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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Three (to) Two (to) One!

One of the things I couldn't do on my trip was my nightly routine of door, window, and closet checking. My own family is accustomed to hearing me wander around before bed, shaking doorknobs and peeking into closets to make sure there are no intruders hiding among the brooms. But to do this in a house where I was a guest seemed a little . . . forward.
Somewhat to my surprise however, I found that I was able to sleep okay, despite the fact that I had not triple-checked every possible place of entry or concealment, and so had not been able to ascertain that the house was really as safe as it could be. I had to trust that it had been properly taken care of by the people whose home I was in. Not always easy, especially with rioters creating havoc in all the major cities. Necessity is the mother of a can-do attitude however, and I managed to refrain from getting up in the middle of the night and tiptoeing through the house to make sure all was well.
I hadn't really thought about the implications of this while I was on my trip. At first, checking was something I just couldn't, or shouldn't do, but after several days, it became something that I didn't think about a whole lot. Brilliant! I'm cured, right?
Wrong. Environment has a lot more to do with OCD than I ever gave it credit for. As soon as I got back home, all of the old compulsions that had been temporarily swept under the bed resurfaced. The difference was that I realized that was what they were doing. Stealth is one of the many tools OCD uses to get me to go along with whatever it says. Some of the time I simply don't realize that it's happening. I don't see an action as a compulsion until I think about stopping it, and then it becomes apparent that what I perceived as a harmless habit has turned into something much more serious without my being consciously aware of it.
Not this time. This time, having been forced to live for a while without giving in to all of my compulsions, I recognized them when they greeted me on my arrival home. And I decided that if I'd been able to live without checking doors and windows for seven weeks, it shouldn't be too hard to just keep on living without checking doors and windows. Of course, it's not quite that easy. OCD is not just an idea or a collection of habits. It's a disorder, and it exerts a very strong grip on the mind. Being back in a familiar environment where I could start back up with my checking routine made it well nigh impossible not to do so.
So, I have to admit, I did.
I could feel bad about that, but I refuse to do so, because I have improved. I do go around at night and make sure the house is locked up, but I only do it once. That's a vast improvement over the three-plus times I used to do it before I went on my trip. And I know I'm making progress because I still want to do the rounds again after I've done it once, just to make sure. But I don't do it. I won't do it. Checking once is surely enough for any sane person (and I am sane, no matter how nuts I act sometimes!) Despite wanting to double-check, the anxiety of not doing it only lasts for a little while. Maybe someday the anxiety won't be there at all, and I'll be able to lock up and then not give it another thought. Maybe. Even if I never get to that point though, I can still be proud of myself for getting to this point. Any step forward is just that: a step forward, and it is something to be proud of.


  1. Congratulations :)
    I used to check, check and recheck too and then stayed away from home and away from my routines. The unfamiliar environment is helpful to destabilising the ritualistic behaviours - I just wish I could keep on moving so familiarity never sets in and i'd be cured!

    I added you to my following list - I hope that that is ok with you?

    Best wishes!

  2. Congradulations!!! Cutting down on the compulsions is wonderful! And so is recognizing that what you are doing is a compulsion, not a necessity (even tho ocd makes it feel like it is a necessity, and we even give in to it.) I'm reading a book called Brain Lock by Dr. Jeff Schwartz who says it's important to label thots and obsessions as such so you can actively notice them. I have written a short synopsis of his 4 step program on my blog, if you'd like to know more.

    Again, congradulations. Every step to gain back our lives is important.

  3. Sam,
    I am so glad your mom included this website in your newsletter. You are a phenomenal writer. Please seriously consider writing a book about this. Also, couldn't you just see Emma's awesome cartoons illustrating it? I can! Just do it!
    BTW, love you and your family.

  4. Hey Melissa,
    Great to hear from you! I keep meaning to have Emma do some illustrations for me. I think that would be really fun. She's become quite the artist, hasn't she?
    Hope you and your family have a great Christmas (tell them all hi for me), and thanks for reading!