Scrupulosity: When the Parts Bring a Suitcase

The core issue for me is trauma. The core process is integration.

Thanks for coming along on this road. I have a new dirt bike for you to try out.

As I integrate, I periodically discover new challenges. Katey had some problems with codependence. Sam* (not his real name) is transgendered. Lana has OCD.

It’s fun.

It’s not quite the same thing as all of me having the same problem. Only part of me does. It’s a part-time problem.

But as I integrate, then it’s a full-time problem. And that requires I deal with it and instead of, you know, just saying it’s not my problem. Like I have been the whole rest of my life. Because it wasn’t.

It was Katey’s problem that I kept getting my heart broken.

It was Sam’s problem I couldn’t figure out who I was.

It was Lana’s problem that I had to do everything right. All the time.

Descent to Hell. Duccio Buoninsegna.
Descent to Hell. Duccio Buoninsegna.

No, it isn’t. It’s my problem. They are all my problems. So, one by one, I have addressed them. I worked through the codependent workbooks. I explored my gender and came to terms with it. Now, it’s time to stop thinking that numbers are magic and that I need to be perfect.

You can see from my posts that I’ve been working up to this. First, comes admitting the problem. Then comes confronting the distorted thinking. And now it’s time.

It is very much time.

The OCD we’re dealing with is scrupulosity. The core fear is that I will burn in hell. Oh, and barring that, dying in a car crash, developing a terminal illness, or being struck by lightning. But basically it comes down to hell. They say it’s important to know this.

So that is step three.

The weirdness of this is that, of course, most of me does not even believe in hell. So I’m afraid of something I don’t believe in. But Lana does, and it is her problem. And Lana is me. So it is also my problem.

I know what triggered it all. When I was growing up, they told us to be careful of our thoughts, our ministers did. They may have, in fact, quoted Mahatma Gandhi without telling us they were. They did stuff like that a lot.

“Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words. Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions. Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits. Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values. Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.” Mahatma Gandhi.

They may have quoted Proverbs. They did that sometimes too.

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Proverbs 4:23.

They may have done both. And they also told us that God wanted us to keep our hearts pure, our minds pure. They told us again and again that our thoughts become reality.

And, as I told you last week, they don’t. Thoughts are just that: thoughts.

But I didn’t know that. They were in charge. They had a direct line to God. These people would know.

So I believed them. And I tried to keep my thoughts pure.

Meanwhile, I had flashbacks. I had all manner of disgusting, terrifying, violent intrusive thoughts. Because, you know, people were raping me regularly and throwing chairs. They were scaring the hell out of me. I may have been angry as well. It wouldn’t be uncommon, or difficult to understand, if I also had thoughts about these people dropping suddenly dead. You could understand if, from time to time, I did not wish them well.

So I did not have pure thoughts.

And they told us too that we should be perfect, that God demands a perfect sacrifice. That we should try to be without blemish, like Jesus. We should strive to emulate Jesus, our pattern, and be the perfect lamb of God.

I know this is crazy, but forgiveness did not come into it. They may have talked about washing away sins too. But logic was not a strong point.

They scared the hell out of me.

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On Optimism, Phobias, and the Continued Presence of a Heartbeat

So the upside of having been severely abused as a kid is that the kinds of things I’m afraid of are pretty severe. Which makes them a little easier to manage.

Heaven help the person who worries about facing disapproval. If you’re worried about that, I can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel for you. Someone will disapprove of you. Pretty much all the time. For whatever you let someone disapprove of you over. There is no hope.

What I’m really worried about is death.

Still not flatlining...
Still not flatlining…

Every time I do something that scares me, I can look around afterwards and see that I continue to not be dead.

So, I was optimistic yesterday about a job interview. I don’t know if the interview went well or badly. I won’t know for a week and a half if I even made it through to the next stage of interviews, but I can see very clearly that I am very distinctly and definitely not dead. It’s quite a relief. And also rather invigorating.

