“How will I know if–or when–I defeat this thing?”
As my mind ruminates about recovery, I almost have to laugh. If there is one thing to get “stuck on,” it might as well be recovery right?
That said, I think it is a fair–even compelling–question: What is recovery?
As I have previously discussed, OCD waxes and wanes. It pummels for a week or month, spewing ugly taunts (and, we fear, truths). And, then, the sinister thoughts seemingly disappear–providing a respite from our churning mind and racing heartbeat. There is a hopefulness in our step, “Maybe we have–finally–defeated this thing.”
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but we haven’t–and, somewhat ironically, recognizing our very own futility is a sign of recovery. Let me explain further.
There is a common misperception that you can defeat OCD–that through a cocktail of perseverance and stubbornness, you can vanquish OCD’s running monologue. “I don’t have to think about you–you are just an intrusive thought,” you counter to the latest (and greatest) nagging thought. And as you attempt to stomp out that OCD thought, another noxious OCD thought invades your mind. And when you attempt to stomp out that thought, another OCD weed sprouts up. Your steely determination has met its match–an OCD machine that is smarter, savvier, and (more) sinister.
After decades of swatting away OCD flies–or at least attempting to, I finally recognized a fundamental truth: Recovery is more than serving as a de facto “thought police.” It is more than banishing the intrusive thoughts to some far away ether within your mind’s recesses. Instead, recovery is an understanding–even acceptance–that the meddlesome thoughts can and likely will interfere.
It has taken me years–even decades–to learn this counterintuitive truth. For years, I feared OCD, lamenting the looming avalanche of intrusive, distracting thoughts. When an OCD thought appeared, I would obsess over it (literally playing 20 questions as I tried to deconstruct its meaning). As my OCD mind tormented me with its greatest hits, I would take the bait–and futilely attempt to logic out the illogical. The end result: Your humble author cowered in bed, cursing OCD’s existence. This disorder was indefatigable–and I was running on damn near empty.
To steady myself, I had to accept the unacceptable: I couldn’t out-tough, out-maneuver, or outlast OCD.
When I finally accepted this fundamental truth–and, more importantly, didn’t engage in mortal combat with the latest OCD thought, I could squint and finally make out my final destination: Recovery. By accepting that I will have intrusive, nonsensical thoughts–perhaps even a dreaded avalanche of them, OCD relinquished its stranglehold–at least slightly.
While reveling in my current detente with OCD, Recovery Road has potholes–and, indeed, I have stepped in them. Case in point: earlier this week. And, undoubtedly, there will be future stumbles–when my thoughts seem unbearable or my mood vacillates between depressive and anxious. But, thankfully, my own futility during my OCD journey has cemented one lesson: deploying the “thought police” handcuffs.