Fears and Fading Realities
I was running through a maze. Something was chasing me, coming after me; I was trying to get away. It was going to kill me. Then suddenly, music broke into the darkness and the fear, and something, something that seemed to have a heavenly presence, came, and I knew I was safe.
That dream has never left me. Faded with time, but never gone. I still recall the terror, the maze, the relief of being saved. That dream oddly reflected my own perception of my mental state during my teenage years and early adulthood.
After losing my sight, my mental suffering only deepened. I remember standing at the window on a frosty March day, staring out at a snow-clad landscape. The trees were stripped, dark skeletons. Nothing but snow and skeletons to look at, and I could not even see those very well.
Perhaps because I knew that the physical reality in front of me was different than the way I perceived it, I began to question reality in general. How did I know that this reality I experienced was not just a dream, like other dreams, from which I would wake up some day? I was troubled by the thought. That question marks the beginning of my years long obsession with the nature of reality. I was not even ten years old.
I began to be incessantly haunted by troubling thoughts, many of which centered on spiritual matters. I was raised in a highly spiritual environment, where fear of Hell and sin and the coming Tribulation tortured my sensitive mind and conscience.
I began to doubt my own salvation. How could I know with certainty that I believed in God and what He had done to save me? How did I know that I really had accepted His love and forgiveness? What was faith, anyway?
My religious obsessions crept in slowly but surely. First, I began to have strange thoughts about God. I remember being terrified because I could not rid myself of the “blasphemous” thought that God was fat. I remember crying to my mother because I could not keep my eyes closed throughout an entire, torturously long bedtime prayer. I remember lying awake desperately trying to recall every name on my prayer list.
The circles of obsession twisted and deepened as I grew older. My struggle to understand the nature of faith was intensified by the Pentecostal church in which I was raised. Despite the fact that no one would have openly espoused such a view in my home church, I managed to absorb the idea that if I just had enough faith, I would be healed of my blindness. Over and over, I walked to the altar at the front of the church. Over and over, I trusted and believed. Over and over, my eyes opened after the anointing and the prayer to see the same blurred surroundings as before. I heard the pastor commending me for my persistence and faith. The next week, I would feel compelled to repeat the ritual.
My mother listened to my tears and terror night after night. Although I could not openly admit my trouble, I was deeply shaken by my lack of healing. If I could not have enough faith to get my sight healed, how could I have enough faith to be saved from punishment in Hell? My child’s heart broke and trembled and hardened to shut out the anguish I felt.
As I entered my teenage years, my obsessions and compulsions only grew worse. I prayed hundreds of prayers of salvation. My parents alternately held my hands as they prayed with me and lost their patience with my seeming inability to get saved and know that I was saved.
I was not only frightened by my supposed lack of salvation. I was continually paralyzed by terror of the dark spiritual forces. I could not even read the stories of demon possession in the Bible or hear Satan mentioned in a service without feeling overwhelming fear. I began to be troubled by thoughts of demons, of allowing them into myself and giving myself over to their power. I struggled desperately, but, despite my frantic attempts, I felt that I had “given in” over and over again. Would I no longer be mistress of my own soul?
A brief explanation of OCD may be helpful at this point. Commonly, those suffering from OCD will obsess about the things they fear most. Thus, a gentle, loving soul will be plagued with visions of themselves plunging a knife into their spouse or children. These thoughts do not reflect an actual desire on their part to commit this action. On the contrary, these thoughts display their worst fears and aversions—the things they would be least likely to do.
My concerns with my salvation and with allowing myself to become demon possessed had power over me because they played on my own fears and aversions. In reading, it may help you to understand that I am actually a very trusting and conscientious person with no intention of getting involved with dark spiritual forces or anything of the sort. My obsessions with these matters actually reveal areas of my heart where I am least inclined to make harmful choices.
Out of curiosity, what were your religious experiences growing up, and how do you feel these experiences have affected you? While I have been sharing some of the ways that my spiritual heritage aggravated my OCD, I believe that these experiences don’t always have to be negative. So, please share. What were some of your learned religious fears? What was your experience like if you come from a nonreligious background? Were your experiences positive or negative? Join in the conversation.