The word “obsession” in the diagnosis Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) can be confusing. This word can carry many meanings. You can be obsessed about a relationship, grades, the way someone treats you or any number of other things. These common uses usually mean that you care a lot or that you care too much. With addiction, you care about something or someone so much that it dominates everything else in your life. In OCD, your obsessions can also dominate your life but in a very different way. Let's dig a little deeper into the matter of OCD vs addiction.
OCD vs Addiction: The Causes
The symptoms of OCD are created by a group of brain cells that lack an intrinsic connection to “who you are”, your Subconscious Mind. This group of brain cells are in the command center of your brain so that when they fire you feel compelled to respond. Their lack of integration with the rest of your brain explains many of the features of OCD. Lacking connection, they fire frequently trying to spread their influence. As obsessions progress, the influence of this group of cells spreads across your command center, eventually dominating all of your thoughts and feelings.
The brain cells are not well integrated with the rest of your brain so the thoughts are usually pretty - let's just say - dumb! You may tap something with your left hand three times and then tap something with your right hand three times. You have feel compelled to close a door three times, then three times three, and on and on, taking hours each day. You may try to explain why you need to do this or you may simply admit that you don’t know why you do it but - you do it anyway. These obsessions can spread to other aspects of your life squeezing all relationship or Oneness related motivations out of your life.
Addictions have many similar features but an entirely different cause. We all at times have some kind of minor addiction. You “self-soothe” in some way so much that it begins to dominate your life. It usually starts with some stressor you can’t handle. Your mind struggles to deal with it, leading to your Conscious and Subconscious Mind slipping out of alignment. In this state, you are vulnerable to becoming angry or anxious about something unrelated. This anger serves as a distraction from your original problem. Your attention is negatively drawn to something that is excessive and makes little sense. To justify this, the unaligned brain must make up a reason why you feel the way you do. This leads to excessive or false judgements of yourself or others. You might tell yourself, “I don’t know why I get so angry all of the time. I guess I’m just a loser.” You will go back and forth between anger/anxiety and judgement until you find something to self-soothe like alcohol, spending, drugs, food, sex…really anything. As we mentioned before, all of this depends on an ongoing unaligned state. What this basically means is that you can’t really “feel into” anything. All feelings and judgements are “off the cuff” and yet felt intensely. This includes thoughts and feeling of your spouse, children, friends, co-workers…everyone…
OCD vs Addiction: The Treatments
The important part in all of this is the treatment. In alcoholism, according to the AA model, one realigns or reestablishes internal Oneness by acknowledging their powerlessness over alcohol and reliance on their Higher Power. In AA meetings you are encouraged to tell your story in “A Lead” and receive tremendous compassion and support, and a little feedback! You read the “big book” and learn about the 12 steps which help you reintegrate your “Higher Power” into all significant relationships of your life.
In OCD it is a bit different. You learn to not talk about it. Talking about it allows these disconnected cells “air time.” This gives these meaningless thoughts the appearance of meaning in your life…and expanded influence! In cognitive behavioral therapy you learn to not even think about it. You literally cut these cells and their attempts at spreading their influence out of your life. Otherwise, you simply live life with as much love and compassion towards yourself and others as possible. This encourages these rogue brain cells to slowly integrate back with the others.
You may have both problems. This can be confusing but the intensity and mindlessness of OCD usually helps you sense the difference. In AA, when you are struggling, you are encouraged to call your sponsor and talk over available tools. In OCD, you don’t talk about it. You use a wide variety of carefully chosen techniques to not talk, think or act on any of these impulses. This requires the help of a very experienced therapist who specializes in OCD. They often work in tandem with a psychiatrist who will prescribe medications as necessary. It is an art to know which strategies will be helpful but let me assure you, there is help!