Doris, a 64 year old woman, has been struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since she was 24.
When she shared her story with me, she confessed that she had concealed her mental rituals and compulsions from her friends and family and suffered alone for 40 years. As she began to describe the torture of unwanted and intrusive thoughts, the crushing weight of guilt, the breathlessness of fear and her exhausting daily cleaning rituals; it was as if a dam of tears broke and she sobbed through our first three sessions. She had believed all these years that God was angry at her and convinced something bad would happen to her or her loved ones if she didn’t perform rituals to neutralize the unwanted thoughts.
One session I read Doris a familiar text from the book of Matthew, in The Message translation. It reads: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Matt 11:28
I had her write down everything over which she felt guilty. The list was long. One of the things we do is help patients understand the difference between false guilt and shame (things they are not responsible for) and true guilt (identifiable violations of their moral code.) Over time, she came to see that many of her burdens were not hers to carry.
Doris’ ‘good news’ was when she dared to believe that God was FOR her and stood WITH her against her OCD and anxiety, not against her. In time, her chains of guilt and fear fell off and her heart was free.