Typically, “recovery” is used as a catch-all phrase used to describe a state of well-being. But the definition of recovery will likely vary from individual to individual. Personally, I like the idea of recapturing something that was once stolen; that is how I view the process of recovery.
For me, recovery from OCD is a challenge every day that I take on to not allow mental illness to control my life. I see recovery as a process, not something linear, and not something you “achieve.” It is something that has no end. It is today, it is now. It is choosing every day to live in the here and now. It is facing the fears that held me back for so long.
Freeing myself from the prison in my mind
I knew I was living in recovery when it was less painful to talk about my experience. Recovery started to happen when I realized that I was not alone and that my story had the power to help others. I knew I had turned a corner when I no longer needed other people to reassure me. When I no longer feared doing things on my own. I developed confidence in the tools and information I had learned in treatment and could carry it into real-life situations.
For me, recovery was choosing to live a life that moved me towards my values. It was not basing my decisions on fears or feelings, but rather on what I knew deep down to be true. It was letting go of insecurity and doubt as much as possible and accepting things, as they were and as they are—including the “even ifs” and the “what ifs.” It was moving forward with passion and purpose towards greater goals. It was not allowing myself to be stuck in time, stuck in an endless cycle of intrusive thoughts and compulsions. It was about no longer fearing my future and all that could possibly go wrong. Instead, I would embrace all that could possibly go right.
When I was in my worst state with OCD, I had built a prison in my mind; a place of my own personal torment. I knew I couldn’t stay there, even if it was scary and uncomfortable to break out. I didn’t belong there. I knew I was recovering when I started to step outside of that cell. Recovery wasn’t one choice, it was a series of choices that I made and continue to make. It was and is not easy, or without setbacks and moments of despair. But it was my journey.
Slowly but surely, I began to see the light of day again. I had lived so long with a dark cloud hovering over me—the dark cloud of OCD. This disorder that had been present for as long as I could remember had taken so much from me. I made the decision that it would not take up more space in my life, as it had for so long. I would no longer use all of my energy to simply co-exist with it.
Getting angry enough to make a change
The truth was that this condition had been in the driver’s seat for far too long, and I was an unwilling passenger. I chose to start OCD treatment and began to use all of the skills I learned. I used these tools in spite of how I felt on any given day. I decided that it didn’t matter what I felt like, that what mattered is how I acted.
When I was anxious, I would still take the actions that I needed to, to live my life without OCD dictating my every move. When I had intrusive thoughts plaguing me, I would still move my life toward my values and do the things I wanted to do. I would refuse to engage in compulsions as much as I could. There were times I gave in, of course, but the majority of the time I stayed on course. Not because I am special, but because I had had enough. I was angry. I was angry at OCD for its lies, its callousness, and its utter disregard for my life.
This truly was the turning point: I was angry enough to change. I have always heard it said that you must become uncomfortable to create any sort of changes in your life. I felt that on such a deep level. OCD had become intolerable. By nature, I am one of the most easy-going, patient people you will likely ever meet. But over the years of becoming more and more debilitated by this disorder, I had just had enough. I had tried so many things, to little avail.
I felt the last chance I had to overcome this disorder was to put in the hard work of exposure and response prevention (ERP). I would need to do the difficult work of facing my fears head-on and without safety nets. It took time, and there were moments when I felt like I would never get better. But I did, and I continue to.
I choose to take from the experiences in my life what I can. Yes, there are a lot of negative impacts that OCD has had on my life. At the same time, I know that having this condition has changed me, at times for the better. I am a more conscientious person, and I am more empathetic towards anyone who suffers.
Recovery for me means it’s okay to look at the past and what I have learned along the way, without stopping and staring. I don’t need to be stuck there. I can move forward, I can step away from being just the girl who had severe OCD for her entire life. We are not just the sum of the things that we struggle with. Being able to separate these things is an important part of the recovery experience.
Living in recovery
How do you know you are in recovery? You are angry, you are mad at all that this illness tried to take from you. At the same time, you are no longer willing to put up with it and you are choosing to do something differently. You have become so uncomfortable that you know something has to change. Change comes through discomfort.
Remember that recovery doesn’t mean you always have the OCD under control, it means that you have the skills to reel it in for those inevitable times it tries to get out of control. You know you are living in recovery when OCD no longer consumes your every waking moment. When you can look forward to things again, you are in recovery. When you can enjoy small moments and be present, you are in recovery. If you can allow feelings of doubt and uncertainty without needing to know, you are in recovery. When you no longer need to do endless rituals and compulsions to feel safe, you are in recovery. When you find yourself lost in thoughts that are actually things you want to be thinking about, that’s when you know you are in recovery. When you no longer feel guilt for things you cannot control, when shame no longer whispers in your ear, when you recognize you are not your thoughts—you are in recovery.
Recovery isn’t a destination for me; I am in recovery. I live with a condition called OCD, and I have to treat it as a lifelong disorder. As of today, at this moment, I have this disorder. But it no longer has me. It no longer envelops my entire life.
Your recovery journey
Please know that everyone has their own journey in this life. If you have OCD, then your journey may look similar to mine, but it may not. Whatever your path is, it is possible to get to a state where OCD is not in full control of your life. If you’re ready to start your own recovery journey, we can help. Our licensed therapists at NOCD deeply understand OCD and are specialty-trained in treating OCD with ERP. We work side-by-side with the OCD experts and researchers who designed some of the world’s top OCD treatment programs – and that means the best care for our members. You can book a free 15-minute call with our team to get matched with one and get started with OCD treatment.
If you are on your OCD recovery journey already, you can help, too, by sharing your story with our community. Our stories have the power to help others, as many people still feel all alone with this disorder. Many haven’t heard of anyone else who experiences what they do. Knowing that others have gone through similar struggles can be eye-opening and even life-changing. For more information or to submit your story, please visit My OCD Journey. I would love to hear about your journey.