The trick to getting your compulsions under control and enjoy the success you deserve
Okay. So I got your attention with a clickbait headline. Here’s the bad news: You probably can’t. Completely, at any rate.
Because whatever is driving your compulsion (drinking, drugs, smoking, exercise, eating disorders, pick your poison) is very very deep, and likely to be your handmaiden for life.
Here’s the good news: You can indeed redirect to far more positive, healthy and productive activities. You are likely to still be compulsive about them, but you won’t die young, starve yourself, end up on life support and/or generally piss off every human being who comes near you.
Sound like a plan?
Let’s get started.
First, what is an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder?
From the article:
The symptoms of OCPD include:
- perfectionism to the point that it impairs the ability to finish tasks
- stiff, formal, or rigid mannerisms
- being extremely frugal with money
- an overwhelming need to be punctual
- extreme attention to detail
- excessive devotion to work at the expense of family or social relationships
- hoarding worn or useless items
- an inability to share or delegate work because of a fear it won’t be done right
- a fixation with lists
- a rigid adherence to rules and regulations
- an overwhelming need for order
- a sense of righteousness about the way things should be done
- a rigid adherence to moral and ethical codes
I can’t speak for you but reading this list was like having someone go through my underwear drawer.
It’s also a great deal like reading most Medium self-help articles, but I digress.
Like I said. Well, SHIT.
That just described much of my life.
I might note that if you look at the characteristics of an Adult Child of an Alcoholic, there’s a striking similarity:
- Guess at what normal behavior is
- Have difficulty following a project through from beginning to end
- Lie when it would be just as easy to tell the truth
- Judge themselves without mercy
- Have difficulty having fun
- Take themselves very seriously
- Have difficulty with intimate relationships
- Overreact to changes over which they have no control
- Constantly seek approval and affirmation
- Feel that they’re different from other people
- Are super responsible or super irresponsible
- Are extremely loyal, even in the face of evidence that the loyalty is undeserved
- Are impulsive — They tend to lock themselves into a course of action without giving serious consideration to alternative behaviors or possible consequences. This impulsively leads to confusion, self-loathing, and loss of control over their environment. In addition, they spend an excessive amount of energy cleaning up the mess.
First, and I dunno about you, what also strikes me is that not only do both of these lists seem to describe me, but pretty much everyone I know.
HM. There’s something to that.
Kindly, if I may, damned near every How To article on Medium seeks to address any or all the above without going to the source. You don’t go to the source, it’s like taking an aspirin for cancer that’s rotting your insides.
That said, there is a pretty good argument that first, too many of us are kids of stunted parents, and given the stresses of our times (and opioids, and inability to pay the rent, and living with our parents at sixty) it’s going to become even more widespread.
You may not see the humor in this. I do. Therein likes the key to freedom.
Stay with me here.
Whether you are the Prime Offender or the kid of a Prime Offender, this is our society. I might offer that the above underscores the behavior we see online, in our institutions at the ballot box and in my case, dear god, in our relationships. My ex is woven all through these two lists, as am I.
He would deny all of it. Again, therein lies the problem. The inability to see that the behaviors are dysfunctional is the precise reason that they do so much damage. Kindly, my hand is up here. Self-righteousness and the inability to see our shit absolutely, positively guarantees that you cannot do anything about renegotiating better terms with your OCDs.
Why do I know about this subject? I’ve had OCDs my entire life. They have ranged from eating disorders, a terrific shopping Jones, over-exercising, compulsive lying, compulsive smoking, compulsive eating, hoarding, being a workaholic, compulsive sex (most men would consider this a virtue but I digress). It’s a bloody wonder I am still upright. I should have been dead by thirty.
I still have OCDs at nearly 67. And yet, I keep getting these emails from lovely Medium peeps who say they admire me, have a girl crush (back at you both, thank you). WTF, man.
So clearly I’ve done something, or some things, that most folks who live with OCDs haven’t yet learned how to do.
Still with me? We’re getting there.
Now: first, while I’ve studied psychology my whole life, I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist or doctor of any kind. I am writing what I know, and my experience. Please read this through that lens. Here’s the brick and mortar foundation for an OCD:
The way I see it, when you and I develop an OCD, it’s a stress response. Whether you’re washing your hands or picking hangnails (my first), you’re dispersing energy. I attacked my fingers to help me release stresses that I felt at home. It was one of the only ways I could express anxiety about my brother’s sexual transgressions before I turned thirteen.
