There is comfort creating consistency within an inconsistent world. It’s true with each new day, there are a multitude of opportunities. It’s equally true with each new day, there are challenges that may cripple us with anxiety. The ability to constantly brave the unknown can be overwhelming and exhausting.
When I was in elementary school, I frequented the nurse’s office. This was to regulate my all-consuming emotions. Sometimes the trips were voluntary. Most of the time they weren’t. My emotional outbursts disrupted classroom activity and negatively impacted my peers.
I found my comfort playing with the dollhouse in the nurse’s office. Every time, I arranged the furniture in the exact same way. Every time, I played out the same storyline with the dolls. This soothed my inner beast, allowing me to rejoin the rest of my class.
Obviously I wasn’t the only child to visit the nurse’s office. Obviously I wasn’t the only child to use the dollhouse. Knowing this didn’t alleviate my frustration when the furniture and dolls were arranged differently than how I had left them. It was beyond my level of comprehension how others lacked the knowledge that my arrangements were the way things SHOULD be.
Throughout the years, other compulsions took over. There was an inherent need to arrange everything by color, shape, or alphabetically. This happened everywhere I visited. This even happened at other people’s homes, with or without their consent. A natural allegiance developed between my compulsions and my boundary issues. My way was the ultimate way, no matter what anyone else may have thought. My way provided comfort from my raging emotions. My comfort seemed more important than what other people wanted.
As an adult, new compulsions developed. For places I frequented, I needed to park in the same exact spot. It was a self-imposed requirement to use the same exact stall and sink every single time I went to the bathroom. Wherever I lived, everything had an exact place, not to be disturbed by anything or anyone. There was a specific seat I needed to sit in at friends’ and families’ homes. At stores, I needed to straighten merchandise. I pushed in any chair that was askew. I discarded trash left on food court tables.
If I didn’t do these things, I would become overrun with obsessive ruminating thoughts.
There are those that interpreted my behaviors positively. I often heard I was organized, tidy, and efficient. All those things may have been true, but my behavior extended far beyond what appeared on the surface.
Things didn’t go well when someone parked in my spot, when someone moved my item from its rightful place, when anyone at any time disrupted my order. An epic meltdown ensued. Depending on how severe I viewed the infraction, I sometimes exploded with rage too.
There were numerous negative repercussions following my compulsions. Two examples were issues at work and lost relationships. One day a therapist asked me, “What will happen if you don’t ‘fix’ these things?”
I explained they needed to be fixed because they were wrong. This was the main source of solitude I found in the madness of life. How could I not do these things?
I was challenged to park in a different spot and see what happened. Admittedly, I was scared to change my routine. Anxiety mounted as I pulled into work the next day choosing a different spot. My skin crawled with the wrongness of it. It took everything in me to let it be and walk away. Throughout the day I would look out the window to make sure my car was okay. I strongly believed this disruption in my order of things would result in disastrous consequences.
It was small steps like this over time that reduced my compulsivity. Using a different stall and sink in the bathroom. Doing my laundry on a different day. Not responding to every birthday notification on Facebook. Easing into changes when others asked them of me.
It sucked. In the early days, my anxiety skyrocketed. Honestly, sometimes it still does. I have to breathe, walk away, and distract myself with the next task. I have to repeat to myself like a broken record that it will be okay. On a regular basis, I chose different challenges to build up my tolerance. I congratulated myself whenever I completed challenges without incident.
My compulsions were an unhealthy relationship creating imbalance in my universe. This perceived coping skill was really a self-destructive behavior. I had to break up with my compulsions. Am I still tempted to go back? Nearly every day. This is especially enticing when I feel overwhelmed by life’s inherent craziness.
One piece of advice to anyone chained down by their compulsions: You’re causing yourself harm. Break the links just one at a time. When you taste freedom, it’ll be easier to take one step, one day, one moment at a time.