As many of you know, my work is informed by a fervent desire to delve into the root causes of anxiety and OCD. My book, The Wisdom of Anxiety, explored many of the roots and messages embedded in anxiety and intrusive thoughts, but there are more. There is always more, for we know we still have not cracked the code of OCD. At midnight a few weeks ago, these words came through. Perhaps they will land for you and put one more piece of the puzzle into place.
The fabric starts out whole.
The wholeness of childhood. The perfection of innocence, even amidst imperfection.
Then separation. Then change. Then loss.
An awareness that separation is possible.
With each loss, the fabric tears.
Each day passed. Each year lost. An age that you will never be again.
The furniture rearranged. Mommy’s hair worn differently.
Too much change.
Too much separateness.
An awareness that childhood ends.
A shattering.of innocence. We grow up.
The fabric tears more. It’s becoming tattered, fragmented.
Where is the wholeness – the uninterrupted place – the complete – the perfect?
It’s falling apart and I must fix it. I must keep the family together. Keep everyone safe and alive and together. It’s my job.
I am forgetting the place of wholeness and perfection,
the wide swath of cloth that I once lived in.
It’s further and further away.
Something is always missing now. Something is always imperfect.
It’s too much to bear. I have to find a way to fix the brokenness, to complete what is incomplete.
The note on the piano… not right. The letters… not right. My thoughts… not right. My hands… not right. My sexuality… not right. My relationship… not right.
But these things – I can fix. I have control again. I can try to create the perfection, the rightness, the completeness again. This is the only way I know how.
But I want to tell you something: there is a place where everything is just right, where you are connected to everything and everything is connected to you.
Nothing is separate and you can’t be separated.
There is a place where everything is whole and you are a part of the whole.
There is a home beyond your physical home. Big home. True home. Where you are rooted like a tree connected to all things, secure in your place of belonging. The tree of life.
You will not find this place by checking the stoves or the locks or your feelings, not by closing the door just right or getting your thoughts just right.
You’re trying to find completion in the only way you know how, but it will never work.
And there is a better way.
I don’t know what that way is for you. It probably has something to do with facing the fear of death, of humiliation (which is a social death).
On the other side of that fear is the wholeness you seek where everything clicks into place and you feel fulfilled and peaceful.
This is a spiritual quest: to complete what is incomplete, to fill in what is missing.
On this plane, there will always be something incomplete and missing.
But there is another place, another reality that co-exists with this one, where everything is okay and perfection exists.
OCD says: Something isn’t right. Something is missing. Something is incomplete.
And OCD is correct: there are a lot of things that aren’t right, that are missing, that are incomplete in this world.
Anxiety says: I am not okay because I’m not safe.
And, in one way, anxiety is right: as long as we are in bodies on this planet, we’re not completely safe.
But… there is a place underneath and between and above everything where it’s all okay.
There is an unbroken cloth that weaves through our existence.
We all have our own ways of accessing this place of wholeness, of inviolable belonging, of safety, and remembering:
The place where we know:
“I am held in a great web of love. I am connected to everything.”
What are your ways of returning to this original knowing?
How do you find your way back home – to big home?
When are you most in a flow that taps you in to the timeless place where everything is connected and you are connected to everything?
I would love to hear in the comments.
Oh my God. This came at the perfect time. I’m in a period of career transition, and my OCD has absolutely latched onto the idea that there is a “right” decision—a divinely mandated choice that I must choose or live with the reality of God’s disappointment.
This post was so grounding. It elicited tears of self-compassion, which has been such an uncommon experience for me recently. The world does not need me to make the “right” choice. What a sobering and freeing realization.
I’m so glad it arrived at the right time, Cam, and that you were able to access tears of self-compassion. It’s those healing tears that bring us back into the wholeness of the fabric.
Wow this is so timely to read. I just touched on something similar to this with my therapist today. The ways in which I have outwardly tried to repair the cloth and stop it from ripping further when I actually needed to be with the pain of the tears in it (and let the tears come :)) then I can find my way to the other side. I’m sitting with this initial realization and then I will figure out the ways I possess to access that.