Some kids cut themselves. These days most of those same anxious-with-good-reason kids go online, and that becomes a massive addiction. Most of us, especially long, long before we acquire competent coping techniques (and most never do, kindly, witness our parents) develop a habit, ANY habit, which allows us to distract ourselves from overwhelming feelings.
That, in a nutshell, is the whole point. We cannot deal with the tsunami wave of the feelings. We find ways to toss the energies off. Otherwise we are utterly underwater with grief, anger, sadness, worthlessness, all those cankered growths in the garden of our consciousness. Those are the source.
Problem is that the source continues to generate those energies. Worse, because we aren’t dealing with them, the damned things mate and have more. Or, like the monster Samael in the original Hellboy movie, each time you think you’ve slain the motherfucker, two more rise in its place.
Sure happened to me.
Here’s how that looked:
When I was nineteen, I was smoking five packs a day. I quit.
That lead to compulsive eating. I got fat.
Then that morphed into extreme exercising. I got thin again, and unfortunately became a target for more assaults.
After sexual assaults, I added anorexia and bulimia to the stew.
I got skinny and almost died in the process.
I lied to everyone about eating disorders. At great cost.
Then I added a shopping Jones, because finally I was skinny enough to wear a size 2. I ended up filling a five-bedroom house with thousands of pieces of clothing I never wore, 250 pairs of boots and shoes, and hundreds of accessories that never saw the light of day.
I worked 90 hour, thankless weeks. Week after week year after year.
Then… well. You get it.
We’re shape-shifters in this regard.
Case in point:
My cousin married a cocaine addict. He cleaned up and became a Jehovah’s witness. Just as addicted, and more insidious, because he dragged his toddlers into damned dangerous Miami neighborhoods, prosletyzing about Jesus. He’s damned lucky his kids didn’t eat a bullet.
You get my meaning.That’s no different than my quitting smoking and then going straight to overeating, then going to overexercising ad nauseum.
It just morphs into The Next Thing. You can, as did I, as did my cousin’s ex, feel fucking self-righteous about how NOW I’M FIXED.
I read those articles on Medium, too. I might posit, since I know what I’m seeing because it’s what I do, have done and still do, that we’re all in the tight grip of our fixes. While we claimed to be fixed and have the fix for YOUR fix.
NO. You’re not fixed. All you did was direct the same compulsive energy to something else. And you can’t see it any better than I could. That’s what makes this so very hard to renegotiate. It’s a constantly moving target.
Which is why there are so many idiots out there just as compulsive about mindfulness (see the insanity?)as they ever were about endurance running.Or serial dating. Or whatever.
And there’s the magic.
You can redirect.
Not all can.
My father, an alcoholic, was far more determined to deny his addiction than work with it. He died arguing that he didn’t drink too much.
My brother, beset with alcoholism and drug abuse, understood his issue but was unable to redirect. He committed suicide at 62.
You and I both know plenty of folks who are just like this. One of them might peering back at us in the bathroom mirror.
Finally. Here we are. What to do. (Took me long enough)
The bad news: it’s hard fucking work.
The REALLY good news: it’s worth it and will completely change your life.
As you write your resolutions- or avoid them, as the case may be- or pen the same damned ones like I did for forty years (THIS YEAR I quit the eating disorders for GOOD) let me suggest something.
This isn’t a cure. It is, however, a way to cope. OH good, now I can feed my compulsion to make lists (see above):
- First and most critically, understand that you have an OCD, whether it’s work or food or being online. If it impedes, interrupts or damages your relationships, and you can’t live any semblance of a normal life, you have an OCD. Nobody CARES that you can’t see it. My ex is forever looking for the Next Girl because women are done with the excuses of well, I gotta work. He’s avoiding emotional intimacy, and one of the ways he does it is hide behind his computer screen. Own it. Or forever be owned by it (or them).
