemed to be doing well with his psych medications until August 2018, when he lost his job. At that time, he became more depressed, anxious, and began having suicidal thoughts. 

He has been secretly drinking alcohol an a regular basis for the last twenty eight years in an attempt to relieve some of his anxiety and depression. Tennessee has tried to quit drinking on his own, but ended up very anxious, unable to sleep, and returned to alcohol or other addictive substances as a coping mechanism.

Because of his mental illnesses (BPD and bipolar, more information below) and the severity and length of time that his addictions have gone on, an inpatient treatment center is the best place for Tennessee to safely begin his healing process. On Thursday, February 28th, Tennessee checked himself into an inpatient facility. 

We are glad he is willing to put in the effort to get treatment. Even though this is extremely difficult for him, he has some hope, which he hasn't had in a very long time. 


Nicole has been doing her best to pay the bills using her own salary, but the cost of treatment is $15,000 each month and must be paid up front, and since Tennessee lost his job in August, the cost for his treatment far exceeds her ability to pay. The money for the next month at the treatment center is due April 1. 

After his time at the therapy center, Tennessee will still need intensive outpatient care, which is roughly $5,000 to $7,000 each month. The outpatient care is therapy 3-4xs week, 3 hours each time.  

Tennessee has already been in treatment for 3 weeks, and has made some wonderful progress in that time. His being able to be there was managed by Nicole exhausting all of her family's resources, asking close friends and family for help, and getting assistance from their church as well. But now, with Tennessee still need at least another month of treatment at the inpatient center, as well as outpatient care following that. 

We want Tennessee to recover and get the therapy he needs to heal the relationships damaged from his addictive behaviors and BPD. If Nicole is unable to pay for the treatment facility, and Tennessee being forced to leave before he has the coping tools he needs, a relapse is likely. 


Symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be very similar to those of PTSD. In fact, people with BPD often experience PTSD outright. In both BPD and PTSD, a person is afflicted with extremely strong emotions or flight-or-fight responses when there are no threats imminent. At times, the executive function of the brain simply becomes exhausted and the person’s inhibitions are compromised. Understandably, people with BPD and PTSD tend to act impulsively.

BPD and PTSD populations have higher rates of addiction and vice versa. BPD, PTSD, and addiction all create an imbalance in a person’s emotions and values. The afflicted person constantly deals with extreme thoughts and emotions, so simple solutions to problems don’t always seem realistic to them. In many cases, the person is paralyzed by fear, so they avoid dealing with everyday problems.

Neither BPD or addictions are easy to resolve. Both afflictions require a person to take on a completely new way of thinking despite the very powerful emotions and cravings that tell them to act otherwise.

I’m very glad that John is still with us. I’m very glad that he has taken this step. If you aren’t familiar with BPD or addiction, you will be happy to know that $15K for a month of treatment is very reasonable. It is an excellent investment in John’s future and his family’s well-being


"Tenn has always been a great mentor and friends to both Cameron and myself. He and his wife Nicole are amazing people, and it's hard to see them going through this difficult time." -A friend

"Known Tenn for years, he is a good caring guy, that cares for all people and has gone out of his way to help others. I know he is struggling and I hope he is able to get the treatment he needs to beat his inner demons." - A friend

"We wish Tennessee continued peace and success in his recovery. I love you and am praying for your continued strength as well." -A friend

"My first memory of Tennessee is when I was really little. I came over and we were exploring your house. You were giving us a tour and showed us your room and bathroom, and I noticed that you had two shower-heads in your shower. I said 'That is weird! Mom, why are there two shower-heads?' and my mom turned to her brother and said, "I dunno. Tennessee, why do you have two shower-heads?" and without missing a beat, he replied "So I can wash my front side AND my backside at the same time!" - A niece

"When I first met Tennessee, I was dating his niece, and we were staying with them for the weekend. I was trying so hard to make a good impression of my girlfriend's (and future wife's) family, and was eating dinner while Tennessee was telling a hilarious story about stepping into dog poop in the middle of the night. He made me laugh so hard I nearly choked on my food!" -Nephew In-Law

Borderline Personality Disorder
 is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes a pattern of unstable intense relationships, distorted self-image, extreme emotions, and impulsiveness. 

With BPD, you have an intense fear of abandonment or instability, and you may have difficulty tolerating being alone.  Yet inappropriate anger, impulsiveness, and frequent mood swings may push others away, even though you want to have loving and lasting relationships. 

To learn more about the 9 traits of BPD, watch:

To learn about bipolar disorder, visit:

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Organizer and beneficiary

Tennessee ONeal
Lehi, UT
Nicole O'Neal

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