It was discovering your work that lead me to my therapist who is immensely helpful in guiding me back to myself. Words can’t express the gratitude I feel so I will say simply thank you Sheryl
Thank you, Rewa. I’m so glad that you’re in wise hands with your therapist, and that you’re finding ways to be with the pain of the tears (it occurs to me now that “tears”, as in those we cry, and “tears”, as in rips in the fabric, are spelled the same way :)). Sending big hugs.
I love this, Sheryl. I love that you are excavating OCD for its truth, its origin, its meaning. For the sufferer, it is never enough to simply learn strategies to manage the symptoms. We need to understand why we are suffering – and have a compassionate narrative that makes sense of the places our minds have taken us to. A narrative of wholeness. A narrative of love. In my experience and my opinion, this is the unique gift of your work. Helping us to understand our experience through a frame that accommodates both the suffering and the greater truth of our wholeness. I will be sharing this with someone on my life who has suffered from extreme OCD for many decades. I will let you know what she says.
Thank you, as always, Clara, for your wise reflections and thoughtful affirmations. I would love to hear where this lands with your friend.
The beginning piece about the wholeness of childhood, and then separation, change, loss, hit me hard. A year ago I had a profound experience visiting my family for the first time since the pandemic began. I’ve faced a lot of pain in processing my upbringing; even though I had a pretty good childhood and was always materially provided for, my parents were not emotionally available for any “negative” emotions. I am working through this in my first healthy romantic relationship, where the first hint of any negative emotion can send me straight into a fear spiral.
At the time of this visit last year, my best friend had just had her first baby, the first of my close friends to have a child, and so I had a front row seat to the complete and absolute love of a new parent for her baby. At this time I was also working through a project of digitizing all of our family photos. Seeing those pictures of the day I was born and my early days at home, I was overcome with a knowing that my parents also felt that overwhelming love that I see in my friend and her baby toward me when I was born. My parents and I still have a good relationship despite its challenges, but the love between us feels regular, just a fact of life. During my visit last year, I was able to feel deeply into that overwhelming love that existed when I first came into the world. I think that love is the deeper fabric of perfection and wholeness. We may see it between parent and child, but it exists everywhere, and we may just have to try more consciously to access it as we leave childhood.
Thank you, Sheryl. This is my first comment and it was a bit of a long one! I hope it made sense. This post left me feeling grounded this Sunday evening.
Wow, K, this made perfect, beautiful sense! This lands in a very true and alive place in me:
“but the love between us feels regular, just a fact of life. During my visit last year, I was able to feel deeply into that overwhelming love that existed when I first came into the world. I think that love is the deeper fabric of perfection and wholeness.”
Yes, yes, yes. And it makes me think about that parent-child perfection that then thuds to earth when the hard parts of parenting begin. The parent is no longer unilaterally, blissfully in love, and the child must feel that on some level. The HSP child will likely register the shift in the parent from full-out in love-ness to regular love as a loss, and then translate it into shame: “Maybe I did something wrong to cause the shift. My parent got impatient/lost their temper so I must not be perfect anymore.” Of course it’s not possible to remain in that in-love state (as we know in romantic relationships), but a baby or young child doesn’t know that. All they know is that something changed, a shift in their parent’s eyes in certain moments.
And yet…it does still exist. It’s not supposed to only be available and accessible between parent and child. At some point the child, hopefully, learns to access the inexhaustible, always accessible place of in-loveness. I think what often happens, however, (and especially for those prone to OCD, which has also been called the “shame disorder”) is that the shame layer becomes so thick and heavy that it’s harder to access the place where love always exists.
Thank you for adding food for thought to this garden!
Wow, thank you for the beautiful, thoughtful response. Big hugs to all the HSP inner children resonating with this!
Shame builds over time, but I think it grew thickest in my preteens and adolescence. The experience of fear from separation that occurred throughout my childhood feels like it’s the foundation of my OCD, but shame led to a deep depression between the ages of 10 and 14 when the reality of being imperfect was reflected back to me by my parents, teachers, and peers that it became too much to bare, and so I was put on Lexapro.
Thank you for your work. I see a professional OCD specialist whom I do ERP with, and it really has been life-changing. I appreciate your site, Instagram, and podcast because it fills that void in between practicing ERP and practicing self-compassion, which for me is deeply spiritual.
