OCD and Addiction

OCD is a monster. One that we feel we must constantly keep pacified out of fear that the next spike will be unbearable. My OCD is mostly gone, save a few bad days and irritating moments, but I kind of appreciate those moments because they never let me take for granted what I now have. The OCD is mostly in remission, but the habits I developed to deal with it are still around. In my desperate attempts to escape, I developed a problem with addiction, which is now the new monster I am fighting.

Drugs is a controversial topic and one I have been shying away from, but many of us know the unpleasant stigma of mental illness and I think the only way we can get rid of that is to speak the truth. I know there are many others out there struggling with their OCD and hiding their addictions, which is why I am also choosing to discuss this; because it is when we suffer alone that we truly suffer.

I began to treat myself before I knew I had OCD. I was not diagnosed until I was 21. In my teen years I developed an eating disorder. It had nothing to do with body image, but entirely about control and escaping my emotional discomfort. I think the most important thing a lot of people misunderstand about eating disorders like Anorexia and Bulimia is that they are anxiety disorders, not issues concerning low self-esteem.

I deprived myself of food to induce stomach aches which would distract me from my racing and obsessive thoughts. After it was getting out of hand, I started smoking weed. Every night, it put me to sleep, for years. Then, one fateful day in hte hospital, I was prescribed Ativan for my rapid heartbeat, which I explained was normal due to my anxiety. I started taking the drug every day because it made me feel “normal”, but I became dependent on it and the side effects were so awful I decided to get off of it. I did this safely.

I replaced Ativan with narcotics, sex, drinking and cutting. To me, it didn’t matter what the vice was, as long as it was something that changed how I felt. The one thing all these vices had in common was that they all altered my mental state, but lead me to a crash the following day.

I had gotten so used to escaping my feelings and running at the first sight of OCD or discomfort, I stopped feeling anything… anything bad, anything good. And trust me, the thought of feeling numb sounded pretty fucking good, but it wasn’t numb, it was just kinda down all the time. No joy, no color, no vibrance, just gloom.

Therapy has helped me tremendously to learn how to not only tolerate my emotions, but to accept them. I realized that my use of drugs and such was because I didn’t know any coping skills for feeling emotions, and feeling emotions was and still is scary.

Drugs still have a place in my life, like once in a great while when I am really anxious because of traveling or something, then I do take an anxiety pill, but other than that I am learning to deal with my emotions and such without self medicating.

The complication for me was that my need to compulse and need to use drugs or alcohol got intertwined (like when I cut) sometimes I felt like stopping, but my OCD brain felt like the number of times I cut was wrong, so I would cut more than I wanted to. It was weird to lose control doing what I started to do because I thought it gave me a sense of control.

The addiction monster and OCD monster can feel the same, but what I’ve discovered to help both is learning to accept myself and learning how to deal with emotions. I have also learned that when the need to cut or use comes up or the need to compulse comes up, I take a deep breath, remember what I learned in therapy like journaling, and most of the time I get through it, and the more times I get through it, the more I learn I can get through it.

If you struggle with addiction or OCD or both, you are not alone. Please seek help if you want it, because you can get through both if you want to. Stay strong.

Cutting Revisited

The “want” to stop cutting that walked me into my therapist’s office was gone.  I no longer had the conviction needed to help me win this fight to stop cutting, so I just stop caring.  I started cutting again after months of not when I got deeply depressed a couple months ago.  After I slid into old maladaptive habits, I felt hopeless that I could ever really change.  What was the point?  And that’s the thing, to stop cutting, the person has to want to stop. My last therapy session helped bring me back and I want to share the change that took place.

I explained to my therapist how I was struggling to feel emotions.  I was once such an empathic person and now, even in the direct presence of someone’s intense pain, I felt nothing.  Times when I was aware I should be feeling something, there was nothing.  Completely numb, not even a hint of anything.  Even cutting did not give me the same relief it once did.  Not all the time, but it was becoming more frequent and it was bothering me because although I do not like feeling stressed or depressed, I missed feeling passion and zest.  My therapist said:

“If you numb yourself out to pain, you also numb yourself out to passion.  It is no coincidence that since you have started cutting again and with more frequency that you are starting to feel numb.  If you keep cutting, you can expect to feel less and less”.

