We have probably heard the saying, “I’m just putting out fires today.” It’s often not meant in a literal sense, unlike a firefighter. We may hear someone say this in a busy work situation. This usually means that we are paying attention to urgent matters and not our daily tasks. This reminds me of OCD and other emotional struggles. We have lives to live and our emotional struggle shows up and wants all our time and attention. OCD can feel like an empty slot machine, we keep feeding this thing over and over with no reward to be had. We feed it by giving it our energy, time and attention. This could be with senseless rituals and compulsions or we could be trying to feed an addictive behavior. It’s never enough. We are usually left defeated, frustrated and exhausted. We keep “putting out fires” instead of living the life we want. Obviously there will be times when we do need to “put out fires” or deal with the urgent things in our lives. The example I am using here is related to spending our time on negative things; compulsions, rituals, destructive behaviors, etc. We know we can’t stop our flow of thoughts, but we can choose what we do with them. We can “put out fires” all day long related to our OCD. This monster might expect one ritual or compulsion after another. We do this so we can feel “okay” about a situation. We can learn to put out these so called “fires” by doing nothing. We can let the thoughts, images and impulses be there and not give into the demands. Easier said than done, but it’s possible! We can let this stuff be present and do our best not to respond. These fires will eventually burn out on their own. With ERP therapy we see that we can purposely face the fire, not try to “put it out” with rituals, and see the thing burn out on its own. Our anxiety will eventually come down on it’s own. That can seem impossible in the grip of OCD, panic or anxiety. If we stick with what we fear and experience this, the anxiety can be less and less. Having a therapist to work with who is trained in ERP can be very helpful.
OCD lies. It tells you complete garbage and expects you to take it as fact. It might try to make you out to be this awful person. “You just had a thought about your relative, wow, You hope they burn in Hell! Or “If you count to 7 in your head, 4 times in a row, then blink 9 times slowly, I will let your family live.” BULLS%*T!!!!!!!!
OCD lies and its goal is to trip us up and to make us miserable. We don’t have to let it. OCD lives on negative energy and stays alive by getting attention through rituals and compulsions. It’s not worth our time, we have a life to enjoy. When we are in the grip of OCD, nothing can seem further from the truth. We may feel like this OCD is our master and we must agree to all it’s demands. We beat our heads against the wall trying to “fight” this LIAR by doing rituals or compulsions. The more we “fight” the OCD by doing senseless rituals, the worse it gets. We truly “fight” it by letting go of the compulsions and rituals. OCD is a bully, it doesn’t fight fair. OCD is not the first or the last LIAR or bully we will meet. We can meet with OCD, or a liar, or a traumatic experience. These can be part of us, but they don’t have to run our lives. As hard as that may seem, they don’t have to run our lives. Just like the “passengers on a bus” metaphor used in ACT therapy. These monsters and liars can ride on our bus, but they are not driving the damn thing, we are!! This bus is us. It’s our lives, our thoughts, our experiences. The monsters and LIARS can come along for the ride. We can notice they are in the background and not give them the time of day or negative attention they seek. We start to care less and less who is on the bus, and this is really good news!! This can free us up to drive that bus in a direction that we want, in a positive direction.
In OCD treatment, we might even see a technique used where a person is asked to agree with the obsessive thoughts, to actually surrender to the thought, “ok, I’m an awful person, of course I am.” We can notice the thought, even agree with it, but we’re not trying to fix it by doing compulsions, that’s the difference. The goal is to live with uncertainty. We know OCD lies but then again we have to live with some uncertainty, because life is uncertain. ” I”m not really sure if I said something offensive in the store earlier, I don’t think I did, but I might have. Oh well, I’m going to go enjoy dinner with my wife.” It’s similar to agreeing with negative criticism you might receive. It may be true, it may not be, but the sooner we receive it or “accept” it, the quicker it usually fades away.
Hang in there, we can do this!