Saturday, May 27, 2006

OCD: Part 2

I just wanted to take a few moments to write down a few things regarding my OCD. Hopefully it might be of some benefit to someone -even myself if I ever come back to read it. The backdrop for this post is a previous post I did on my suffering with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. It can be found here.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, like other anxiety disorders, makes life very difficult at times. One of the ways we sufferers cope with it is to start cutting things out of our lives that provoke the most anxiety. This is because our biggest desire is to be free from the enslaving terror, adrenaline surges, constant inner tension and stress. So, a very natural (though not terribly good) way is to just avoid those things that give way to obsessing and anxiety.

With people who suffer from scrupulosity (OCD latching onto our spiritual lives), this can be extremely common. In fact, I just realized I have been doing it with a number of things -certain doctrines, certain phrases, certain "areas" where I won't let my thinking go to. I have even thought of avoiding going to church a number of times, especially on a day when we are to celebrate the Lord's Supper.

At first it seems like the wisest choice. We want this to go away so badly that we will do almost anything to keep the symptoms under control. And truly, completely avoiding those things does usually curb the symptoms quite a bit. However, I have noticed that I end up feeling almost numb. I couldn't figure out why for the longest time, but I think I finally get it -and to the outside observer it probably seems obvious.

When you follow this route, your world becomes smaller and smaller. Your "Christianity" becomes smaller and smaller. It becomes reduced to a manageable set of ideas with manageable communion with God, but it ends up cuttingn out often the best parts of our faith -the best doctrines, the best fellowship (which we all desperately need), the best and deepest communion and joy with Christ -all because when we venture into those things we become overwhelmed with the obsessions. It takes away the things that make life hard and obsessional, but it also takes away the things that make our life joyful and deep.

I don't necessarily think that it is terrible to do this short-term. I should point that out! So, if you are doing that because you need to take a break and get your bearings then please don't read this and feel guilty. It might be the only way to gain some perspective so that understanding and treatment can take root (cognitive treatment), but in the long-term it is not a way to live. Once we begin gaining that perspective on our OCD and seeing how to combat it (which is not the way we would instinctively combat it), we must slowly go back and "re-claim" those things -attacking each obsession, one-by-one.

There are a variety of opinions regarding how we treat these things, especially within the Body of Christ. As I have noted previously, some people say "it is the devil doing it", so we must resist the thoughts, (reminds me of the "momma" in that movie, The Water Boy, with Adam Sandler), and some say that we just need to stop the obsessing because the Bible says we aren't to worry. Both of these groups may truly mean well, but I believe they are sorely mischaracterizing things. The whole thing that keeps these obsessions going is our constant attempts to stop and suppress them! In that regard, the thing that keeps the obsession going is a natural reaction to perceived danger. I'm not saying there are absolutely no spiritual issues involved. I'm saying it is not binary, not one or the other. For example, some of my OCD is fueled by perfectionism. When it get right down to it, I have come to see my perfectionistic tendencies as idolatrous, involving pride, and involving fear of man. There are often pretexts to our obsessions, for sure.

I think it is important to recognize any spiritual pre-texts and also to adopt a new method of handling the obsessive cycle. The first step in adopting the new method involves cutting yourself a little bit of slack and stepping up to reality: acknowledge that you are obsessing. I don't mean you need to like it, I don't mean that you need to accept the content of the obsessions. I mean accept the fact that you are obsessing, you are stuck in an obsession over something. Accept the anxious thought, the worry itself. "I am worrying about whether or not I have faith, again." This can be extremely hard to do because we don't want to worry, so we perceive acceptance as "giving in", but it isn't. We see it as unacceptable, admitting defeat, admitting that we "don't have faith", using the example just cited. So, our instinct is to push it out so as to try to maintain the "peace" we have. However, acceptance is actually the first step in short-circuiting the obsessive cycle.

This might be the point where some will hold up their Bibles and say, "Accepting the obsession? But that isn't in Scripture!" Let me note in passing that you would be hard-pressed to find a more forceful proponent of Sola Scriptura, but that does not mean Tota Scriptura. "Scripture Alone" doesn't mean that Scripture tells us everything about everything. It means Scripture is sufficient to be our God-given authority. I will say two things about this.

First, these cognitive treatments recognize how the obsessive cycle works and use logic to diffuse it. Is logic opposed to God's truth? Isn't God the source of all logic? Yes, He is. Logic is a tool give to us by God, and it is consistent with God. Anyone who has sought to defend the faith against unbelievers knows this.

Second, I will be honest and say that I have not done exhaustive study in the Scriptures to see if there is a conflict between these treatments for OCD and God's Word. However, I have also not studied to see if the Scriptures teach that exercise helps promote a healthy heart or if antibiotics are ok to take in order to kill an infection. I am not saying they are the same thing. I am saying that we take these things for granted without so much as crying foul.

I do believe, however, that these treatments do not conflict with (and are often in line with) the elements of the Gospel, especially in regards to scrupulosity. For example, the whole idea of accepting the worry, as believers, leads us to be honest with and depend upon God. Rather than hold it within and try to beat it ourselves by suppression (which promotes obsessing), it fosters relationship with God through openness, acknowledging that we are but dust, confused, worrisome, and dependent upon Him. The whole idea that we need to hold it in and deal with it because it is "forbidden" is what keeps the obsessing going. Acceptance is perhaps better stated as "being honest about ourselves", and that leads us to come before God in dependence -something which is our right through Jesus Christ.

For example, if someone is having constant intrusive thoughts that curse God, they feel, "I must not think these thoughts! I don't want to curse God!" and in trying to suppress them the thoughts are only stronger, as is the anxiety. The suppression only reinforces the cycle. Why not, instead, accept that you are worrying about those thoughts, why they are there, what they mean, and tell God this? "My God, these thoughts are horrible. I don't want to think them, but they are there. I don't know what they mean or why they are here, and I am worried that they mean I want to curse you. I am worrying, my God." The Gospel says we have access to the Father through Christ, like this. Compare that to what would normally happen. We would become terrified, thinking that God will hate us or we will kill our relationship with God if we let these unwanted thoughts survive one more second, so we try to suppress them. We try to get more "serious" about them, thinking we must be stronger, and then only seeing that we fail all the more. We would start believing that our relationship with God must be non-existent, otherwise we would not be like this. We would start closing in on ourselves more and more, thinking that we must do something, begging God to take the thoughts away, pleading, obsessing over them for hours and spending hours on our prayer rituals -not realizing that the more we try to suppress them the stronger they become. We become ruled by them, and our lives become a living hell. No peace with God exists in the conscience, and our emotions are completely spent. Do you see the difference? The latter only reinforces this false fear that the "impurity" will cut us off from God. It fosters a kind of works-righteousness, and it reinforces our practice of concealing and suppressing and self-reliance rather than going to God as little children. In a sense, we are trying to "prove ourselves" to be something we think we should be. It is antithetical to the Gospel, which is, by its very nature, for sinners -those who cannot help themselves.

I know that for us "scrupers", the Gospel is needed desperately because our obsessions revolve around our relation to God. The Gospel answers that "pre-text" I mentioned above. It answers "why" we can dismiss the thoughts that normally provoke obsession -because of the grace of God in Christ, because of the safety that is in Christ.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for your post. I have suffered with agorophobia for 20 years and have never had the obsessions about my faith until recently. I have always had a strong faith in God and when I started obsessing over questioning my faith it made me very anxious. Your post has helped just to know someone else has gone through this. Thanks,