Updated: Jan 3
*This is a true story
In 2007, when I was 24 years old, I moved into my first apartment in North Hollywood, California. It was a junior one-bedroom, an upstairs unit. I loved it. I decked it out plush with all new modern furniture and lighting. At the time I was working an administrative job that I hated. My contamination-OCD was out of control, as was my alcoholism and substance use. One night a buddy and I went out for drinks; we got hammered. We ended up coming back to my apartment where I popped a ninety-nine cent Jeno's pizza in the microwave (If you grew up in the 90s you better know about Jeno's pizza and pizza rolls!) I took the soggy pizza out of the microwave and stumbled back to the coffee table where my friend and I devoured it in a drunken stupor.
The next morning I awoke from my slumber with an oh-so-pleasant hangover, and I had this one particular image stuck in my mind. The image was a first-person tunnel-vision shot looking down at the Jeno's pizza with my hand and my friend's hand reaching for a slice at the same time.
My contamination fears generally involved HIV. My friend who was over the night before was a mixed martial artist, and I began wondering if maybe he had abrasions on his hands from fighting. I then noticed I had a hangnail on one of my fingers. If my friend DID have any abrasions, they may have been bleeding and my hangnail may have been bleeding as well. This sounded like a potential HIV risk. I knew my fear was basically irrational but recognizing a concern as irrational does little most times for OCD or else I would have thought myself right out of my OCD time and time again. What made the risk greater to me was that I was intoxicated and could not remember the event clearly. I tried to replay it over and over in my mind to ensure there was no blood anywhere to be found. It was no use. I began consulting with friends, doctors, and the internet seeking certainty. There was none to be found. No matter what anyone told me, it wasn't reassuring enough because a risk of a fraction of a percent is still too great when it's in a domain my OCD latches onto - in my case, HIV infection.
I began taking drastic measures that had significant negative consequences. I asked my MMA fighter friend who was over that night about the state of his hands, were there any cuts? blood? scrapes? I proceeded to ask him about his sexual history and if he used protection so I could use my scientifically-precise arbitrary mental means of calculating his risk of being infected. He was irritated, to say the least. I asked him when his last HIV test was and how long prior to the test did he have sex. I bombarded him with questions seeking certainty by any means necessary cause it felt like I NEEDED IT.
This friend stopped talking to me. Surprise surprise. A mutual friend of ours caught wind of what happened and cut me off as well. I felt so ashamed. Asking my friend these questions was not something I genuinely wanted to do, but when certainty is on the line I have gone to any lengths possible to try and get it despite the consequences. I tried to reach out to these friends but received no response. I remember laying on my carpeted floor crying heavily with a deep pit in my stomach.
It's important to keep moments like these in mind as I walk my path in recovery today. This is where OCD will take me, sacrificing long-standing friendships chasing a hit of deluded certainty. This is not a place I ever want to return to. When I experience a struggle in my life and I'm debating handling it in an adaptive or maladaptive way, I need to ask myself "Is the action I'm about to take going to take me in the direction I want to go? Am I moving toward recovery or away? Am I acting inline with my values?"
My friend and I ended up hashing it out and became friends again many months later. In keeping our worst moments close, whether they be in active addiction, OCD or another affliction can help remind us of what's important. Our attitudes and actions matter, and can bring us closer to the path we want to travel on.