Give Yourself Permission to Feel

Posted in Uncategorized on August 6, 2018 by chrissiehodges

Just a few minutes earlier the room had seemed so hot I needed to blot my face from the excess sweat.  But all of a sudden now I was wondering why it felt so cold I couldn’t stop shaking uncontrollably.

There were four of us on a panel at the recent International OCD Conference in DC sharing openly about our very personal lived experience of managing OCD and battling substance use and addiction. Our goal of the panel was not to promote any particular strategy in managing both, but to provide normalization and hope for people who struggle in an effort to communicate they are not alone. Substance use and addiction are very common for individuals living with OCD and mental illness in general. The shame, guilt, and embarrassment around it can be almost as debilitating as the tormenting battle. Our primary goal of the panel was to help others know they are not alone in their struggle and to give hope by relieving the shameful emotions surrounding it by sharing our stories.

Unbeknownst to us, a few members of our audience had a different agenda.

Each panelist shared a personal, long-time bottled up account of how difficult it has been living in silence with substance use on top of OCD and what we do to manage it. It was the first time each one of us has been so honest and open publicly. I cried through my story because of the shame and guilt expressing it unleashed from being pent up through the years. After sharing, I felt exhausted but relieved to finally get it in the open in an effort to begin healing from the shame.

Each of us talked about how we still struggle and discussed briefly about the tactics we use to manage our substance use disorder. I talked about a strategy I use called ‘harm reduction’ in managing my substance use when things get out of hand. It is an evidence-based strategy to reduce the harm I inflict on myself or others. It has worked well for me.

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But in talking about our strategies instead of only promoting sobriety, a few members of the audience did not agree and were determined to put us in our place.  There are many mindsets when it comes to what people ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ do when it comes to treating substance use/addiction and even mental illness. While there are many strategies individuals can implement in their own recovery, some people simply believe their way is the ONLY way. Some people believe their story is the ONLY story. And they also may believe if others don’t follow their path, they should be shamed.  Those were the type of people who wanted to make their voices heard loud and clear at our panel. And we were blindsided.

Within the first four questions/comments stated as we opened up the floor, three people completely shamed all of us for not promoting sobriety even though our panel description clearly did not indicate we were promoting any type of strategy for recovery. One lady went as far as to say that sharing our stories was ‘detrimental’ to people’s recovery. Another questioned whether we could even be in recovery from OCD if we still drank alcohol. And a third lady shamed us in a scolding and condescending way. While each of us kept our feedback professional and calm, I could see it on each my panelist’s faces the shame and fear building up inside them.

It was then I suddenly started feeling as if someone had placed me in a freezer. I was quivering to the point where I had to rub my arms in an effort to warm up. The room felt as if it were fading and all I could think of was getting out of there to warm up. We could see many audience members looking at the ‘shamers’ in disbelief, but as time quickly ran out, we found it impossible to let all the people wanting to comment have the microphone. And as the time ticked to the end, my tunnel vision wanted me out of that room, and just before leaving I looked at my co-presenters faces knowing the damage had been done.

Afterward, two of the ladies stuck around to drive their shame home to us face to face, but I got out of there as quickly as possible seeking somewhere to try and warm up. I went to my next presentation barely capable of focusing from how torn down I felt.

After my next presentation, I sought out my panelists to process the deflation we had just endured. I found two of them on the main hotel patio outside in the heat of the DC summer. One of them was in tears out of shame and the other was just silent and angry in disbelief. As we began reliving the events, I wondered why I suddenly felt so cold I began shivering again. It was pushing 90 degrees and I began shaking from the inside-out so drastically I could barely breathe. As we walked inside the hotel, I excused myself to the bathroom and realized I wasn’t cold, I was having a trauma response to what had happened. My body couldn’t process or handle the powerful emotions arising from the shocking turn of events and every time I tried to revisit it, I would begin shaking with an overwhelming feeling of needing to escape.

