Sweet Freedom

freedom in redAlison Dotson, president of OCD Twin Cities, and I were emailing recently about how sometimes we feel as if we say the same thing post after post, article after article, especially since they usually involve our own stories with OCD, and history doesn’t change.

But I reminded her that even if we’ve heard our stories over and over, someone else might be hearing it for the first time. Not to mention that sometimes those of us with OCD need to hear the truth multiple times before it is finally able to sink into our heads and hearts.

So here it is again:

I was in bondage to obsessive-compulsive disorder for twenty hellish years. I was plagued by ugly, intrusive thoughts that caused me intense anxiety and even terror. Many days I felt completely out of control of my own thoughts, and I hated the ugliness that polluted my mind. I was sad, lonely, depressed, lost, engaged in an ongoing war where the battlefield was my own brain.

And then an amazing psychiatrist named Dr. Suck Won Kim gave me not only a prescription but also the phone number to a cognitive-behavioral therapist in the area, along with the warning that ERP therapy “will be hell” and the encouragement that I had to do it anyway.

And I did. For twelve grueling weeks, I practiced the exposure therapy assignments set out by Dr. Christopher Donahue, and after twelve weeks of hell … I was free. Free for the first time since I was seven years old. I could barely even remember what freedom felt like, what it felt like to be master of my own thoughts, to rule over my OCD instead of having it rule me, and so it was actually a little scary at first.

But let me tell you: you get used to freedom, joy, and light pretty darn fast.

The last five years have been magnificent.

Please, please ask me questions if you have them.

For (lots!) more about OCD and ERP, go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD

Image credit: Jesus Solana

OCD, ERP, and Christianity

ocd and christianityI often hear from obsessive-compulsive Christians asking, “If my OCD is centered around my faith, will ERP still work even if my therapist is not a Christian?”

I’ve written elsewhere about how OCD is an arsonist, setting fires (obsessions) in our minds and how our compulsions are like shortsidedly trying to put out the fires instead of going for the arsonist directly.  You don’t need a Christian cognitive-behavioral therapist.  You just need someone who knows ERP and knows it well.  In other words, you need an OCD assassin.

If you are obsessing about the unforgivable sin or something else faith-related, you don’t need a great theologian to dialogue with you about it.  (In fact, chances are that you’ve already discussed this with all your Christian friends and maybe even a respected pastor.)  After that conversation with the theologian, you’re probably just going to start obsessing again, either about the same thing or something else.  You need someone who can take out the OCD, and yes, I mean “take out” in a sniper kind of way.

“But I’m worried that ERP is just going to cover up my real issues.  I don’t want to just forget about these things.  I want to solve them.”

First of all, you’re misunderstanding ERP.  It doesn’t sweep issues under a rug.  It’s not like you’re brainwashed into believing that life is now perfect.  Not at all!  It rewires your brain so that you can think the way “normal” people do– less circularly.

Secondly, you’re misunderstanding life and faith.  These things aren’t “solvable”– at least, not generally.  Sure, you might be the one person in a million who has God audibly speak to you one day– but probably not.  Life is full of uncertainty.  It’s a FACT.  And faith is about TRUSTING God even in uncertainty.

You need to get it out of your head that you will ever be rid of uncertainty in this life.

Back to the original question …

Your ERP therapist is not going to talk you through theological issues.  That’s not his/her job, and actually, it would be counterproductive to what ERP is all about.

If you can find an incredible cognitive-behavioral therapist who is also a follower of Christ, then yes, by all means, go to that person!  But if healing and health are your goals, then your first order of business is finding someone who knows how to do Exposure and Response Prevention.  You are looking for an OCD assassin, not someone to have tea and Bible study with.

Thoughts?  Further questions?


my darkest, lowest days

Tonight, I have been thinking about that deep, dark pit and the moments of my life when I was at the very bottom, nowhere lower to go and my head too heavy to look up.  I have been thinking about the things and places that remind me of those times.

You might guess that it was those months after college graduation, when I would wander from the laundry room to look over the balcony to the pool area two floors below and think about what would happen if I let myself fall.

Or maybe that it would be one of those evenings when I was wild-eyed and manic, scream-weeping in the bathroom while my roommate sat outside the door and prayed.

But when I think of myself at my lowest, I always picture myself in the Caribou Coffee in Long Lake, Minnesota.  I’d arrived to town too early to visit Orono High School, and so I stopped into Caribou off of Highway 12 (which has since been re-routed), ordered hot cocoa, and sat alone at a table.  In my car I had been listening to “Spirit” by the band Switchfoot, letting the chorus hammer into me that all I wanted was Jesus … exactly whom I believed I could not have.

Interestingly, the emotion that I seemed to feel the most was this odd, lonely marvel.  Don’t get me wrong– it was not good, as marvel usually is.  It was this dark, lost, inconceivable wonder that I could be so damned and that there was nothing I could do about it.  I sipped at my cocoa, thinking how there was no joy left available to me, no rescue coming, no prayer I could whisper to make things okay again.  A marvel and a sort of understanding washing over me that this was my reality and there was no way out.


For years, I could not listen to that song (which truly is a lovely one!) without feeling a stale depression steal over me.  To this day, when I drive by that Caribou, I think to that dark day.  Nothing impressive or strange or particularly triggering had occurred, but it is my lowest, loneliest moment of my life.

I could not have pulled myself out of that pit.  I didn’t even have the strength to lift my eyes.

(Oh gosh, I’m going to start being known as That Girl Who Cries in Barnes & Noble, LOL!)

Jesus Christ rescued me.  He led me to the right medication and the right therapy and carried me out of the pit himself.

In the past couple of weeks, I have gotten several emails from fellow obsessive-compulsives who are in that same pit.  I write this post to say that there is hope– and it’s not in ourselves.