Obsessions and Addictions: Transformation and Transcendence
The mechanics of my mind have always fundamentally been the same. Never once do I remember my mind being any different than the way it is, was, and always has been. However, I’ve discovered focusing on this path too much ultimately only causes more confusion, and more problems. I’ve experienced how it leads you “down the rabbit hole” into an endless cycle of an unwinnable game. And I know, because I’ve played– endlessly. Sure, you might win some battles, but victory is never long-lived. Eventually, after each loss, you’re left more damaged and confused than before.
I recently became obsessed with the intrusive and unwanted thoughts plaguing my mind every day. Once I discovered the existence of these “impostors,” I couldn’t leave them alone. I needed so badly to comprehend the entirety of these conditions. It was like I needed to know almost more than I needed to breathe, quite literally.
Once I learned that OCD is largely hereditary and biological, that knowledge provided me some relief. It helped to know that, no matter what, these conditions are here to stay, regardless of my attempts to fully understand them.
As I write this essay, I find myself concerned that I won’t hit on all of the insightful and significant aspects I’ve found most paramount to my recovery. Ideas about the countless lessons I’ve learned from my experiences with mental illness are flooding my mind. While I have been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, I have also been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I do not suffer from the classic OCD symptoms such as physically carrying out compulsions (washing hands, locking/unlocking doors, extreme organization/tidiness, etc.) even though that’s what the general public would assume when they think of OCD. I discovered that “pure obsessional” OCD or “Pure O” is the category I fit in.
Pure O describes individuals who have mental compulsions and obsessions. I am plagued with an onslaught of intrusive, unwanted thoughts, but use mental compulsions (avoidance, reassurance seeking, mental rituals, etc.) to seek relief. These thoughts initiate impulses or mental images of horrible, violent, immoral, or sacrilegious actions. Constantly. All day, every single day, of every single second, I am at the mercy to ALL of these frightening, torturous, and unwanted types of thoughts or images. Put me in any seemingly harmless situation or circumstance and my mind will quickly and quite literally figure out what the worst-case scenario would be. And then it will aggressively spend the rest of the time trying to convince me of this situation becoming a reality. This might include extreme embarrassment, death, ridicule, violence, or failure. Further, all of these same thoughts can and will happen in regards to people whom I deeply love. No matter how many walls I build or battle-tested strategies I implement, these thoughts never stop eating at me.
One of the more ironic aspects to my story is that while I can remember being affected by OCD as far back as I can remember, I literally had no idea that this is what plagued me throughout my life until I was about twenty-three years old. Looking back on it all, it’s almost like I always knew something was different about me, but I wasn’t willing to acknowledge it. And if I wasn’t willing to acknowledge it, then I definitely wasn’t willing to let anybody else either. I seemingly did a good job of hiding my symptoms seeing as nobody ever noticed anything “different” about me. The symptoms of OCD did not quite “debilitate” me as I was able to grow, progress, and develop adequately during the early years of my life. I happened to be pretty successful with almost anything I tried. I always made honors student (college and high school), participated in competitive sports throughout my life, and always seemed to have plenty of friends. After graduating from high school in Idaho 2005, I ultimately pursued a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and graduated in 2009. I then moved to San Diego, CA and furthered my education. I graduated with a master’s degree in Social Work by 2011.
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I was fortunate in my growing up. I truly believe that if it were not for my family’s love, support, and cultivation for success, I would be nowhere close to where I am today. They never let me settle and always pushed me to fulfill my potential. I am forever indebted to them for these lessons. Always having everything I needed growing up, I basically lived as “normal” as a life you could imagine. However, the inner workings of OCD were well at play this entire time. Somehow, I was able to live with and manage the symptoms of OCD without truly questioning my organically overactive, over-analytic, obsessive, and ruminative mind. The endless attempts to slow down or stop unwanted intrusive thoughts had just become second nature. Unfortunately, this natural instinct eventually faded away.
I was around the age of twenty-three when I finally began to realize something wasn’t quite right. Ironically, this is about the time I started experimenting with street drugs. While I experimented with almost every drug out there, I primarily abused cocaine and MDMA or “Molly.” I usually snorted cocaine, but I also free-based (smoked) it sometimes too. With MDMA, I would either ingest or snort it. I would also ingest or snort opiates, amphetamines, and Xanax. I eventually even smoked heroin. By age twenty-six, things had gotten a lot worse. My drug addiction had grown out of control and my symptoms were running rampant controlling my life. Only two months after my twenty-sixth birthday did I get fired from my job as a social worker. At this point, I had lost interest in everything (work, friends, girls, family, exercise, etc.). It got to a point where I simply had zero desire to ever want to get out of bed. I’m still ashamed to admit the only thing I ever looked forward to was sleeping or doing drugs. I got lost in the facade that drugs can create. I had devolved into a functional drug addict. I was always drawn to the drugs that made me feel most like I was “enough” and no longer inadequate, which generally tended to be “uppers.” The lure of this pseudo-freedom became my primary means to escape from all of the pain my symptoms initiate. The blaring noise in my head of constant negative mental chatter, harsh criticisms, absolute discontent, and never-ending despair always left me desperate for an escape.