Once I realized the reality of what was happening, the floodgate of tears broke open. I had been so vulnerable on that panel for the first time in my life. I put all my demons center stage I had burrowed inside me for decades. All I wanted was to let people know they are not alone and in feeling that normalization the possibility of hope would be born. That was what I wanted. And the first three responses I received from taking such a risk was I ‘should’ feel ashamed. Never in a million years had I expected that response. It was salt on a raw and painful wound. I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t move past it.

Then something bizarre happened. I realized I couldn’t handle the simple idea of just being traumatized by something so deeply without needing to justify it’s effect outside of the emotion. So, I found myself looking for an excuse to why I was so emotional. There must be a reason? It can’t just be my feelings are valid? It has to be something else. I don’t deserve to feel this deeply and be this hurt, I must have done something to cause it!

I hadn’t had any alcohol to drink but I found myself wishing I was drunk so I could blame this emotion on the alcohol. That wasn’t possible, though. My brain then reasoned, well okay if this isn’t alcohol, then maybe I’m just hormonal. Am I having PMS? Nope, that wasn’t possible either. Okay then, maybe I’m just exaggerating or being dramatic and can’t handle emotion. But I reflected on how devastated my co-presenters were as well and I knew it was valid for all of us to feel this way.

I couldn’t excuse myself out of why I felt this way, and I didn’t know how to face the possibility that these were real, justifiable, and valid emotions.

I felt confused, sad, and enlightened all at once. Have I never let myself just feel and given myself permission to without an excuse? What a disservice I have done to myself by not giving myself compassion or love when I feel so deeply. And finally, how eye-opening and wonderful that I am learning such a huge lesson about myself at the expense of such a traumatic experience.

I have always had a love-hate relationship with my emotions. I feel things so damn deeply at times it often feels as though I can’t exert control over them when they are full fledged. And all the times when inability to control them became problematic have dictated a great deal of shame and embarrassment about being a person who experiences deep emotions. It never occurred to me I don’t just give myself permission to feel freely and validate those feelings until this happened. Maybe this has been a huge block for me in being able to accept and love who I am. I felt sadness in not knowing how long I have treated myself this way. And it made me curious as to where this behavior has manifested from and why.

While I look forward to exploring where this behavior has come from whether a nurtured or taught response, a result of my experience with mental illness, or just a learned or survival behavior, one thing I know for sure is it is a missing key piece in the daily journey I embark on in learning to love and accept myself. In always searching for a external reason why I feel the way I do, I am only perpetuating the internal shame about who I am and how I feel. I have always struggled with self-esteem and my desired need to be validated and I believe this was a huge clue in unraveling that struggle. A clue I foresee as painful and exciting in discovering its origin. I look forward to the journey.

There are two things I want to leave with you in this blog. First, if you are struggling with substance use/addiction with or without a mental illness, you are NOT alone. You do NOT have to feel shame. You do NOT have to listen to people who shame you. Recovery is fluid, recovery is a journey, and recovery is individual. One person’s recovery does not dictate another persons. Whatever you are dealing with, there is hope and never stop fighting back. Recovery is possible for anyone.

Secondly, I wanted to pose a question about your own validation around your feelings. Do you give yourself permission to feel? Do you allow yourself to hurt? Do you validate yourself when you do? If you don’t, I hope you found through this blog you are not alone and it is never too late to start practicing self-love and self-compassion. I am making it a goal to explore these very questions and embarking on that important journey of learning to love myself more deeply. I sure hope you will too.

Thank you for taking the time to read.

Chrissie Hodges

Certified Peer Support Specialist; OCD Referral & Resource Consultant;
Author of ‘Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive Compulsive
Disorder’

www.chrissiehodges.com

ocd.chrissie@gmail.com

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‘OCD Gamechangers’ MC Highlight: Chrissie Hodges and Neil Hemmer

Posted in Uncategorized on March 1, 2018 by chrissiehodges

For the first few years I attended the annual OCD Conferences, I always noticed this one guy running around just being fantastic. He was always laughing, connecting with people, and seemed so comfortable in his skin. I watched him in amazement. People were drawn to him. His energy was infectious and mesmerizing. Who was this guy? And, why wasn’t he MY friend?

