This is the third installment of the OCD Sufferer’s Forum, which is intended to inform people about the course, nature, and treatment of OCD.
OCD Sufferer’s Forum: Third Story
Pedophilia OCD: I still remember when I had my first OCD thought. I was sitting on my made bed—a colorful comforter with red and green stripes, and I was 14 years old. It was earth day: April 22, 2008. I was wearing my green long-sleeved shirt and khaki shorts.
I was about to go babysit. I remember I had been hoping that the guy I liked had noticed me that day in school—normal 14-year-old thoughts. And then, it happened. I thought, what if I sexually abuse the child I’m going to babysit (I was not aware that this was pedophilia OCD)? The thought surprised me. It scared me. But then again, I had been having a lot of strange thoughts recently. Thoughts of naked people entered my head intrusively. I had grown up in the church. I always strived to be pure in heart and clean-minded. But then I had read a teenage novel, and the main character mentioned how her brother told her that he pictured people naked all the time. And I started doing so too, unintentionally. I couldn’t stop it.
So when this thought popped in my head—it startled me. But I was able to let it go, at least for the time being. It came up a couple of times as I babysat that night. I still did the things I used to doing as a 14-year-old girl who loved kids: changed diapers, held the baby as he went to sleep. I knew in my right mind I would never do such a thing.
But the thought came up again. And it set up camp in my mind. That summer my thoughts tortured me. I would switch from thinking about people being naked, to the disturbing thought that I would touch a child inappropriately. (again unaware that this is pedophilia OCD) I came up with rituals to relieve myself from my thoughts. I would pray and ask God to help purify my mind. Whenever the thought of someone naked popped in my head, I would imagine them wearing a flesh-colored sweatsuit so I wouldn’t feel so terrible.
Part of me knew the pedophilia obsession was just that—and I was living in my head. I remember thinking of the analogy I had heard once. Trying to avoid thoughts is impossible. If you are told not to think of an elephant, that is exactly what you think of. So on some level, I was able to manage, and get by. I realized when I stopped trying to control the thoughts, they weren’t as bad.
However, I still could not shake the feeling that there was something deeply wrong and disturbed about me. I had remembered that earlier in my childhood, I had thought about hurting a baby, and I sometimes thought about sexual acts between my dolls. I felt dirty, disgusting, and secretive. These were the feelings and thoughts that kept me trapped in a cage.
Keep moving even with pain
Despite these feelings and thoughts, I was able to live with the idea that I was not perfect. It made it hard for me to feel like the perfect Christian I wanted to be. I believed that if we come to ask God for the forgiveness of sins, we would be made clean by him. Will it work if I have to ask God for forgiveness 10,000 times a day?
After a mission trip to Kenya at 16, I came home with an infection that landed me in the hospital. One night, after suffering a fever of 104 that could have sent me into seizures, I lay awake on my bed. I had the thought, “What if I abused the girl I babysat (no insight that this is pedophilia OCD) when I was 11 years old?” I couldn’t be certain that I didn’t do it. After all, I had these thoughts about hurting kids, and if I had them now, I probably did when I babysat her. There is no way to know for certain that I was able to stop myself from hurting her if I had the urge to. I knew it was irrational. I felt a deep drop in my stomach that logic was not going to ease. Terrified by even the slightest possibility that I did something I had repressed out of my memory I cringed.
I persevered and watched TV, ate bad food, and celebrated my 17th birthday in that hospital bed. Making and vow to be a normal 17-year-old, filling my time with TV, friends, clothes, and school. I had the thoughts, but I was able to somehow lead a pretty normal life.
The next escalation
When I was 18, the same thought came again. This time after I had broken up with my high school boyfriend. It came again, in the dark of the night, where I had nothing but my thoughts. Searching for an answer to why I was having the thoughts. I looked to online forums about why I could be having such scary thoughts that didn’t seem grounded in truth but gave me so much anxiety that I couldn’t ignore them. I sang “On Christ the Solid Rock I stand” in my head. Under my purple blanket I hid and hoped to God that I wasn’t the terrible person my thoughts told me I was. I started going to God in prayer and asking Him to tell me if I did it or not. Sometimes I felt like God was saying “no”, and sometimes I felt like He was saying “Yes”. He would know—He was there. He would have seen me if I had done wrong.
Moving on to a Different OCD
After a vacation where the thoughts were more intrusive than ever, I began college. Diagnosed with OCD at age 19, I continued feeling like a person who looked good on the outside but had a terrible secret.
Starting college and entering my adult life, I met a person who became my friend. I believed she was gay. She became my best friend, but I always had the feeling that she wanted more out of the relationship than I could give. After three years of friendship, she admitted that she had feelings for me. I knew that I didn’t want to date her.
I was afraid. She was my best friend and I wanted her in my life. I had difficulty talking to her without having panic attacks. I feared that I myself was gay. Afraid that I was denying the fact that I liked her. I didn’t want to let her go though. She knew me very well. I “thought”, if I ever decided I was gay, I wanted her around because she would be the perfect fit for me. I knew that at that moment, I did not want to be with her. So I had to end the friendship 7 months later.
Learning to Live with Uncertainty
My pedophilia OCD has taken me to lower places I knew were possible for me to feel. As much as I would love to say I have complete certainty that I am not a terrible person who would never hurt anyone and that I am straight and will find a partner who loves and accepts me, I am not certain. These are the uncertainties I have had to learn to live with. They are the uncertainties that keep me living in my head instead of noticing things like flowers and people smiling and friends who love me unconditionally. They are the uncertainties that kept me from coming to God and learning to live in His presence instead of desperately trying to hear His voice.
I have learned to live with these uncertainties. The effort it took and takes to do this is beyond scary. Spending about 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, writing out the fears that are scaring me the most and do imaginal exposures. I say them out loud and I write them in my journal and record them on my phone. I have learned that a life without certainty will slowly become less scary. It does at times become beautiful when I decide to stop trying to control it by “making sure” that my worst fears will not come true.