Monday, October 24, 2011

OCD and Serenity

Serenity Prayer Stone

I've been thinking about the Serenity Prayer this week.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
A lot has been going on and I am dealing with it. My skin biopsy came back benign, and I didn't have the backwash of figuring out whether I'd made a mistake in calling the dermatologist, and being "oversensitive." I took my best guess, and the moment before calling was worst, but I also was accepting that I couldn't diagnose cancer by checking my ear constantly, and that felt so much better than standing in front of the mirror, holding a handmirror and a flashlight and contorting myself to get a glimpse. My mother was back in the hospital for the second time with fluid under her lung, and although I was concerned for her, I didn't research the procedure.

The challenge I always had with the Serenity Prayer is the last line, the "wisdom to know the difference" between what I can and cannot change. In my obsessiveness, I would attempt to definitively figure this out, because I had to be right, or I was a failure as a human being. I had the illusion I actually could have a 100% success rate in predicting whether I could change something, or whether I needed to accept it. Over the last few years of ERP treatment for my OCD, I've come to see that this prayer actually ASKS for the wisdom to know the difference, and this implies that at times we will fail in distinguishing this.

There are some aspects of the 12 Steps that I really resonate with, particularly the idea of life becoming unmanageable when in the power of the disorder. Part of me really hoped that I wouldn't have to deal with uncertain symptoms, health problems, or my mother getting older, and my despair when these things happened was overwhelming. I ritualized to try and make the anxiety go away. Research heart surgery. Research skin cancer. Check my skin. Over and over. But we are embodied creatures, and our bodies are not immortal, and can be injured. The enormity of this is catastrophic when you aren't getting any help for the OCD. The compassion of my therapist, my husband, members of my support group, and blog readers helped me see how much of a burden this can be, and encouraged me to find some kindness for myself.


  1. I love this post. Rachel always tells me that my rituals are my addiction, my drug of choice, so what you say here seems extremely appropriate. I'm glad your tests came back benign, and I wish you all the best: serenity, courage, and wisdom galore. ; )

  2. LOVE this. I have always struggled with the serenity prayer. My mom used to always quote it to me when I was anxious. It's the last line that gets me too. Just now when I read it I thought to myself "but how do you know????" I always need to know for sure or else something bad will happen. I'm glad your health is OK. I hope things go OK with your Mom. I'm really glad you are coping well.

  3. Karin says:

    I'm glad that your tests came back all clear!

    Hmm, i'll have to think about how the serenity prayer works with ocd. Never thot to use it in this situation. Thanks!

  4. Yay for benign test results!
    Isn't it great when we can have a moment of clarity and realize that hey - sometimes we do need to ask for widsom - because we are human and fallible and everyone needs help now and then - and it doesn't make us horrible people just because we're fallible. :)
    I'm glad you have support people that help you feel compassion for yourself. :) Sometimes that can be a terribly hard thing to feel.
    And thanks, btw, for your comment on my blog. :)

  5. I'm glad your test results came back benign. I am sorry your Mom is sick.

    I also have lots of trouble with the serenity prayer and for the same reasons you wrote about. I have always thought I need to be able to know the difference...RIGHT NOW :-) I never thought about the fact that we are only asking for wisdom to know the difference. Thanks for this post!

  6. Thank you all so much for your support and encouragement! I am in a health anxiety streak right now, but I know I need to write a post about it soon.