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That guy was Neil Hemmer. Neil is one of the most magnetic people I’ve ever met. When you are in his presence, you just feel comfortable because of his genuine energy. People naturally gravitate to him and I felt connected to him because of that before we even met. Thank goodness we finally took the time to introduce ourselves!

Getting to know Neil over the last couple years, I’ve felt he and I have SO much more in common other than OCD. But one of the big things that surfaced for both of us has been our openness recently in talking about substance use issues. Neil and I both live with the coping skill of using alcohol to deal with the havoc wreaked on us by anxiety, OCD, and depression. The timing is amazing in both of us making the decision to start speaking out just this last year. I believe both Neil and I have suffered with the shame of feeling there is this ‘other side of us’ no one knows about and we keep quiet about. The fear of revealing the struggle with substance use keeps us trapped in the ‘what if’s’ of how people would feel about us. Would they think about us different? Would I be looked at differently? Judged? Rejected? It becomes a barrier to self-love and to our recovery.

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Substance use and addiction can easily go hand in hand with OCD and is not uncommon. However, the shame around that battle is extremely stigmatizing. There are not many people willing to stand up and share lived experience with both. The personal stigma is difficult dealing with just mental illness, and it compounds when substance use becomes part of the equation. In all my advocacy speaking out about the tough topics surrounding Pure O/intrusive thoughts, opening up about substance use has been the hardest and the scariest.

When I found out Neil was ready to start speaking out about his battle with substance use, I felt a huge weight lift off me. If he can do it, I can do it! And if we both can do it, maybe others will start speaking out, too!

I asked Neil to MC my event with me this weekend because I wanted the natural energy he brings to a room that makes people comfortable, inspired, and excited. Throughout the event, Neil and I will each share snippets of our journey through OCD as well as substance use. My hope is people will be able to know they are not alone with either and the shame that accompanies both of those diagnoses does not define who they are. Having Neil by my side on Saturday as well as in advocacy for substance use is a reminder to myself of those things as well.

There was no question in my mind about who I wanted to co-MC with to host all of the fabulous OCD advocates for ‘OCD Gamechangers’. We are seriously going to have a blast!!

For more information on the Saturday event ‘OCD Gamechangers’ in Denver, go to http://www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers.

Ethan Smith: ‘OCD Gamechangers’ Speaker Highlight

Posted in Uncategorized on February 27, 2018 by chrissiehodges

I hate to admit it, but there are several people out in the world who I believe only want to be friends with me because of their fascination with my hair…and Ethan is one of them. Haha!

I met Ethan many years ago after we should have met in person, but instead connected much later than we should have over the phone. Ethan was giving the Keynote address at the IOCDF Conference in Los Angeles, and instead of waking up in the early hours on that Saturday morning to see him speak, I woke up casually, grabbed coffee, and went for a run. And not only did I miss seeing his keynote, we spent the entire conference in the same crowds, completely missing each other!

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Months later, he called me up to harass me for not attending his presentation, to make fun of my hair, and to connect to what has become a lasting friendship and colleague in our field of advocacy.

I knew immediately when we met that we were bound together in our goals and share the same passion in using our lived experience with OCD to educate and support people through treatment. Those that share the same mission seldom have a reason not to become life-long colleagues and friends. Ethan and I walk that path together.