I cried because I started to see the desire I had lost.  I wanted to feel.  I think I could not keep it going before because my reasons for quitting were dependent on external factors.  This time, I was quitting for me.  As much as I do not enjoy feeling certain things, I want to enjoy life and feel passion for it.  I want to feel and I want to stop self harm.

When the Urge to Cut Becomes a Memory

I cried in therapy today discussing how I wished I didn’t still get the urge to cut.  I wanted it to be a distant part of my past, like the days when my OCD was at its worst.  He asked if my OCD was gone and I said it was mostly, but not entirely.  He told me:

“It will always be a part of you.”

I feel like for the first time I can accept who I am now, but my history of OCD and self harm and all that…that’s a different story.  I  wish I could extract it from my life like it never happened.  My therapist said

 “How could you cut off a limb and not expect that to still affect you in some way?”

His point being that my past is not some attacker that I managed to destroy and walk away from, but rather its a set of experiences that lead me to who I am now, a person I am happy to be.  And, wether I like it or not, the OCD is always going to be a part of me.

I have managed to employ strategies that are very helpful in keeping me from cutting.  One thing I do is write a word (“Strength”) on my arm. It helps me to feel like I’m marking my body in some way and the word is a mantra for me when I start to feel wilted.  I am so glad I have been doing so well not cutting, but I am upset the urge keeps bugging me.  My therapist addressed this too, saying how practicing self harm for so many years, how could I expect everything to change overnight and isn’t the self anger what provoked my self harm anyways?

yeah…

I am continuing to practice abstaining from harming myself and this week, the new thing I am working at is accepting my past as well as accepting that the urge to cut is going to be around for a while and me getting angry at myself for that is not going to help.  One day at a time.

Shorts in Public

My therapist asked me why I cut myself.  What did I get out of it?  I came up with 4 reasons.

  1. Self punishment – I wanted to atone; to hurt myself because I was angry for the feelings I had.
  2. Control – I felt I couldn’t control my emotional pain, but I could control my physical pain.
  3. Emotional relief – The endorphin rush
  4. Distraction – The physical pain distracted me from my emotional pain.

My therapist told me that the first one I listed, self punishment, was the odd one on my list.  This was so because I could find healthy alternatives to achieve 2, 3 and 4, but not 1.

“If you had a daughter would you slash her legs, throw her in a closet and tell her to shut-up?”

O my god!!  Of course I wouldn’t!  He then asked why I felt ok doing that to myself.

I tried to look back to my past and think of what started it all, this idea that I needed to punish myself.  I felt so bad for all my shameful obsessions.  My brain tried to find a reason why the thought looped.  I hated my brain.  I hated myself.  Part of me felt I must have done something to deserve OCD.  I felt broken and so full of hate, that I wanted to hurt myself.

I haven’t cut myself in over a month and a half, so what sparked this conversation in therapy today was my fear about the future and what if I start cutting again.  I’m terrified of that.  I explained how I felt like I had been doing ok because there hasn’t been too much I couldn’t handle in my life lately.  He pointed out that perhaps I was attracting less drama because I was showing myself more love.  This actually made a lot of sense to me.  I have not cut because I have started to love myself and I am showing myself more love because I am not cutting.  I believe that I cannot have a healthy lifestyle with successful relationships and a career while practicing self harm, at least I could not find a way to have both in the past.

I wore shorts in public today for the first time in a year.  I have been wanting to do that for so long.  It’s this type of thing that reminds me that things are improving.  I am learning to show myself compassion.

I am still afraid of the future, but each time I get the urge to cut and decide not to, it gets easier and easier.  I am incorporating things I have learned in therapy to cope with these situations in ways that are not self-destructive.  I am happier than I have been in a long time.