Thank you so much for sharing this comment and experience K! It was soooo helpful for me reading it ❤️😊
Your insightful comments hit me. I find it hard to feel comfortable with myself. Never thought about perfection and trying to fix the imperfection but it fits my anxiety surfaces when feeling a lack of control in some area or a lack of confidence in myself. I feel what helps is creativity. Completing something creative makes me feel whole for that time Also giving of myself to others increases a positive view of myself Feeling like I’m always not good enough resurfaces.so it’s a cycle I hope I can break it one day. Your anxiety info has helped me a lot !
Yes, creativity is a beautiful way to tap into the whole and feel our own wholeness. And being of service. Healing the underlying shame wound is KEY and I think comes with a lot of dedicated time to our own healing path.
Oh my goodness – there’s so much truth in this post for me and the comment exchange. Thank you both, Sheryl and K, so much for your wisdom. As I read, it resonates with my personal experience, and I also read it knowing my young daughter is experiencing this.
“The furniture rearranged. Mommy’s hair worn differently. / Too much change.” I can see her reflecting on all the shifts and changes of childhood (particularly, the thud of having a new sibling in the family) and trying to make sense of life. She pauses in conversations and stares off into what others think is space. I can see adults trying to usher and distract her out of it, but I know she is entering a deep place of questioning, processing and feeling. I try to let her linger, be there for support, and trust she’ll find her way through, but it is hard when I’m still healing from my patterning of trying to “fix” everyone and everything. The last thing I want to do is “fix” her, and it’s an ongoing practice not to.
Most of all, I find myself wondering about this often… “At some point the child, hopefully, learns to access the inexhaustible, always accessible place of in-loveness” I wonder, can parents help guide children to this place or only live their lives as examples? I’m beginning to think it’s a beautiful dance that has some of both, and ultimately, it’s being willing to follow and respond to life’s lead.
I haven’t commented in a while, but always appreciate the beautiful wisdom shared here. With much gratitude for your work, Sheryl, and the healing space you’ve created.
I’m very touched and inspired by your comment, Caitlin. I love how you’re watching and witnessing and holding your daughter’s transitions and shifting awarenesses of the “thuds” of this life, and watching your own tendency to want to rush in and fix and rescue. I don’t think it’s possible to parent without that urge to fix, and we’re constantly pulling on the reins of that urge.
I think you answered your own question: we can lead by example as we connect to Source in our own ways, and also we can teach as long as our child is open to learning. I modeled a lot of spiritual practice to my boys when they were young, and now, although they don’t resonate with many of the ways that I find source, they have found their own ways (especially our older; younger one is still searching).
Thank you so much for this response, Sheryl. It’s so helpful to remember what a personal journey finding our way back to Source is – even for our children. It’s easy to forget and so nice to hear of your experience with your own children. I really appreciate your thoughtful response and you sharing your experience.
I have been wondering whether non-duality tied into your teachings lately… whether, by psychology or spirituality, the pointing is to the same truth.
I have been relishing in my ‘childlike’ awe, wonder, excitement and innocence lately. I find it through metal detecting, in nature. Just like the child who loved treasure hunting books, the adult now honouring that same calling for adventure.
I value – so so highly – embodiment of that unencumbered, innocence within, ever untouched by this world’s conditioning.
I am still not free from RA, but am working hard to heal and release the big tears to the fabric of my innocence, throughout my life. Particularly the earliest ones, whose beliefs I have carried and have silently driven my life, though out of sight. EMDR has been miraculous for this.
I live in hope that I will find a way to have new eyes and be free of the projections and compensations that sabotage my relationships.
Thank you for this beautiful response, Sarah. I love what you’ve shared about metal detecting and connecting with the childlike innocence – trusting that that place lives in us always. And I’m thrilled that you’re finding healing with EMDR. Good to hear from you ❤️❤️❤️.
Could you please say more, Sarah, about childhood wounds and how EMDR helps with healing?
“It’s falling apart and I must fix it. I must keep the family together. Keep everyone safe and alive and together. It’s my job.”