- Get a fucking sense of humor about what you do. My ex, my father, my brother and nearly the entire goddamned United States of Assholes have no goddamned sense of humor about their OCDs. Which is, of course, why they persist. You get a sense of humor about the stupid shit you and I do, and you just got the single most powerful redirect weapon in the Universe. To wit: when I started making fun of my chompers (the teeth that come out at night) instead of being mortified, that no longer owned me. With the exception of the ex, whom I had reason to distrust, most everyone knows full well I have the Bitter Beer Face. It’s one of my favorite jokes. I OWN that as a result. You see my point. How can you own what currently owns you?
- Cast around for something else where you can redirect your energies. Something that a) you love and b) won’t kill you off young and c) will reap positive benefits.
- Repeat 2, because you have an OCD.
- Repeat 3, because you have an OCD.
- Repeat 4…..okay you get the point. Make it funny, god damn it.
- Okay let’s get down to business. Redirect. Here’s what I did. First, and I highly recommend this, I found coaches. This is not a job to do alone. Most of us can’t. Second, I engaged in some very deep personal work. That opened the door to seeing what I did. Finding the forgiveness in my humanness. Being able to see that not only was I not alone, dear Christ, I am so garden variety that it’s embarrassing. Lotta comfort in that. Third, I started finding things that I loved doing and that fed my heart, my soul and my funny bone.
- Those things were (are) for me: Writing, which I love. Which makes me money. Adventure travel, which I love, which not only feeds my soul, but also demands that I stay in shape, and by the way, also helps me earn a living. Because the more I get out there and live, the better my stories, the better I write. Exercise, which I love, which supports my adventure travel,which supports my work, keeps me in shape, and will in all ways extend my life. Finally, Finding my Funny. I will admit that my warped sense of the absurd has pissed off plenty of folks (including the ex, which is why he’s an ex among other reasons) that ability has lifted me above the sewage of self-pity and struggle porn. That’s the single most powerful muscle in my quiver. Because I find my bullshit and my issues a source of comedy, they do not own, control, damage or deny me my joy. And oh, by the way, being funny makes me a better writer, speaker, person.
You will note that while I am compulsive (damned right) about all four of these things, each one is vastly more healthy than my previous OCDs. Each one supports the other. I am fed financially, emotionally, and physically by all four. Over time I have learned to better moderate, but not control, my OCDS.
They work for me. They are my handmaidens for life, but now I am using them to live more fully. They no longer bleed the lifeblood out of me.
The cosmic joke is that I find the ability to harness my chariot to the very things that previously damned near cost me my life even funnier.
So if I may. Before you, in all your earnestness, write down that THIS year I get to the gym, THIS year I start my novel, THIS year I lose weight, please. First, smile. You will secrete endorphins. That’s a nice little drug boost.
Then look at what you do to sabotage yourself. Hint: possible OCD. If in fact you find one (or more) lurking in your inner world, time to put a lasso around that mofo and hook him up to carry you forward. How can you redirect that energy into something that you love, that moves your life, that makes you happier? What’s an alternative way to dissipate that energy?
And as with all unruly demons, they do get out of their traces once in a while. Over the last few days. I have written so damned many Medium articles that I finally had to ask what I was avoiding.
Yep. (I surrender. I’m writing that deadlined article today. Honestly.)
And that leads me to this. When I finally began to redirect, I also began the sweet, slow process of learning how to sit with my intense emotions. I adopted Buddhism, and that work has gone a long way to soothe my anxious, troubled source. These days I am better- sort of- at being able to sit on the shores of my emotional rivers and watch pain, joy, anger, resentment, whatever, rise.
Of course, since I have cracked my coconut 21 times from my adventure travel Jones, it’s not as easy to manage my emotions, but that becomes part of the Cosmic Joke.
See how it all works?
There is no fix. There is no getting There. There is no…..
There is learning to love the journey, laugh along the way. We all do this shit. That’s part of what makes it funny. That’s also part of what makes it manageable.
Where do you want to go today? Well, for me, stop compulsively writing Medium articles and pen the piece that really pays money for my editor. Sit that thing DOWN and do it. And have a good giggle about the stupid shit I do.
So final question just to get you started: are you compulsively writing Medium articles (like me, for now) to avoid being in life?
Right now I am. Which is why I’m stopping.
As Ann Litts says, Namaste.