The less we truly know OCD (or anxiety in general), the more we struggle with it. The more we get to know OCD, the less of a struggle we have. Below is a little story to illustrate this: In it I’ll touch upon the 4 steps of RAIN (Recognize, Accept/allow, Investigate, Nurture). This is the most powerful tool I have found for working with difficult emotions. Eventually this practice just becomes how we live life, as you will see in the story!
Imagine that you are alone in the woods building a campfire. You keep the fire going all night and all day because you are afraid of what’s beyond the campsite. You are afraid of OCD lurking in the shadows. You don’t ever see OCD but you hear OCD and you have all sorts of thoughts that are triggered by fear of OCD. You think you must be on high alert keeping the fire going day and night otherwise OCD might come in the dark and you wouldn’t be able to handle it. You must always have a well lit space and be on guard. It’s exhausting, but the danger or OCD makes it worth it, you think. Everything that’s beautiful in life is lost to you and you are exhausted, but you feel you must stand guard and you must keep the fire going to keep you safe. The fear feels so real.
Eventually you start to worry that the fire is dying down a bit and OCD might come, so you make the fire bigger and bigger. Every night you add more fuel and you notice that you become more and more afraid of OCD. You have never truly met OCD but you are haunted by it. You are haunted by the thoughts about OCD and the fears in your imagination. You live in your head going through endless scenarios of how to stay safe. You have no idea what OCD looks like, feels like, or what it even is, but you maintain the need to stay safe because your thoughts tell you it’s necessary.
Then one day you decide enough is enough. You decide you are missing out on life and the beauty of being in the forest. You recognize that what you are getting from keeping the fire going day and night isn’t worth it anymore. This isn’t life, you think. You decide to let OCD know you see it. You scream “I see you OCD”. (Recognize). You then decide to welcome OCD to come sit by the fire. (Accept/allow) You are terrified, but you make the decision to accept those feelings of fear and anxiety inside of you.
OCD comes to sit by the fire. You are still scared, yet you decide to get to know OCD (Investigate). You get curious about OCD and it’s story. You get really curious about how OCD makes you feel in your own body. How does interacting with OCD actually feel? You move beyond your thoughts and concepts about what OCD is and you investigate OCD itself. You learn more about it. You learn it’s story. You get to know OCD by the fire.
After some days of spending time together, OCD becomes less and less scary. You are getting to know it like you would a friend. You are paying attention to it and getting curious about it. Eventually you are able to offer compassion to OCD (nurture). You realize that you feel nurtured and safe enough to offer OCD kindness. You begin to learn that OCD was actually trying to keep you safe by hanging around the camp. Sure, OCD seemed scary but it was hurt and trying to do the job of keeping you safe, even though your mind told you otherwise.
As you start becoming better friends with OCD, OCD trusts that you are safe and starts coming to the campsite less and less. OCD is moving on with it’s own life too. It doesn’t feel the need to protect you anymore. Now instead of spending hours getting to know OCD every night, OCD comes once every few days and you spend time together over a short dinner. Then OCD leaves.
Eventually, OCD starts coming only once a week and then OCD comes less frequently than that. Whenever OCD comes, you welcome OCD and get curious about it like you would any friend. You have stopped feeding the stories around OCD and you experience OCD for what it is. You stop fueling your mind’s fears.
Over time as OCD comes less and less and you learn more about OCD, you start adding less and less fuel to the fire that you think keeps you safe. The fire is still burning but you are not feeding it so much fuel. Because the fire is still burning you still feel fear and uncertainty about OCD sometimes, but you accept that and feed the fire less and less. Lacking fuel, the fire itself starts to get smaller as the days pass on. You realize that even after you had become friends with OCD, the fire of fear of OCD was still burning a bit. However, now you are comfortable letting the fire get smaller and smaller. You are less afraid of the dark now.
Then one night the fire goes out. You are alone in the wilderness. It’s dark but you somehow feel ok with it. You decide to take a walk. You find yourself able to take a risk and live life in this dark uncertain world. Sure, there are dangers in the wilderness, but as you walk through the dark forest, you realize you know this place more than you thought. You realize that over the years your senses had become dull to the beauty of the place. You see the moon and experience awe, and you hear the crickets chirping. You feel your body starting to come alive again from the inside. You hear OCD off in the distance and feel a twinge of fear, but then you remind yourself that you know OCD. You smile and keep walking. Life is uncertain and not without risk, but you are willing to accept all of that now. You are willing to walk in the dark forest of uncertainty. You know fear and you know OCD, and you know the pains of living life always in fear. This path through the forest will never be safe, but it’s worth it. Life’s worth it. You smile again and keep walking, opening your heart to whatever life has in store for you next.