That passage really jumped out at me, because it seems like exactly what has probably happened for me. I wonder, though, because when that was literally happening in my life I was only two years old. I’ve never had any conscious thought that it was my job to keep everyone together or keep everyone safe and alive, and yet I was always trying so hard to break up arguments between my siblings (relative term because two were my uncles who were near my age). It even makes me think of how I’ve felt such a responsibility to try and help my one uncle, who is autistic and deals with severe self-esteem issues, get on a path towards feeling better about himself and where he can be successful. The problem is he has such a deep resentment towards me that anymore it’s just not good for my mental health to interact with him, but I’m finding that hard to accept.
I don’t know. Can it be something that’s just engrained in me, even if it’s never been a conscious thought?
Yes, I think the sense of responsibility is deeply embedded into most HSPs prone to anxiety and OCD. I wrote about it here:
Before I even finished reading your article, I knew the answer that gets me personally into the flow and out of my head. There are three things: being in nature, creating art, being physically active.
The trouble for me is getting started. I let everyday chores and tasks and … something? prevent me from doing the things that I KNOW help.
You’ve talked before on this difficulty in “getting started” that sensitive souls have. I am always waiting for things to be “just right” before I get started! How ironic, right!?
“I am always waiting for things to be “just right” before I get started! How ironic, right!?”
BRILLIANT! Resistance stops us in our tracks quite often, and it’s a real muscle and skill to learn how to work with it.
It’s falling apart and I must fix it. I must keep the family together. Keep everyone safe and alive and together. It’s my job
Ive experienced this twice in my life, as a child growing up with a father who suffered from mental illness. I felt like the parent one too many times. And now as a mother I must care for my own child, and am handling a very difficult situation with trying to manage the care of my own mother who has been slipping away with Alzheimers. Being a mother to a toddler and my own mother and juggling my career has been overwhelming to say the least. I feel like I have no control and I long to be mothered once again. Maybe I need to let go and try to mother myself, and let others (non parents) try to mother me.
The gold is in your last line ❤️.
I didn’t have OCD tendencies until I was overwhelmed by something out of my control about 2 weeks prior to giving birth to my only child 4 years ago. I still struggle with the same OCD tendencies even though my situation and the thing that overwhelmed me is gone. I still fear that it could happen again, and that is what is keeping my OCD tendencies alive.
My new mantra is “I am fully supported by the loving vibration of the universe.” These words describe the feeling I would get after a really awesome yoga class. And it is tied to what you are talking about here. Thank you for sharing and helping those of us who are feeling lost.
That’s a beautiful mantra, April, and I can see how that would bring you back to ground.
Thank you for these words. The “facing the fear of … humilation, (a social death)” hit me in the center. Could you refer me to more thought on this if you have any?
This post and the one linked in it touch on humiliation:
Hello Sheryl! This post got me really feeling the sadness in my heart lately. I got into a habit of always keeping a smiling face like a “Don’t worry! I got this!” attitude and I relish the praise people give me like “Oh, you’re so strong! Good girl!”. People always tell me I’m such a positive and bright person, and nothing seems to rattle me. But I’m so shocked to hear that because internally I don’t think so. It’s all on the outside. Also if others believed I was “strong” I thought I would also be okay and safe somehow. However I’m trying to let my sadness express itself. It was not okay when I was younger to let my sadness show. But now as an adult living with my hubs, I’m in a much safer environment to feel and let all my emotions show. I needed this reminder to loosen my grip on my emotions and to let myself feel them.
So glad the post helped you to feel the sadness in your heart. Feeling this grief is one of the pillars to healing, as you know :).
Sheryl, beautiful words once again. Your writing is always a breath of fresh air for the soul! For mine, at least! It’s not lost on me that you’re going through a very significant life transition right now with your son soon to leave for college (I’ve noticed you mentioning this in the podcast as well as your blog.) I would like to express my thanks for your presence to this community even as you go through such a transition in your own life. You are in my thoughts often these days!
