A Metaphor for Obsessive-Compulsives

A new friend came over to my apartment the other week, and we got to talking about Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) therapy, and I shared a metaphor with her that I’d like to share with you now.

We put out fires, but what we need to do is shoot the arsonist.


The problem with attempting to “solve” an OC’s obsession is that, as soon as it’s solved, a new obsession will take its place.  In that way, you’re only putting out fires, not dealing with the root issue, which is an inability to handle uncertainty.  For years and years, I watched my obsessions hop from one thing to the next.  My compulsions– and even my talk therapy sometimes– were shortsightedly stamping out the flames in one corner of my mind while OCD set a new fire in another corner.

How can you possibly manage to keep up that way?  It’s not sustainable.

That’s why I agree with so many of the OCD experts in this country that the best way to fight OCD is with Exposure and Response Prevention therapy.  ERP is so very different from most standard therapies.  In it, obsessive-compulsives are exposed to a trigger that prompts in them deep anxiety; then they are not allowed to respond with an anxiety-easing compulsion.  Instead, they are forced to sit in that discomfort.  Doing this repeatedly actually re-wires the obsessive-compulsive’s brain in a way that they learn to live with uncertainty and their quality of life improves dramatically.

It’s been four years since I turned my attention from the bonfires to the disorder that was setting them.

It’s been a good four years.

19 thoughts on “A Metaphor for Obsessive-Compulsives

  1. Hey Jackie! I just started my own blog as I go through ERP, hopefully with the goal in mind so that others can benefit from my suffering through OCD. Since you said you started four years ago, did you ever reach a point where you finished medium-level exposures and felt that you had reached a plateau before you could do hard-level exposures? I’m in that divide right now and was just wondering if you had experienced this. Check out my blog too–ocdtothenthdegree.blogspot.com–I’m really trying to develop a network as I’m new to blogging.

  2. When you did get healthy was it weird? Feeling like it was “just that simple”? Did you have to forgive yourself for not getting help sooner once you were healthy?


    • It WAS weird, yes, and in some ways it felt simple but in others, well, ERP was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I didn’t beat myself up for not doing it any sooner. I think the timing was just right; I had to get to a point where I was so low that I was willing to go through ERP to climb out.

      I wrote a poem about my healing:

      seems so vague and transient and distracted,
      as if you could catch it chewing its nails
      or sitting exhausted on the winner’s podium,
      weary legs dangling before the number one.
      Where is the magical trip across a definitive line,
      the diploma, signed and dated and official,
      the raw victory cry from the top of a mountain?
      I had always dreamed that rescue would be shiny,
      but a dull dime is still worth ten cents.

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