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.

Your Goals

Many of my goals were and are related to OCD and my health.  I didn’t make a lot of other goals because I didn’t see myself being able to achieve them.  I thought that “normal” people had the privilege to dream and I simply did not get that luxury because I had so much work to do just to be “normal” and do simple things most people took for granted like turn a light switch off once.  

I kept telling myself that if one day I could get to a good place with my OCD, I would push forward with what I really wanted to do, practice medicine.  As some of you know, my OCD is mostly in “remission”, though I still feel like the “OCD” girl sometimes, like the scars still just stare at me.  And when my OCD went away, I was so angry at myself for not taking advantage of this and pursuing my big dreams right away.  I felt behind and that I had so far to go.

But, I realized it’s never to late to start dreaming!  I didn’t really know what I wanted to do when I was a kid.  When in first grade, sitting in a circle, kids shared what they wanted to be; a fireman, a school teacher…I said “I want to be a super star!”  My teacher said I couldn’t be that.  I saw a crest toothpaste commercial with the blue sparkly toothpaste star dancing and saying ‘you can be a super star too!”  I thought that sounded good to me, so that’s what I said.  After that bitch crushed my dreams, I didn’t pick up any new ones.

Until now!  I had so much determination to get my health in order, and though there’s only so much I can do, I did everything I could because it was my ultimate goal to be as healthy as I could be.  Sometimes, a lot of times, I felt like quitting, but that little voice inside me kept pushing me. Sometimes it’s hard to hear that voice, but we all have it.

And finally, this leads me to how important it is to have faith in yourself and pursue your goals.  If you don’t have any yet, start simple and small.  That’s ok 🙂 Some of my goals are tiny, like “eat”. Some of them are big, like “become a doctor”.

This week in therapy we discussed self-limiting thoughts. Things like “I’m not enough” or “I’m a loser”. Stuff that gets in the way of me pushing forward towards my goals and sometimes leads me into the realm of self punishment. I’m trying to figure out where I learned mine and why it’s so hard for me to let go of them. So, I decided to try an exercise. I took a photo I liked from a recent photoshoot and I looked at me in the picture, and thought about all the self-limiting statements I believe about myself. Thoughts that no matter how many people tell me are untrue, I simply cannot change my mind. I wrote these thoughts on the photo, trying to look at it objectively, wondering if it’s possible other people might not believe what I believe; that maybe I’m wrong and that these beliefs are just untrue statements taught to me during my early life.

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As much as I did not want to, I did this exercise again.  Even if I don’t believe it right now, I realize a lot of my emotional pain stems from my thoughts and I have got to start showing myself more compassion.  Maybe I’ll believe it someday.  That’s a goal of mine!

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Like, I’ve said from the beginning…stay strong.  This means, don’t quit and remember that strength sometimes looks like tears.

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.

the road to good health

It is not easy, nor is it free.

I do not believe there is a finish line one crosses to move from being an unhealthy person to a healthy one.  It is a never stagnate scale in which our daily choices bring us closer to one side or the other.  For much of my life, I felt like to get rid of my OCD and things about myself I didn’t like, I needed to punish myself and dismantle my emotions.  I hid from the world because I didn’t believe I could handle it, but all the while, there was a spark in me that kept me fighting.  I will never stop trying to move toward a place of good health.  I believe to do this, I must honor myself, instead of punishing myself.  Expressing my emotions, especially the unpleasant ones, takes some practice, but it’s getting much easier.  Some days are not as easy, and I have learned that this is normal and to be expected.  I do not like these days, but I feel like they are getting less common and I am indeed reminded that most days I am very lucky.

Besides battling OCD, stopping myself from self harm is the hardest thing I have experienced.  Some nights, I simple cannot trust any thought that comes into my head and I am reminded of how OCD robbed my intuition from me.  Therapy has taught me to recognize the cognitive distortions when they arise which has helped me tremendously, and just like I fought OCD, I will continue to fight the urge to hurt myself.  I feel like my intuition is healing.

My chiropractor today asked me what motivates me to getup in the morning.  I had no desire to have a real conversation with him about it, so I said “work”.  I thought it was a funny answer.  Throughout the day I thought about this question and I think it’s actually a good one to ask yourself.

That spark that keeps me fighting is more real to me now than ever and as the denial fades, so does the confusion. I am following my heart and thus honoring my spirit.  I feel that although it will take time to work through my self-destructive habits, I have to focus on the the light which guides me ahead.  Long term goals highly motivate me to treat myself with compassion.  I want to go back to school to pursue naturopathic medicine, I want to travel, I want to nurture my relationships, and I want to surpass my supposed limitations.  Additionally, short term goals, like daily decisions move me in the direction of good health.

One day at a time.