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Ethan’s battle with OCD was tumultuous, arduous, and tormenting. But, he persevered through treatment, through stigma, and through the task of being able to compartmentalize everything he has gone through in order to be there for countless other people who suffer with OCD. He does this through responding to calls, requests, and cries for help from therapists who are in need of the lived experience voice to help their clients. He does this by telling his story in front of sufferers, clinicians, and families. And he does this by representing the International OCD Foundation as a spokesperson for several years and now the National Ambassador. Ethan is truly a face of hope for many individuals living in the depths of OCD symptoms to see they can overcome and live a life free from the daily torment.

Ethan has a way of capturing a room with his wit in one second, and his seriousness in the next. It is a gift he has—not which he has learned and crafted—but one that comes naturally. People gravitate to him because of this gift in hopes and relief in his ability to empathize and understand to a greater degree of what they are experiencing with OCD and to inspire hope that they have the strength within themselves to attain recovery.

Ethan is an incredible addition to the line-up of speakers at the ‘OCD Gamechangers’ Event, and I guarantee you at some point during Ethan’s presentation, he is going to reference my hair. In fact, I was on the phone with him last night and we talked about how my hair could be the setting for the next ‘Honey I shrunk the Kids’ movie. My fear is, with the type of product I use, anyone stuck in my hair will never find their way out….hahaha!

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However, after the photo below…I don’t think he can EVER make fun of my hair again! 😀

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For more information about attending the event in Denver on March 3rd,  go to http://www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers.

OCD Gamechangers

Stephen Smith: Speaker Highlight ‘OCD Gamechangers’

Posted in Uncategorized on February 24, 2018 by chrissiehodges

Being able to see the good in things come full circle is something I am always reminded of when I think of Stephen Smith. Stephen is someone whose heart is set on helping people worldwide who are living alone and isolated with OCD. This is his mission because he has been that person who has felt incredible torment at the hands of Pure OCD/intrusive thoughts at his lowest point. And now, he is giving back in an AMAZING capacity!

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The full circle for me is the inspirational story behind one of Stephen’s lowest points with OCD. Many years ago in the beginnings of my advocacy, I had a podcast interviewing individuals worldwide about their lived experience with mental illness. I also used that platform to talk about my own battle with Pure OCD/sexual intrusive thoughts which plagued me for years. I never knew who was or would listen to my shows and the pessimistic, insecure side of me believed no one did. Haha!

Many years later, I found out something I had said on that podcast actually changed someone’s life for the better, gave them hope, and helped normalize their experience with OCD. That person was Stephen Smith. We connected about a year ago in regards to his advocacy project nOCD, and when I heard something I had recorded so many years ago had impacted him so greatly, I knew there was a reason we were supposed to meet.

Stephen founded the app nOCD and Treatmyocd.com platform in an effort to give individuals living with OCD a real-time tool to help manage symptoms and feel less alone in their struggle. Their mission is also groundbreaking in collecting data (no personal health info) in an effort for clinicians and researchers to expand their knowledge and better connect with their clients. Stephen is WAY more knowledgeable (and you definitely know it when you talk to him!) about the technical side of nOCD, but as a sufferer and advocate, I can truly say nOCD is an important and up and coming breakthrough in connecting sufferers to correct treatment, peers, and to hope, and he has the passion to make it work.

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Stephen has assembled an incredible team of people around him in expanding his mission, and without disclosing TOO much, let’s just say the future looks very bright for nOCD and a peer support component!

I call Stephen the quintessential millennial businessman who is driven, passionate, tech-oriented and focused. I often remind him that he can breathe and lose the business coat when we get to catch up by phone or passing by in the airport! Haha! I absolutely adore him and knew he would be such an inspiring addition to the ‘OCD Gamechangers’ event. The OCD community is so blessed to have someone with the drive and passion that Stephen brings to us.

For more information about the Saturday, March 3rd event ‘OCD Gamechangers’ in Denver, CO, please visit www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers.

OCD Gamechangers

Corey Hirsch: ‘OCD Gamechangers’ Speaker Highlight

Posted in Uncategorized on February 19, 2018 by chrissiehodges

Former NHL Goalie, Silver Medalist, and newly deemed Mental health advocate superstar Corey Hirsch busted onto the scene of advocacy about a year ago, which was the same time he busted into my life!