And maybe, just maybe, that means I can try optimism again.

I think I might try it just for the fun of it. Just because. Just as a way of saying “screw you” to my parents and their weird little culty church. You know, kind of like thumbing my nose at them. Watch me think optimistic thoughts. Watch how “proud” I can be and how much I can “take my own way.” Just watch me…

I know people say positive thinking brings positive things into our lives. I’m not so sure. I tend to think that’s something we like to believe because it makes life seem more predictable and manageable for us. It gives us a pleasant sense of control when we think our thoughts can make things happen.

So, I’m suspicious. I’m actually suspicious of everything that makes us feel more comfortable, because I know the selling point for my parents about their weird little culty church was how comfortable and secure it made them feel to believe they knew the truth. Comfort is seductive. I don’t like that.

But whether it’s true or not, I can tell you that optimism is more fun.

And, so far, I haven’t died of it.

Optimism

I'm not telling you where the job is, but it's not here. Photo credit: Lonely Planet
I’m not telling you where the job is, but it’s not here. Photo credit: Lonely Planet

I have a job interview tomorrow. It’s for a job I really, really, really want. I mean, really want.

Ok, I think I made that clear.

I think I have it in the bag. When I read the description they had up on a web page of their ideal candidate, it had my name on it.

Not really. But they could have. It was that close to what I have to offer.

I have a reference letter so beautifully written I would hire myself. And I’m pretty selective (and cynical) in reading these things.

They place 40-50 candidates a year. I have no idea how many people apply for those positions, but I doubt it’s in the thousands.

I’m in a state.

I should probably explain. Children who grow up in religious cults tend to develop all kinds of bizarre phobias. Ordinary abuse can do that too. Ritual abuse certainly does.

Dead sea salt. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.
This could be me by this time tomorrow. (Dead sea salt. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.)

I have it coming at me from three different ways.

And just as I was afraid of writing and afraid of cleaning house, I’m afraid of thinking the future might be bright.

At first glance, you might think I’m worried about being disappointed. Not so much. I’ve been disappointed before. Let me tell you, I’ve been disappointed. Disappointment isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you.

No, I’m afraid God will snatch the thing I want away because I am having confident, optimistic thoughts about it. I’m being proud. I will be punished. I might be struck down. I could be hit by a car. I could be struck by lightning. I could turn into a pillar of salt.

But it’s clear bad things will happen. Very bad things.

Trust

“You have a hard time trusting.”

Heard that before? It’s kind of a dumb thing to say. Sort of like, “The sky is blue,” or “Things fall if you drop them.”

Duh.

It’s just a statement. Is there anything in particular I was ever supposed to do about it? Was there anything you were expected to do?

Trust through an effort of will? Let go of your own capacity to reason and judge and submit to someone else’s?

I’m not really sure.

But I do know what I have done about it.

Done things anyway. And learned to live with the fear of uncertainty.

I don’t know what will work and what won’t. I can protect myself from some kinds of harm, but not all kinds. I don’t know what the future holds or what impact my actions will have on it. Not really. I don’t know that it will always be good. Sometimes it hasn’t been. Sometimes it won’t be.

But you can play everything as safe as you can in life. And things will still go wrong. You can still be struck by a car walking down the street. You can still develop untreatable cancer. Your spouse can still leave you or cheat on you without having the guts to leave first. Your best friend can still betray you.

You can go on living anyway.

Tackling More Fears

Last weekend, I tackled cleaning house. Today, I’m thinking about writing.

They are the two activities that seem to frighten me the most, after taking a shower. And I think I’ve finally gotten the shower thing under control.

My mind is a funny place. Maybe all minds are, but I would hate to speak for your mind if that weren’t true. What’s funny about it is how literal it is. I seem to have grown up in a culture that expected metaphor and “deeper” meanings. But the shower scares me because I don’t want to be six and have to give a man a blow-job in there. Cleaning scares me because I don’t want things thrown at me while I’m doing it. And writing scares me for very similar reasons. It’s not really all that complicated. It’s not deep or metaphorical at all.

