Feeling the Fear

I'm pretty open with the fact I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.). One of the ways my O.C.D. manifests itself is by intrusive thoughts of killing those I love. I see these thoughts. I feel them. Before I was diagnosed or got treatment for it, I thought I was evil. I was afraid of myself. I was afraid for the lives of those I loved. I was afraid for people to trust me. I isolated as way to protect my family from myself. I definitely didn't talk about it back then. I wish I knew then what I know now! 

We all have fears. Whether snakes, needles, tragedy, commitment, thunderstorms, change, accidents, the unknown, dying, one's self, and so on. In the book, "Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway", Susan Jeffers writes how fears can be broken down into categories. Some fears we can control, some we can't. If, however, we boil down all forms of fear, she argues they could all fit into the category of thinking "we can't handle it". Think about it for a second... a woman fears the day her partner dies... deep down she's petrified she won't be able to live on after he is gone. You fail a course you have been studying for for months kicking you out of your program... what will you do next? You go bankrupt... how will handle supporting your your family? You feel your feelings... what if they are too strong? You gain weight... can you deal? 

There's hope! 

#1 Fears Can Decrease and/or Become Extinct. Remember Pavlov and his dogs? The dude who paired the dog's food with a bell. In the beginning, whenever the dog saw his food, he would salivate. One day, Pavlov added a bell to this routine. He gave his dog food, rang a bell, and watched his dog salivate. Over time, the dog began to salivate upon only hearing the bell.  What was once a neutral stimulus (bell), held a very different association now... it meant food was coming. Over time, if you stopped ringing the bell every time you gave the dog food, it would eventually stop associating the bell with it. This bell association would become extinct. So, how does this relate to eating disorders? Recovery often holds a lot of fear to it, especially initially. Maybe recovery symbolizes an increase in responsibility, or perhaps challenging perfectionism. It might even be having to eat a chocolate bar. The more and more you have positive experiences with aspects of your recovery that freak you out, the less power those situations have over you. Take a chocolate bar for example. The more and more you expose yourself to it as a snack, the easier it becomes... you become more familiar with it. Maybe you eat it with a friend so you can support one another.  Keep on challenging yourself time and time again until it becomes just a chocolate bar instead of whatever association you had attached to it. 

#2 You Can Change Your Thinking. Neuroplasicity is an amazing discovery. Researchers used to believe that you could not change how your brain functions or processes information... but it can (check out Norman Doidge's work and books)! It is possible to create new neural pathways in your brain, allowing you to think differently. Instead of thinking of your fear as something that you can't handle... something that has enormous control over you... start telling yourself everyday that you 'got this'. Pull out your Wise Mind skills balancing rational with emotion. It is, after all, just chocolate, peanuts and caramel... Over time, this new way of thinking will be the more dominant pathway in your brain than your old ways of thinking. The more positive experiences you have when facing your fear, the more evidence is built up, reminding yourself that you did it!

#3 Accept That Your Fear May Indeed Come True. In order for the fears I had around killing my family become less paralyzing, I had to do the most counter-intuitive thing.... I had to accept it. I had to accept the fact I could indeed go through with what my thoughts were intrusively telling me to do. I had the ability and capability of doing so. It took a long time getting to that point, to be able to say the words out loud and on paper, but I got there. I had to go back time and time again, reminding myself that it was possible. It was work though, just like changing your thoughts and behaviours in recovery will be. Each time you do something that is pro-recovery, you are fighting back against fear. Maybe you do fail in the future, maybe you do gain weight, maybe the person you trust does break it... It's all part of life... thinking that they 'won't' or 'can't' sets you up for failure.... and you can handle it.

Talk to your therapist/dietician about your fears around moving forward in recovery and come up with a plan today!