I received a facebook message right after publishing my memoir “Pure OCD: The Invisible Side of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder” from this guy named Corey Hirsch asking me if we could talk because HE has pure OCD as well! I thought, who in the world is this guy? But, he was insistent that we chat on the phone. And that was when an incredible friendship was born!

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I was drawn to Corey’s strong desire to reach people worldwide who may be suffering from OCD and his serious commitment of no one stopping him from delivering his message. HE is my kind of people! Shortly after we met and became bestie’s, he published his article called ‘Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark, Dark’ on ‘The Player’s Tribune’ about living with Pure OCD/Intrusive Thoughts, the struggle he endured, and how he learned to live in recovery.

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Corey is so much like me, which is why I think we are soul-friends, in that we both want to change the world NOW but then we don’t really think about how to make that happen after making a splash! As soon as his article came out, hundreds–-and I mean HUNDREDS of people started reaching out to him in gratitude, thanks, and for help. We talked daily on what to do, how to respond, and where to get these individuals/families to help. He handled it with humbleness, compassion, and true grace.

I truly believe Corey had no idea what an absolute amazing impact his story would have worldwide. And thanks to his courage and bravery in putting it out there, thousands of people now know they are NOT alone and help is available.

Since his splash of a debut onto the mental health advocacy scene, Corey has continued his mission of reaching individuals worldwide. He is partnering as an ambassador for the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health in Canada (CAMH), received the Illuminati Award for advocacy from the International OCD Foundation, and has published a second article on ‘The Player’s Tribune’ titled ‘You are not alone’.

 

I am not only excited to have Corey take the stage at the ‘OCD Gamechangers’ Event, but I am excited to see how much more he and I will do together to reach people at the far corners of the earth to let them know they are NOT alone with Pure OCD and recovery is possible!

For more information on the ‘OCD Gamechangers’ Event in Denver, CO and to buy tickets, please visit www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers.

OCD Gamechangers

‘OCD Gamechangers’ Speaker Highlight: Margaret Sisson of ‘Riley’s Wish’

Posted in Uncategorized on February 16, 2018 by chrissiehodges

Margaret Sisson; My fellow advocate, friend, colleague, and family.  There isn’t enough blog space to talk about the amount of love and respect I have for Margaret as a person and advocate.

So, I’ll start with my fateful meeting with her son Riley at the IOCDF Atlanta conference many years ago. It was my first conference, I barely knew anyone in the OCD community, and I was nervous! In my first breakout session the presenters asked for volunteers, so of course I raised my hand. I was picked along with this big, burly guy who I instantly felt connected to named Riley. We were supposed to do this serious demonstration on how difficult it is to do tasks with intrusive thoughts constantly spinning in your head. I was supposed to do the task, Riley was supposed mimic intrusive thoughts. When we started, Riley’s intrusive thought dialogue was the funniest thing I had ever heard. I couldn’t keep a straight face, I couldn’t focus, and we both laughed through the whole exercise. I think the presenters hated us!

I instantly adored him. We became friends immediately and then I met Margaret later at an event as we recalled the failed presentation and laughed hysterically. I knew then they would become my family.

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The following years, I watched as Riley fought to wrestle the demons of OCD and substance use disorder (SUDS), but in the midst of that suffering he rose as an integral voice in bringing awareness to OCD and SUDS. His resounding message made a huge impact. His presence as a human and advocate was larger than life. I willingly followed him around the conferences with adoration just to hear him talk and laugh. He could make an entire room laugh just by a facial expression. His humor and personality were magnetic.

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Our lives were devastated when he lost his battle with OCD and SUDS in 2014. It was a terrible loss to the OCD community, his friends, and especially his family. We still feel the impact of his absence to this day.