Of course, by the time I realized how much worse drugs actually made everything; things had already spiraled out of control. My symptoms of depression had severely heightened and before I really knew it, I began contemplating suicide. These thoughts occurred before I was ever fired from my job, but gained added traction from this most recent “failure” of mine. I had not given much attention to the thought of ending my life until then, but once I had, I couldn’t shake it. It was almost like I had become obsessed with the idea of dying. Here is where I by far experienced the darkest moments of my life.
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By the end of my worst episode, all and any of my motivation had been sapped. I spent more time in my head than what was going on in front of me. It’s not a fun place to be. It was as if the life I had was so far out of reach that it felt like nothing more than a mirage. For a while leading up to this, things were definitely tough sledding, but not until I hit rock bottom did I truly become suicidal. I was literally contemplating the ways I could take my life.
Wanting to kill yourself and not wanting to live are two very different things. I didn’t really want to live at times, but this was different because I wanted to escape the pain, forever. Yet, there is a profound quote that really sums up this whole situation and became the groundwork to digging myself out of this black hole. It says “Suicide doesn’t end the chance of life getting worse. Suicide eliminates the possibility of it ever getting better.” This inspired me to not give up. Also, the idea of leaving this earth and simply giving my family my pain because I didn’t want to bear it anymore empowered me to never let that happen. Ultimately, I dedicated myself to be fully committed to my recovery, being sober, and spending time with my family. It felt like eons before I began making progress, but I soon saw the fruits of my labor by making headway into my recovery.
It was still all too easy to beat up on myself. I would get caught up with analyzing how far I had fallen and then wallow in my own pit of self-despair, shame, and guilt. When I realized how far I had fallen, it only compounded more feelings of guilt, negativity, and doubt. Any improvement seemed impossible because I knew it would require never-wavering determination and persistence, as well as patience. I was no stranger to working hard but, even then, a deep convicted belief in your self is absolutely paramount, which is an uphill battle for which I wasn’t sure I was prepared.
Once you’ve lost hope, you’ve damn near lost it all. However, facing these odds and overcoming them does not have to be impossible. I must point out that losing all hope does not have to be a death sentence. I can say that, while it seemed like a death sentence at the time, I’m living proof that it doesn’t have to be. You can actually make progress when you feel hopeless. Although the improvement was very minor, it was still progress and, no matter how small, progress is nothing to underestimate. I had to re-learn how to find satisfaction from even the most minimal of strides, but it was necessary in order to ever build from it. Here is where I truly learned the wonderful value of building momentum from the progress we make. I developed a true appreciation for the value of progress, not perfection. The more momentum I gathered, the more confident I began to feel which allowed me to start re-gaining power over my life again.
Understanding that OCD has a prominent biological component was important for me to comprehend because it played a large role in my recovery. I needed to know that this wasn’t “my fault.” I had to understand that I didn’t do something “wrong” and that I never did anything to bring upon such debilitating conditions to myself. I had to accept that a part of me (a large part) was “flawed” no matter how much I tried to fix it, erase it, or run from it. This was a very insightful revelation because it taught me about a very powerful word.
By grasping how to accept certain facts of life, I came to realize that I am already perfect in my own right. To me, true acceptance of yourself means you can acknowledge your faults, but know you are no less of a person because of them. Once you have done this, I believe you have achieved true beauty. However, to do so is more of a marathon than a sprint and to completely love yourself as a whole– mind, body, soul– is always a work in progress. I have learned that, no matter how hard we try to plan or predict life, we will never ever achieve “perfection.”
After struggling so much with the anxiety caused by my control issues, I finally realized that it’s impossible to be in control of every single area of your life during every waking second. No matter how hard you tried or how much effort you sacrificed. Sometimes there is simply just nothing you can do about the circumstances life gives you. That’s it, though. There’s nothing less, yet nothing more to think about. It is what it is. You accept it, eventually. You have to. Through acceptance, you achieve transcendence. I absolutely believe that once you can ACCEPT anything, then you can TRANSCEND everything.
I can’t emphasize enough how important our perception and mindset is to our success in overcoming our symptoms of mental health. This same mindset and perception is what will give you an edge in life as well. If you’ll notice, your attitude determines your altitude in everything you do. These two components are directly correlated with each other. We always can decide and dictate what type of attitude we have, which means it’s something that’s always in our control. No matter what we believe, it can always be changed for the better. And if we believe we can be better, we can DO better. Remember, whether we believe we can or can’t, we are right.
I was able to change my beliefs about my ability to recover. Finding a way to stay consistent and motivated to keep making progress is the only barrier you’ll experience once you have began to create momentum. Plateaus are absolutely to be expected, but it will be up to you and you alone to continue building off your momentum. What you do with your potential and where you take it is up to you and nobody else. Never lose sight of your dreams because your potential is limitless. Take it from me because I’ve been there. Even though I was certain things would never get better, here I am living my life to the fullest and pursuing my dreams.