an enemy within: OCD

I will NEVER stop fighting for you”… these are the words that have started my journey against the enemy: OCD.

First of all, I believe that OCD is a very little understood mental illness. Most people think of someone who can’t stop washing their hands. That may be true in some cases, but for many people with OCD you might never see any symptoms.  Instead, the obsessions and compulsions occur within their minds. This is actually the most severe form of OCD, in my opinion.

The way I experienced my friend’s OCD was as an Enemy that took her completely away. She was present physically, but at the same time completely absent.  When the Monster was at its worst we couldn’t have a normal conversation for weeks.

She saw several professionals over a 3 year span, including a counselor, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist. There seemed to be a general consensus: It’s a genetic condition in which the wiring of the brain has a malfunction and thoughts get stuck in a highly anxious, obsessive pattern. The person has to perform various compulsions in an attempt to escape the unimaginably high levels of anxiety.  The two treatment options were a medication like Zoloft, or CBT therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy).

She tried both… long story short: neither was very helpful for her. At some level she gave up, and tried to find a comfortable way to live with this unwanted companion in her life. However, it made life hard for her and all who loved her. It was excruciating for her loved ones to watch her suffer. My new approach was to research natural supplements that could help her brain function. I read and researched and made endless phone calls. I told her again and again, “I will NEVER stop fighting for you.”

In 2014 I went to a “Trauma Care” Conference. This changed my entire perspective on OCD.

I was sitting at the conference listening to Gina White speak on “Dissociation”… and I felt like I was hit by a ton of bricks… ***OCD is a very sophisticated, rather ingenious way of dissociating*** is what I realized. Everything she was saying clicked. She said that people who are highly dissociative will say things like “I don’t feel human.” My eyes must have just about popped out of my head. My friend had said that countless times!!

Again, this was a conference about *Trauma.* I began to make connections between events in my friend’s childhood, that now with Dr. Dan Allender’s definition of trauma I could name as *Trauma* and see the connection with her OCD.

In all of her experiences seeking professional help, not one of them had suggested childhood trauma as the fertile ground for the seed of OCD to rise.  I don’t fault them because this is not what is taught.

It is a *FACT* that people with childhood trauma below the age of 4 years old have a hippocampus (the calming center that balances or overrides the amygdala- the danger center) that is 17-20% smaller than the general population. This is supporting evidence for my theory.

If infant and childhood trauma can change the brain in one way that researches have detected, and the intricacy of the brain is akin to the cosmos, doesn’t it make sense that other things about the brain’s networking are also affected?

Here is another premise about childhood trauma: Whether it occurs through childhood sexual abuse, parental divorce, addiction or violence in the home (verbal or physical) there is a common denominator of a severe deficit of attachment for the child.

The child, who has no ability to find resources outside of himself, will find internal mechanisms to bring down cortisol and increase dopamine and serotonin.

The book, How We Love our Kids, discusses 5 insecure attachment types in parents (Pleaser, Avoider, Vacillator, Controller and Victim Parents), the effect it has upon the children, and also how these attachment types will develop in growing children.

The chapter entitled, “Controller and Victim Children” opens with an example of a chaotic home in which there is alcohol addiction, verbal violence and fear. In this scenario there are two children, Clare and Caleb. Clare has a more timid disposition and becomes a “victim” in response to the trauma:

She grabbed her bear and wrapped herself in her bedspread, organizing all her other stuffed animals in a protective circle around her. The rest of the evening depended on Dad’s mood. Most likely her parents would fight, and her dad would yell at her mom. Clare’s stomach hurt. She wondered how bad it would be this time. She whispered to her bear, “If Daddy yells, we can put our heads under the pillow and sing. Nobody will find us.” She began to count her animals over and over to distract herself from the ticking time bomb beyond her bedroom door…”

The authors Milan and Kay Yerkovich explain:

This is a chaotic home. {Parents} Leon and Candi attend church, but their difficult upbringings have left scars. Behind their closed door, Mom and Dad switch back and forth between roles of victim and controller…

Since Clare’s personality is more timid, she deals by trying to comply, retreating, numbing her emotions, and creating an imaginary world. She’s learning to surrender, avoid conflict, and dissociate: the traits of a victim. 

Victims deal with high levels of anxiety by freezing and moving into an internal world to escape.

Kids reenact their trauma in play, trying to master and make sense of their experiences. Sometimes they assume the role of powerful perpetrator to feel some sense of relief over their helplessness.

