I admit it, I’m compulsive and obsessive. I do not have a full fledged diagnosis of O.C.D. but after years of therapy I have come to accept my O.C.D. tendency as Monk, the TV Detective would say, a “blessing and a curse.”
After more than two decades of working in clinical programs, inpatient and outpatient, I experienced firsthand the wide range of ways that obsessive, compulsive, and addictive behaviors present themselves. Clients worked exhaustively on one “addiction” or “compulsion” only to find that it was handily replaced by a new one. Patients who were able to let go of their food obsession discovered that they were still being driven by their obsession with being thin; or pleasing someone.
This is an important turning point in treatment, because some obsessions, compulsions, and addictions can be dangerous and self-destructive, while others can be channeled positively and result in a quieter mind. When patients were asked about these more positive avenues of obsession or compulsion, something amazing happened. The words the patients used to describe the behaviors changed. In most cases more positive words like focus, intention, discipline, and drive emerged.
Clinicians that employ a cognitive behavioral approach with clients with eating disorders rely on the part of that person’s personality that is more disciplined or focused or compulsive. Serial Dieters, have an extensive history of starting new diets with a blinding
determination for whatever the new regime is, and they dot every i and cross every t (both letters which, are in the word diet) as they chart their intake and their calories, and their points and their exercise; fervently maintaining food journals an act that requires an enormous amount of discipline and…well… passion.
Passion… I didn’t choose the word passion haphazardly as a synonym for obsession or compulsion. In fact I obsessively searched for the correct word for weeks. Roget couldn’t hold a candle to the amount of synonyms I auditioned to replace the words obsession, addiction, and compulsion in my new personal dictionary.
My historical and sometimes hysterical track record in the quest to be “skinny great” always began with me passionately recording every nuance, morsel, and thought before during and after eating. I rated how hungry I was before I ate and after I ate. The first time I saw myself rendered as a pie chart was stunning. There I was in wedges and colors and peaks and valleys, illustrating my
successful six months of dieting and weight loss. What I realized though, was that I was still obsessed about food, and weight and becoming thin enough to be accepted. I was not free from my prison of disordered eating and self-loathing, I was just decorating it with documentation. Unfortunately in most cases, passion eventually sizzles down and with the cooling off you don’t write down one snack, and then you miss a day at the gym. Then you can’t make up for not having written it down, so you figure you’ll start again on the first of the next month, because now the chart is ruined and the weight returns and the feelings of failure seep back in.
It is messy. But the last time I went through this cycle, I did something different. I sifted through the ashes of the passion and looked for what remained of me. I made a conscious effort NOT to throw the “baby out with the bath water” (ew…that expression is totally gross when you think about it) and what I found were the parts of me that were constant in each attempt. When I tossed out the end result goal of “skinny great” and looked at who I was I found a person that was passionate, had capacity for insight, persevered, and was willing to learn from my mistakes. When I took diet out of my vocabulary the word failure miraculously disappeared also! And my world opened up allowing me to explore other things rather than the latest diet this or diet that.
Now if I can only figure out a way to let go of some of the 29 Linked In Groups I’ve joined!
What can I say? It’s a blessing and a curse!