A short note on hope for OCD:
Are you struggling with OCD and finding conventional gold standard treatments to be missing something?
Do you do your exposure therapy and no matter how many exposures you do, you find OCD morphing and presenting itself in new ways? It always seems to come back.
Do you find it hard sometimes to determine what’s OCD and what’s not and when to do an exposure and when not to?
Are you living your life with OCD, but a part of you believes that more healing is possible?
I can relate to all of the above.. I spent decades in the neverending spiral of OCD.
However, I can say that OCD is my friend now. Like I said, it wasn’t always this way….
For almost 25 years, OCD had a debilitating impact on my life. I spent most of every waking moment obsessing, caught in neverending OCD habit loops.
About 12 years ago I was officially diagnosed with OCD. At the time I thought I was going crazy. The thoughts were terrifying and omnipresent.
Things were so bad that I had the unique experience of exploring many different modalities of healing. I spent hundreds of hours in gold standard exposure response prevention (EPR) therapy with expert OCD therapists and simultaneously took a deep dive into nutrition, exercise, traditional CBT, read hundreds of books on psychology and the mind, explored yoga and yoga therapy, sexological bodywork, psychedelic therapy and psilocybin mushrooms, ecopsychology, etc.
However, while many of these modalities were helpful and can be a part of a holistic treatment plan for mind-body healing, I found that all this searching kept me out of my body. The biggest thing I have found that has radically transformed my life is the life and teachings of the Buddha packaged for the modern day student of the mind. The 2500 year old history of the wisdom and meditation practices passed down from Gautama Buddha, the first psychologist, provides a radical path towards healing by turning towards the difficult and holding it with compassion. These teachings are taught in our time as mindfulness and compassion based practices and my experience has shown that they can have a transformational impact when dealing with OCD and anxiety.
As I studied these practices, I was inspired by people who acted outside the box and helped me believe real lasting change was possible. After 7 years of intensive mindfulness and compassion training and study, I have come to believe that there is nothing more powerful for an integrated healing from OCD than mindfulness and compassion training. This training combines more formal meditation with informal practices like RAIN that get to the root of the OCD habit loops.
OCD takes us out of our bodies and into our minds, but it’s not the thoughts that scare us so much. It’s the felt experience of these thoughts in our bodies that keep us returning to the mind in an effort to avoid feeling.
With mindfulness and compassion we learn to turn towards the sensations of OCD. We start to get curious about them, investigate them, and over time accept them and ultimately become friends with them.
This turning towards is not for the faint of heart. It requires courage, inspiration, and a healthy dose of self-compassion. The rewards, however, are worth it in my opinion. If you have OCD and have already been engaging in exposure therapy, you already have practice in turning towards the difficult. You have the required courage and you have the power to develop more and more resilience with more practice. Exposure therapy is incredibly powerful and I have found that when I just practiced meditation and compassion practices and neglected my ERP goals and values, that my OCD would get worse. At the same time, ERP by itself never seemed to have a wholistic effect on my overall wellbeing. However, combining ERP with these mind/body practices is what has really turned things around for me.
My life has been radically changed by turning towards OCD and other difficult emotions with mindfulness and compassion, and I feel like it is my life’s work to help others to do the same. That’s not to say we jump into the ocean all at once. There is a step by step process whereby we get comfortable with turning towards the difficult.
However, when we develop the stability to be with the sensations of OCD in our bodies, we can ride out the habit loops of OCD. And OCD is just that. It’s a habit loop that we perpetuate by doing compulsions in the mind and in life. We do these compulsions because the unpleasant sensations in our bodies “compel” us to.
As we train to explore and investigate how OCD feels in the body, we come to see that we no longer need to be disrupted by every thought that enters the mind. We can stay grounded in the body and ride out the urges to do the compulsions. As we do this we start to understand how the mind works. We start to become disenchanted with OCD because we see in real time the suffering that it’s causing us. We begin to notice that the desire to do a compulsion is simply the desire to get rid of unpleasant sensations in the body. As we train ourselves to be with the sensations in the body, we start to become free to make our own choices. We can thank OCD for it’s desire to keep us safe from the unpleasant in life and then move forward to live the life of meaning we know in our hearts is truly possible.