My theory is that for many people, OCD was birthed through childhood trauma. A vast dissociative internal world was created, in which the child could feel safe and in control. Repetitive thoughts or actions became a way of alleviating anxiety. Later in adulthood, there is an aspect of recreating trauma within their mind, so that they can reenact the control and alleviation. OCD becomes an addiction that takes on a life of its own… the drug is the good feeling of mastering the obsession or fear and the alleviation of intense anxiety. It is an addiction to an interplay of control and victimization where roles are played out and conquered all in the individual’s mind.

The “intrusive” thoughts that are talked about in the professional and treatment realms are really not an “Outside Monster” as I once considered OCD to be. Instead, I believe the voice of OCD is an enemy within, akin to DID (dissociative identity disorder). A fragmented “self” that sabotages and becomes the “Controller”, allowing the person to have a target of self-contempt, a source of fear, for reenactment purposes, that can be escaped thus alleviating the fear and giving a sense of power to the previously powerless child within.

How can this addiction of OCD be treated? (Again, it is our theory that OCD is actually an addiction)

I believe that it can be treated through trauma resolution counseling… In which the underlying goal or purpose of the counselor is to create an attachment relationship for the person. In a sense, to re-parent the person through healthy attunement and containment (the two components of attachment).

It has been proven that the hippocampus will actually *grow* in the presence of a long term (3-4 years) relationship of healthy attunement.

I believe that CBT therapy doesn’t actually work. If it gives results for a time, I believe it’s because of the attunement of the therapist… if therapy only lasts a year or so, when it is over, I suspect the OCD will return.

Disclaimer: These are my thoughts that come from my experience with a loved one with OCD… I don’t claim to be a professional expert… These thoughts are my humble perspective, and I wanted to at least offer my ideas that are counter to main-stream approaches to OCD.

 

 

 

 

What about harming our own children?

After my last post, I realized that the material immediately begs this question- as we examine and come to understand the harm and brokenness in our families of origin that has shaped our own stories, what about our own children?  If you are brave enough to articulate the question- “How have I, or am I currently harming my own children? … Because just as my parents were not “pre-fall Adam and Eve”, neither are my husband and I!”

Ryan and I were fortunate to have a wise premarital counselor who told us: “You WILL harm your children. Your children WILL have issues specifically because YOU are their parents.”

I think that gave both of us a huge feeling of freedom as we set out in our young family. It was kind of like permission from the beginning to fail. We simply accepted brokenness as part of the picture, and realized that we weren’t going to build our lives around a facade…  We didn’t have to waste years of frustrated parenting efforts to be “perfect parents”… Instead we built a family culture of *reality, honesty, humility, repentance and forgiveness.”

So if you never had the benefit as we did of our wise counselor, I’m telling you now: “You WILL harm your children. Your children WILL have issues specifically because YOU are their parent.”

If you take this to heart, you may think- okay, then what next? start a savings account for my child’s future counseling?  (Actually, that IS a good idea- Dan Allender and his wife actually DID just that! *EVERYONE* needs counseling… only the brave and honest actually get it. As Ryan loves to say, “The people who say they don’t need it, are the really scary ones, and actually need it the most.)

I believe that given this premise, it is our responsibility to know our own stories, and to know our own woundedness. You will either parent out of your woundedness or out of wisdom… the only way to swing the balance (our woundedness will *never* be completely out of the picture) is to be growing in awareness… God designed us so radically for relationship, community and intimacy that we *CANNOT* grow on our own… we are dependent on others to grow in truth and faith. (supporting verses Ephesians 2:21, 4:16; Colossians 2:19; many in Proverbs)

The problem is… that *shame* and *pride* cause us to hide the broken and wounded parts of our hearts.  When we isolate our marriages and the reality of our family dynamics, insulating from any outside input or wisdom, Evil is bound to creep in, take root, and flourish.

Isaiah 30 speaks of our natural inclination to live in a false reality- either by distraction (*Social MEDIA*), dissociation (TV! Video games), addictions (PORN ), *Busyness* :

Isaiah says that these people, whom we are *just like* say: “speak to us smooth things,
    prophesy illusions.” (30:10) Like them, we don’t want to face the truth of sin and evil  working in our families- that we grew up in, or that we are raising.

But verse 15, gives us the source of *HOPE* and *JOY* in the midst of painful reality:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In repentance and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, 16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;

In coming to the Lord and each other in honesty and repentance there is healing, hope and joy- as this passage says- **REST**. Otherwise, if you keep covering up, you will always be running, *fleeing*… anxious, and exhausted, and still feeling so weighed down with guilt.  Is that what you want??  Maybe the pain of truth is worth it because at the end there is rest, quietness, trust… and the Lord Himself.

In my next post, I’ll get into some categories or starting places to look into your stories and how they are lived out in your communities and families.