Same as Carly – “facing the fear of … humiliation, (a social death)” hit me right in the center as well. Wow. I have such a hard time being imperfect, even with my closest connections. The idea of being okay with humiliation feels.. playful! Freeing. And confusing, terrifying. Yesterday my partner almost did something that I was afraid would mess up long-built trust between me and some friends, and I felt paralyzed by fear and am still trying to figure out how to approach the unfolding situation, but when I read your words I realized I’m terrified of being humiliated in this situation and being “found out” as being a terrible friend/human after all. It sounds funny and I just laughed a bit saying it that way.. ha! But still it’s how I feel.
I feel most connected to wholeness when I move and act right now in the ways that feel yummy or right (could be action or stillness). It’s hard to explain but something like: when I listen inside my body and act accordingly without hesitation or judging.
It’s lovely to hear that you can have some humor around the fear! That shows so much growth. And yes, the fear of humiliation is core for many HSPs.
You’ve explained the ways you connect to wholeness beautifully, and I could feel it in my body as I read your words. What you’re describing is the essence of self-trust.
Thank you, Olivia. I’m so glad my writing brings spacious breath.
And thank you for your thoughts! The transition is big but also quite beautiful, and after deep grieving in winter, I’m in acceptance and readiness – and so excited for his next adventure :).
Fear of death is absolutely massive for me. Both of my own death, and the death of the planet. The war in Ukraine is central to these worries at the moment, and I haven’t yet learnt how to help myself. I know that not checking the news so often is very important – but I am finding this incredibly hard to do.
Sending love to you and the community.
I think you do know how to help yourself, Joshua: it’s the discipline of not reading the news. Very hard but also doable!
true. But it’s also important to me to be reasonably informed about current affairs, so I really need to work to find that balance.
Balance is key. Checking every day or even every few days isn’t necessary to stay informed.
I love your words, I love knowing that I’m not alone, that there are people out there like me. Someone who sees the world in a way that sometimes hurts but that is sometimes so so beautiful. Nature, laying under a tree, looking up at the sky, the clouds, listening to the cello. I get there. To the place that feels safe, that feels like home. All is safe, all is good, all is well.
I love your words, too. Reading this fills me with so much warmth.
I wasn’t expecting the mention of fear of death. I’ve mostly come out of my dark night, but instead of feeling better all around, I’m finding I feel better than I ever have emotionally but mentally and physically – which used to be my strong areas – I’m worse than I knew was possible for me. I’m all of a sudden afraid of dying and sometimes I’m convinced I’m going to soon. It’s like an existential crisis and identity crisis and a bit of depression and anxiety all rolled into one. But seeing fear of death mentioned makes me feel like maybe what I’m going through is not entirely unexpected.
Yes, it seems to me that the fear of death is at the very core of anxiety and OCD, so it makes sense that it would emerge from your dark night of the soul.
So beautifully worded. The nameless pain of separation, of loss, of ageing, of it all changing. Always, always, always for me I find that place in nature. It’s the one true, reliable place for me. Where my heart soars at the sight of a single leaf lit up with the sun and the beautiful, earthy smell of mud fills my nose. I have transcendent moments almost every time I get into nature and I notice it, really notice it. Sometimes even the whole walk is transcendent. I love dialoguing out loud on nature walks and being held by something bigger and safe 🌳❤️
This is so poetic and beautiful, George. I read it twice and both times filled me with joy. 💕
YES YES to so much of this. Feeling like I am the one who has to keep everyone safe. Feeling the unbearable burdens of a planet that is suffering, a political and church system that is chaotic and polarized. Nature and fresh air has always been my go-to but sometimes life is just TOO much.
I am wondering if this battle with reality/perfection/death and destruction is another place where people with anxiety/RA run into or turn in their thoughts/dreams to the idealized mate? That escape hatch? When too much happened (long hard story) and then the pandemic, and THEN my dad announced he was dying, I found myself suddenly feeling very young, wanting to leave my spouse and go find a Perfect Protector/Rescuer/Knight/Manly Man who would take care of me…it was like I was a child screaming “no one is taking care of me!!!!” (my husband is more of the gentle/sweet/kind variety). I’m in therapy. Just curious about other’s reflections on this.
Yes, the longing for the rescuer and to be lifted out of the messiness of life often shows up with relationship anxiety. I’m so sorry for all your hardship. It’s been a profoundly difficult few years on this planet for so many…❤️