Margaret, who was always his biggest support and cheerleader, didn’t miss a beat in keeping his legacy of advocacy and memory alive. She created the Riley’s Wish Foundation. Riley’s Wish serves to educate, create awareness, and help provide resources to those living and suffering with dual diagnosis of OCD and SUDS. The foundation stays true to the mission Riley embarked upon in his advocacy of helping those struggling to know they are not alone, and reducing the shame and stigma of OCD and SUDS.

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Riley’s bravery in sharing his deepest struggles as well as the devastation of his passing created a reality of the NEED for more individuals to speak up and out about the reality of SUDS and OCD. His mission will live on through Margaret, his sister Sarah Sisson, myself, and countless others who still hold his spirit and mission close to our hearts.

At the 2013 IOCDF conference in Los Angeles, I leaned over the balcony with tears streaming down my face as Margaret, accepting the Hero of the Year Award in Advocacy, pointed to Riley standing in the middle of the dance-floor and let the hundreds of us watching know that ‘Riley is her true hero’.

To this day, he continues to be a hero to so many of us, and his voice will continue to be heard through all of ours.

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For more information on the March 3rd event in Denver, CO ‘OCD Gamechangers’ and to purchase tickets, please visit my website at http://www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers

OCD Gamechangers

 

‘OCD Gamechangers’ Speaker Highlight: Sean Shinnock

Posted in Uncategorized on February 13, 2018 by chrissiehodges

‘OCD Gamechangers’ Spotlight #4: Sean Shinnock

Sean Shinnock is the epitome of an up-and-coming OCD advocate. In 2016, Sean made a HUGE impact when he was part of a project at the Logan International Airport displaying stories of individuals living with mental illness to eliminate stigma. And I literally mean huge as the displays were eight feet tall!!

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But that is not all Sean brings to the advocacy world. Sean is working on the project ‘Draw Your Monster’ which is part of his greater movement called the ‘Monster Initiative’. During the International OCD Foundation Annual Conference a few years ago, Sean hosted an event so individuals could join him in ‘drawing their monster’. That phrase, action, or creativity is up to the person’s discretion! When OCD first showed up in my mind as an eight year old, I absolutely had a picture in my head of what the monster looked like haunting and torturing me, but never any inclination to draw and see it face to face. Sean’s idea helps bring alive imagery that if kept in the mind can be a manifestation of larger than life fear. When you put it on paper, it may not seem as scary as it feels in the mind. It is a brilliant way to face the terrifying things lurking in the corners of our mind creatively and effectively. By acknowledging the monster and facing it, it just may help take the power away.

Since then, he is working on a project where he can help ‘Draw Your Monster’ to individuals worldwide suffering with OCD. While his project is still in the early stages of development, it really is something I believe he will have no problem getting momentum and support with. Artistry helps SO much in the expression of the scary things we live with that cannot be put into words at times. I believe Sean has really nailed the idea of pulling the fear out of what so many of us call OCD, ‘the monster in our heads’.

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On a side note, Sean probably doesn’t know this, but I secretly call him the supermodel of the OCD advocacy world. Haha! I first met Sean when we were speaking on a panel on ‘taboo thoughts’ at the IOCDF conference a few years ago. When I met him face to face—well my face to his chest—I thought, ‘good lord, is this guy here to present or walk the catwalk?’ He is strikingly tall and has a presence about him that makes you do a double take. But, the most wonderful thing about Sean is his genuine call to help others in feeling less alone with OCD. Like so many, Sean spent way too many years agonizing in tormenting symptoms of OCD. His journey has been a long and winding road to recovery and I am very eager to hear more on his story and inspiration for ‘Draw Your Monster’ at the ‘OCD Gamechangers’ event.

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For more information on the Denver, March 3rd event ‘OCD Gamechangers’ and to buy tickets, go to http://www.chrissiehodges.com/ocd-gamechangers

OCD Gamechangers