You might expect writing to scare me because I am afraid I will fail at it, or I think people won’t like what I write.

Perhaps all I needed was a brief knot-tying tutorial.
Perhaps all I needed was a brief knot-tying tutorial.

Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but I have failed at a lot of things before. You have no idea how many times I failed at tying my shoe. I still have scars from falling down and skinning my knees. As a runner, I was an utter failure. Walking didn’t always go well for me either. (I had the broken arm to prove it, when I tripped in a “walking race” in second grade. I lived through that. I can live through a blank page. I can even live through 200 pages of absolute crap.

And as far as what everyone thinks? It’s nice, of course, to be liked. It’s nice to be thought well of. But let’s be real for a second here. I don’t like everyone else out there either. Why should everyone like me?

No, my fear of writing is entirely about a fear of physical assault.

My mother had two obsessions when I was growing up: cleaning house and reading (which later became writing). More specifically, that I should be cleaning and not reading (or writing).

It’s not that the house had to be clean. It wasn’t. It was, in fact, a total disaster most of the time. It was about controlling my time. She was obsessed with my cleaning. If she was unhappy about something, it was probably because I hadn’t cleaned the bathroom. Or taken out the trash.

A good book takes you out of reach.
A good book takes you out of reach.

If I didn’t allow her to control my time, I didn’t love her. And that led to screaming, and then throwing things, and sometimes real physical violence. Or suicide. The reaction looked like this: You didn’t clean the house -> You don’t love me -> I should die.

Of course, there was a deeper problem. There is some degree of depth and metaphor here. I won’t deny all of it. Cleaning represented my enslavement and the extent to which I was merely an object used to accomplish tasks–either domestic work or prostitution. In a sense, there was no real difference between them. My parents simply had different ends to which they preferred to use me. But use me they did.

So, I actually spent more time trying not to clean than actually clean. But either way things got thrown at my head.

It may be harder to see what she had against my reading and writing. She actually started it all: reading to my sister and me at night, taking us to the library every week for years and years, keeping books by the dozen all around the house. But what I did was different. Non-sanctioned. Rebellious even. It had to be stopped.

Because if I was lost in a good book or writing a really great scene in a story (according to me, at least), then I obviously had a life and mind of my own. I was more than just an object if I had thoughts worth writing down or was spending my time imagining things she didn’t even know about. My mind made me something more than merely a slave, available to serve her. It made me a human being.

That had to be stopped. And it was. Usually with a command to go and clean something. And that’s how the throwing things comes in.

Writing, Snakes, and Fear Structures: Or, How This Whole Thing is Coming Along

ringneck
A better candidate for addressing a snake phobia.

The thing about being afraid is the more you do the things that you’re afraid of, the less you feel afraid anymore. Unless, of course, those scary things really do harm you. I imagine if you are afraid of snakes and let yourself get bitten by them, over and over, with week-long stays in the hospital following as you clear the toxins from your system, you’d probably remain afraid of snakes. But, if you’re afraid, and you do it, and nothing particularly bad happens, then you feel less afraid.

In technical terms, you start to dismantle the fear structure. The focus of your fear structure—that thing that scares you—links first to fear as it always has. But then it runs to relaxation, because what follows is a benign experience.

So that was the idea with this, mainly.

I didn’t intend to write about my past or the particular horrors I have experienced. But writing about them has helped. I hope it has at times helped my readers as well. I hope reading about my experiences has made you feel less alone with your own horrors. Because we all have them, whether great or small. And if you don’t have any yet, it’s only because you haven’t lived long enough yet. We all have them. Not one of us has an easy life, although some of our lives are more difficult than others.

In particular, my writing for you has made me feel less alone, and more as though I am part of the human race, and that we are all in this together. I hope you feel that way too. That we are all in this together.

Thank you for coming along.