The Secret Key

I want to get out of here.

I was at a book event that included one of my favorite authors.  I had been invited by good friends of mine and I was thrilled at the prospect of seeing Glennon Doyle Melton in person. The evening, however, was going much longer than I had anticipated and I was getting uncomfortable, restlessly shifting in my seat, and scanning the room for an easy out.  If we don’t leave now then we will get caught in the crowd and have to deal with traffic.  I will be late getting home and I still need to pack the boys’ lunches and I’ll have no time to wind down and read before bed.  I will have trouble falling asleep and will be tired tomorrow and my day is packed. I knew I should have driven separately.  My overcontrolled mind was screaming at me, drowning out the author’s voice on the stage. I could feel the pricks of perspiration break out on my skin and the large auditorium was beginning to feel more like a bedroom closet.

Come on Sherri, do something.  Anything.

I took a deep, slow breath and leaned back in my chair, forcing my arms to unfold from across my chest and flinging them awkwardly towards the armrests.  I plastered a closed mouth smile across my face and raised my eyebrows up and down the way my therapist, Kirsten, had demonstrated so effortlessly.  I felt klutzy and unnatural and I was certain the guy next to me was irritated by my sudden bizarre behavior. But it worked like a charm.  Within seconds I felt my body relax and my mind clear enough to put the situation into perspective. You are connecting with your friends, listening to your favorite author. So, you will be late getting home, what’s the worst that could happen? Granted, I was still a bit uncomfortable but it got me through the rest of the night.

The RO-DBT breathing techniques were skills Kirsten had taught me during our first session together.  I was skeptical. After all, I had serious issues I had to deal with.  I was a stressed-out woman in a challenging marriage, a mom of two teenaged boys and I was struggling with a life- threatening illness, anorexia.  Over the years my thinking had become very rigid creating a life of rules, food restriction, and obsessive exercise that made my body, and my world, very small. I didn’t see how googly eyebrows and flailing arms were going to solve my problems.  It just seemed too simple to be effective.

“Why is this so hard?” I would often find myself venting to Kirsten during our sessions, while slumped on her white couch, frustrated over the way I handled a difficult situation during the week.  Situations that caused my stomach to clench and my body to become restless.  An argument with my son that became heated, my favorite pair of jeans I could no longer button, or a snowstorm that kept me from exercising.

“What do you think might have helped in that situation?” Kirsten would patiently ask, leaning back in her chair, taking a deep breath and raising her eyebrows.


It didn’t come naturally for a while but over time I realized the RO-DBT breathing techniques allowed me to activate my social safety system so the screaming in my head that emerged when faced with a perceived threat would quiet down, and I could consider the possibility that the angry lion in front of me was really just a friendly tabby cat.  Breathing calmed my brain and body enough to practice self-inquiry.

  • Did I listen or react to my son during our discussion?
  • Why am I uncomfortable with my pants being too small?
  • What would happen if I just snuggled up on the couch reading a magazine?

Like any skill, the more I remembered the RO-DBT breathing techniques, the more natural it became for me to automatically call upon them when I felt stressed or anxious.   I began to think of the big three+1 in particular as a secret key that unlocked a whole room full of superpowers.  Not to mention, unlike my attempt at the book event, I became more subtly graceful at it over time.

Implementing the RO-DBT skills in my life has helped me to not only recover physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. They have given me back a life where I feel connected, accepted, and loved. It all started with a DEEP breath, ALLOWing a happier, more fulfilled life to be REVEALed.

About the author: Sherri Sacconaghi

Writer Sherri Sacconaghi writes about her parenting journey as a mother with anorexia in her blog and other essays. A lover of true crime, tennis and chocolate mint ice cream, Sacconaghi is passionate about sharing her experiences in efforts to connect and support others in living a happier, healthier life. You can find more about Sherri on: Facebook, Instagram and, Twitter