Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mayonnaise and Acceptance

I'd rather never eat mayonnaise. When I was young one of my teachers warned the class about picnics, mayonnaise, and food poisoning. My OCD was a special force in my life by then. After that comment I did avoid it completely, and even tried not to think about it. If mayonnaise ended up on my plate, the meal was over, sometimes before the first bite.

I've been able to extinguish a lot of my obsessions through intensive cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) / exposure and response prevention (ERP) and the use of medication. Many previously "charged" foods no longer give me pause. However, some linger. Mayo is one of them. I doubt it will ever be a neutral food for me. I do eat it, but I don't like to, and it is always an effort.

While on this trip to visit my family we stopped to pick up groceries. Cole slaw and potato salad were on the list. Somehow, one bag did not make it from the car into the house. It had to be that one! The cole slaw and potato salad stayed in the hot car for 2 hours before their discovery. As part of my recovery, I try not to throw out food because of a "bad feeling". The containers were sweating condensation, but still felt cool to the touch. I dutifully put them in the refrigerator and went about my business. The next day, my mom put some on her plate, only to find the first forkful disgusting. It had gone bad.

Wow! I got so close to food poisoning. I actually put bad food into the fridge. And yet, even without my vigilance, no one got sick. I do consider it a "near miss" because sometimes bad mayo cannot be detected. I know there is an OCD victory here because none of this made me anxious. However, I am also aware that now I am not going to eat cole slaw or potato salad for a while. So it is a step back. In the grand scheme of life, it isn't such a big deal. But I do need to be careful not to let this grow. My avoidance sometimes spreads out like an expanding stain leaving me less to eat that feels safe.

I think the best way to deal with this is to limit my avoidance to just mayo salads in stores and restaurants. I will also remember that this is my OCD and there is nothing actually wrong with these salads. People are eating them everyday with no ill effects. When I am ready I may expose myself and try it again. But for now, I am just going to accept that this is where I am today.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Fear of Flying

I am flying 2000 miles tomorrow with my partner and my children to visit my family for 10 days.
These days every time I fly it is a reminder how far I've come with my disease. I had a horrible fear of flying for many years. I approached each flight as if it were destined to crash. Every landing felt like I had just escaped death. Do all OCD'ers have a fear of flying?

Five months after my breakdown in 2002 I took a trip to Las Vegas to visit my sister. I was on zyprexa and other meds at the time. It was the best I'd ever been. I did have to make a conscious decision to let go of the fear. The old habit was there. The one that said that worrying would keep the plane in flight. It felt risky and dangerous to stop being afraid. Mischievous and reckless to just fly and enjoy it. But, in my commitment to recovery, I surrendered and dared the plane to crash.

I've flown many times since then. Each success feeds the next. I am always a bit nervous. I do tip my hat to God. I acknowledge that I have no business hanging around in the clouds. And then I just do it, come what may. Writing this is making me nervous, as if by typing the words I am tempting fate. Traveling is full of unknowns and lack of control. Sometimes, living is tough, even when it is good.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Raw Physiology

One of the side effects of my OCD coming under control (through meds and ERP) is that my drinking got out of control. It is more complex than that. But, without some of my OCD fears, I was able to take more risks. My OCD thoughts had curbed my drinking. During the hard OCD years I was terrified of putting anything into my body. Even eating was a challenge because I was worried that it was spoiled, or poisoned. I was hypersensitive to any bodily changes or sensations. The warmth of alcohol was more than I could tolerate. For a few years I didn't drink at all.

When I was able to drink, I did so with gusto. After my downward spiral with alcohol was complete, I was ready to quit. Then life got interesting. Without alcohol, I started to discover my 'raw physiology'. It has been a ride.

I drank to quiet myself, to stop a burning flame dancing inside me. It is a flame of energy, creativity, motion, and connection. I am experiencing it now, which is how I even got this blog going. But, there's an uncomfortable side to it, an agitation. It would be nice if it came with a key like a kerosene lantern, so I could turn it down just a tad. I wish I could keep the creativity, the productivity and the confidence, but douse the agitation, distraction, and restlessness. There is no key. It's just me. Me and my raw physiology.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Choosing Anonymity

I blog elsewhere under my name. I write about art, life, and healing. Sometimes I mention my OCD and alcoholism in my blog or when talking with people. Being able to be honest about who I am, and about my life is part of my healing process. Sometimes, it is relevant and I don't want to edit it out, as a shameful secret. It isn't shameful. My recovery from these incurable illnesses is something to share not hide. Gloria Steinem, the feminist, once responded to the comment, "You don't look 50 years old" with "This is what 50 looks like." It was an era when women did not tell their ages. People have wrong ideas about mental illness and addiction. Most of us are out there living successfully in the world - raising children, thriving in the work place, and maintaining loving relationships, despite our challenges. The stigma of these illnesses is a vestige of the shame and ignorance that has surrounded them. Although I don't advertise, when it is the right time to share, I do, because, like Gloria Steinem, I look pretty good. I want people to know that, "This is what OCD and alcoholism look like."

So why the anonymity here? One reason is that in order to stop drinking and heal the wounds that led to my alcoholism, I became a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. The anonymity of AA is based on humility, not shame. I find that when I start making exceptions for myself, such as "that's good for the others, but I don't need anonymity," I am taking a step backward in my recovery.

The other reason for anonymity comes from the wonderful OCD blogging community I've been following. I want to be part of the conversation and share about the nitty gritty of life with OCD. That is not for sissies. I kid, but seriously, it isn't really appropriate for the audiences of my other blogs. Plus I may be looking for a job someday. Some of our OCD thinking is pretty distorted. Not the kind of thing the bosses need to know.