There is a story by James Thurber I like very much. It is called “The Bear Who Let It Alone” and is about a bear who is a notorious drunk, comes home having been on the lash, knocks over the table and falls asleep on the floor. His wife, we are told, was greatly distressed and his children were very frightened. He then turns teetotal and a spokesman for the Temperance Society. Boasting about how well he felt after giving up the demon fermented honey, he would demonstrate the fact by turning somersaults. This would inevitably led to his knocking over the table and falling asleep on the floor, causing his wife great distress and making his children very frightened. Moral: “you might as well fall flat on your face as lean over too far backward”.
I’ve been thinking about that quite a bit lately. I’ve recently started going to OCA – Obsessive Compulsive Anonymous – and thought “brilliant, I’ll come to the meeting once a week and get cured”. Weekly attendance was all the effort required. Turns out not quite to be the case. It requires sponsors, literature, meditation and, moreover, a willingness to get better. Each meeting starts with our preamble: that we are not responsible for having OCD, but that we are responsible for our recovery. The term recovery is mentioned a lot.
The 12 step programme, for any fellowship, begins with the acknowledge that our lives were unmanageable and that X (be it food, drink, drugs, gambling, compulsions etc) was taking over our lives. I’m currently on step one. Yes, OCD was taking over my life. But I can and I will get better if I let myself. It’s my brain, it should do what I want. But it takes work. When one reads of a celebrity with cancer in the news, they are invariably “fighting”, or “battling” it. They never simply “have” it. You’d never read of Mrs So-and-So, who died this morning, having merely developed cancer. It’s always a fight. A struggle. A never-ending war. But, in the same paper, one will read of a knife-wielding maniac, who “suffers from schizophrenia”. Sometimes they do simply “have” mental health issues. It will never say “the deranged killer, who valiantly battled mental health issues…” Mental illness is something you have until the day you snap, and murder nuns in their beds. Cancer is seen as somehow nobler. Unfortunate people fight cancer, lazy people have mental health disorders. Well, that’s not true in this instance. I have a mental health disorder and it is one I am determined to conquer.
Going back to the fellowships of X Anonymous. The 12 steps are a marvellous way to detox your thoughts and remove any poison from your personality (poison-ality??). It deals with resentments you have. I’ve already thought I was quite a laid-back individual, but it’s becoming clear that I’m not. I’m very resentful, mainly to myself. I’m not at fault for having OCD. But I am responsible (that’s different) for letting it seduce me, and allowing it so much brain-space. So much energy has gone into having OCD: I used to go home a different way from work each day so that people couldn’t learn my routine and lie in wait for me to murder me. That was exhausting! But I did it every single day. I’m cross with myself for doing it; for giving in, and not battling. I mentioned to a friend earlier today that I worry everyone is, for some unexplained reason, angry with me. She said it sounded more like projection. I was angry with myself, and just projecting it on other people. So I’ve got a lot more work to do. But I’m doing it. Like an alcoholic aspires to sobriety, I’m aspiring to sobriety in my thoughts. It’s insane what I used to do. My thoughts were drunk!
Anyway, the story at the beginning a) makes me laugh, and b) actually carries a very valid point. There is a danger to going the other way. Of being so obsessed with moderation in my obsessions that it too becomes an obsession. The cure, as it were, needs to cure. The obsession needs to fade away. I need to learn to ignore my obsessions, not just replace them with something else. So it’s a cautionary tale, that I shouldn’t get smug and complacent because I go to meetings. This is a change for the rest of my life, and I need to prove to everyone that I can change.
As we say at the end of meetings, it works if you work it, so work it – you’re worth it.
I’m so worth fighting for.
Picture of bear in bar by James Thurber.