I can acknowledge that I am not my thoughts. I am not my obsessions. I am not my compulsions. I am NOT my OCD.
I’m *so* OCD.
No, really, I am. Not like that Target sweater. Not like Monica from Friends. I mean, have you seen my room? It’s a war zone. I hardly have the mental fortitude to organize items by type, let alone by color and alphabetical order. Not like Billy or Suzie who claim they’re *so OCD* about X, Y, or Z when what they really mean—and lack the eloquence to articulate–is they’re human. Because as humans, well, we have quirks.
OCD has been my beast of burden, my shameful monster, since childhood. Back then, I had absolutely no language to pinpoint what these weird obsessions or compulsions were that dictated the real estate of my brain. Swallowing a certain number of times. Knocking on my head as a substitute for wood when I felt superstitious about something; that act would in and of itself become a new compulsion. Checking my heartbeat to make sure I hadn’t been scared to death (after reading a ghost story aptly called, “Scared to Death.”) Playing the same piano chord after every piece I practiced. Just to feel right. Looking behind me at my, um, rear end, to make sure I hadn’t sat on any mud lest classmates think I’d pooped my pants. LAUGH all you want! Ha. I do in retrospect, too! But these were real, very real, compulsions and obsessions that I couldn’t break away from. And, twenty + years later, I still get locked in my brain.
It’s 2002. My second year at the University of Virginia. A light bulb in my brain finally illuminated. I was sitting in Psych 101, mentally forcing myself to stay seated, even if I had to go to the bathroom, because that’s a game I played with myself. To test my bladder strength. And it wasn’t a fun game either. (Read and hear about how my body manifested clinical depression in physiological symptoms here: www.theroomsproject.com/laura). Meanwhile, Professor Haidt (God bless that man for giving me the tools of understanding!) started talking about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Mental obsessions (about death, weird—and scary—sexual thoughts, harm, fears) and compulsions (checking!, more checking, repetition of phrases (silently or out loud).
Fuck. You mean there’s a name for my silent torment? Other people have this godawful thing too!??!
My foray into OCD and all its ramifications began. I felt a teensy bit less alone, but heaven forbid I actually admit I had this to kids my age? Oh hell no. They would never understand. (Hindsight: I wish I had joined a support group in college. I wish I went to a mental health professional to talk about depression, OCD, anxiety (oh, the anxiety!), substance abuse—that’s when the binge drinking really took off. But I didn’t. And I’m grateful, in a way, because I reached my own bottom and sought help when I was ready). So I continued to suffer in silence for another half a decade.
I think I was 24 (the age I got sober) when I finally told a friend I had OCD. And everything that went along with it. The crazy (pardon the pun) thing is that she said she had aspects of it too! That’s when I realized the power of sharing can heal us from within. Granted, my OCD didn’t go away then and hasn’t gone away since. But that one tiny share felt like a giant quietly excused itself from squashing my head, and catapulted me into the light.
I’ll be 33 in 2016. That’ll mark 27 years of OCD awareness. No, not awareness in the blogosphere or the mental health world. But awareness of one person’s own struggles: my own. When I started The Sobriety Collective, I wanted a platform for me, first and foremost, to share my experience, strength, hope with others regarding my recovery—substance abuse/misuse and mental illness. Now, I gravitate toward the terms “mental health” and “mental wellness” as opposed to illness. But with the full understanding that what I have—anxiety, panic disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder—are mental illnesses and need to be treated as such (with medication and therapy). It’s only been in this year that I’ve met so many others in recovery from addiction, and even more so, so many others in recovery from OCD.
I didn’t know it was possible to recover from this insidious tormentor. Until now. I recently came across Stuart Ralph and The OCD Stories and Mark Freeman in the past few months, and I have to say—thank the universe for them!! I can employ real tools to combat my OCD (the one thing I continue to struggle with and don’t make much headway with my therapist because, by no fault of his own, it’s not his specialty). I can—slowly– accept uncertainty. I can acknowledge that I am not my thoughts. I am not my obsessions. I am not my compulsions. I am NOT my OCD.
I have One Day at a Time tattooed on my back. I need that phrase for my OCD far more than I need it to remind myself not to drink today. Because while every day is a future tomorrow and a past yesterday, let’s take it for what it is and celebrate it TODAY.
Find out more about me: http://www.thesobrietycollective.com/