I now share my story with people who are still struggling with this puzzling tormentor and hand over some ideas about taking him down.
It’s hard for me to admit that I’ve been in an emotionally abusive relationship 15 years. I have only mental bruising, and physical scars to bear and prove it. But I am that stereotypical victim who blamed myself for “letting him” hold me captive.” I am that helpless victim who wanted no pain. I am that shameful sufferer who did everything she could do to hide all of the evidence. I knew that if I ever would come out, people wouldn’t believe that I was in any sort of toxic relationship with him. After all, my relationship with OCD was and continues to be far from “typical”.
Like all emotionally abusive relationships, mine had an entry point. My first perceived jolt with my abuser was at age 14, despite earlier signs that came and went. I was a gregarious lover of life, smart, witty, and passionate about all moments past and present. He smelled my vulnerability from a mile away – the only thing I feared was that my “perfect” world could be jeopardised at any point in time.
So he latched onto that emotion so clandestinely. He moving seductively and aggressively so I was hooked before I could think and exit. I was simply sipping my diet coke on that plane ride to Florida when he greeted me with his first broken record and drew attention to my swallowing. He spent my high school and college years exploiting all of my fears and taking most of my mental energy for himself, and for free. He told me he could fix me. That my hyper-vigilance to all of my shifts from, blinking to breathing, speaking, writing, reading, sleeping, my hyperawareness to my feelings and memories, my obsessions about my own obsessions and compulsions, and any other associated physiological sensations – could only be muted by him. He said that my “somatosensory” obsessions as I would later learn could only be managed effectively if I played by his rules. Rules were simple; “Do everything you can to avoid these thoughts, make sure you’re not having these thoughts, check – in as many times as you can to confirm that you’re not having these thoughts. And keep doing this process until further notice (TRANSALATION: never), or else there will be hell to pay. I started the sensing that the hell I was enduring by obeying, was far worse than the gamble I would take by choosing not to listen.
As the strength of my obsessions rapidly grew and evolved in content into subsets of subsets of subsets, I became more disassociated from the highs and lows of life, in a way that others couldn’t “see.” I got wind off of that intermittent reinforcement, sending peace and redemption my way, and then removing it. I was no different that the mice in Skinner’s study responded who worked even harder when presented with their desired response at random, instead of at will. I started rolling on my own well crafted “hamster wheel.” But the struggle to get those brief stints of relief just added to climbing that ladder towards this illusion of clarity, and further away from inner peace. I worked harder, while my abuser was now able to slack. He had total control.
My tormentor also capitalized on my extreme vulnerability – I had such an underreported form of OCD that was absent from many research articles and within my niche of the clinical population. I used Google and other sufferer’s testimonies that I would add to my box of evidence to prove him wrong. He always fired shots back at me with “You are an island of your own. You can’t even find anyone else who has your specific manifestation. Yet you are putting all your faith in THEM?” These therapists clearly don’t know what they’re talking about, and neither do those people who you are meeting who have it. You are one on this planet.” Sometimes, I gave into these monologues, and gave into the futility of feeling devalued.
It took years for me to start waging war on the abuser and his toolbox of manipulation that was well established. He always had a 6th sense, and lurked as a creep in the background when the distance between us was so great and he panicked that I had moved on. I would try to muffle his screams as he would try to lure me back in, but I could still hear him quietly chanting that “liberation comes at a price.” It’s true – freedom from any suffering means coming to terms with the fact that you’ve had some nasty experiences that you would never like to relive. I would have flashbacks to unimaginable suffering that he brought upon me, and have a hard time justifying it. The peace that I had been longing for was being jeopardized by making sense of it all.
But I found my middle finger and chose to use it against him for my final phase of recovery. I started to expose him to the world and shame him. I now share my story with people who are still struggling with this puzzling tormentor and hand over some ideas about taking him down. He sits quietly in the corner and tries to tell me to “keep my mouth shut or I will bring shame and humiliation onto my life.” But I don’t listen. And as I continue to change his arsenal of hell into a station for help, I assign the suffering to have a greater purpose. But my final recovery will only come when I ignore his empty threats and volatile sneaky behavior with the best proven strategy – cutting off all communication.