Today’s scrupulosity story comes from Randy S, who hails from western Michigan. He’s been married to his wife Paula for 39 wonderful years. Together they have two children and four grandchildren, and Randy has an incredibly encouraging story about how God has been helping him overcome religious OCD.
Randy, thank you so much for joining us! Tell us a bit about the origins of your OCD.
I believe that I was genetically predisposed to obsessive compulsive disorder due to family members displaying some traits. I also believe that growing up with a manipulative gaslighting mother and an unpredictable father with bipolar disorder also contributed to the development of my OCD. There were lots of contradictions and fear-based manipulation in our household. I was told one thing, then something different. I learned that nothing was for sure and learned to trust my intuition.
Despite having a difficult home situation, you were interested in the Lord from an early age. How would you describe your relationship with God at that time?
I received Jesus into my heart at the age of twelve. I immediately became passionate about pleasing God. I was truly changed. I attended church regularly and got involved in youth group. I was discipled on right and wrong and I tried really hard to do what was right and was a wreck if I thought I did something wrong. If I thought I might be the least bit possibly wrong, I would immediately try to appease God with apologies. Although that might not sound unreasonable, it became overwhelming and burdensome especially for a teenager. I soon would begin to rationalize those behaviors that were too difficult for me or would say repetitive words of repentance that had no real value. I began a roller coaster ride where I would be on a very legalistic spiritual high commitment for months, then burnout and go for months rationalizing the foolishness I found comfort in. This would lead to guilt and the cycle would start over again.
As your scrupulosity developed, you came to a crisis point. What was that like?
In my late twenties I finally came to a major crisis. I ended up with a nervous breakdown. Right amongst a spiritual high, I fell into a state of hopelessness. I felt that God had had it with me. I began to think that I had committed blasphemy of the spirit or that my salvation wasn’t real. It really didn’t make sense to think those things since I strongly desired the things of God. To make matters worse, my theological ideas were a bit hodgepodge and inconsistent. I began to really search the scriptures for truth. God provided me with mentors who helped me understand the real grace of God and to rightly divide the word of truth. Despite the progress, I kept getting stuck in irrational thinking and emotional panic. About a year and a half into this crisis, I learned about obsessive compulsive disorder and how it can affect your spiritual perceptions. What a breath of fresh air. I had seen hope again.
How did you react to the diagnosis of OCD?
I could easily confirm my OCD. I had previously experienced just about every other OCD symptom or manifestation under the sun. I was such a detailed perfectionist that I couldn’t finish many tasks that I started. I would spend several minutes each night double checking to see that our house doors were locked and then an hour later check them again. I would bore people when I spoke because I tried to give every detail, whether or not they were relevant. I lost jobs because excessive pickiness made for an expensive employee. But a diagnosis gave me hope again. I not only had some peace over my spiritual issues, but I had an explanation for many of my other life struggles.
At this point you started to make a turn towards the better. Your psychiatrist got you on medication and you began to learn healthy habits that would support your OCD recovery. Things seemed to be going really well but then you hit a major roadblock.
Several years later when my aging parents needed care from my wife and myself, old patterns began to re-emerge with my parents. I began to be re-enmeshed with my mother’s head games. Over time it broke me down till my self-confidence was broken and started feeling uncertain about my perceptions of things around me. Eventually I again began to doubt my beliefs about how God felt about me. I really struggled, but eventually with much counseling and a much-needed increase of dosage of Prozac, I not only received healing, but I am working in ministries including leading a Celebrate Recovery program. Praise God for his grace!
I’d like to go back for a moment to talk about your family situation as a child. You mentioned that it wasn’t ideal. How do you think your childhood environment contributed to your healthy or unhealthy view of God?
My father suffered from WWII PTSD and manic depression; now called bipolar disorder. My mother had an undiagnosed anxiety and control issue as well as a serious a serious problem with unhealthy narcissism and codependency.
I was 7 and 10 years younger than my siblings. I was a bit spoiled to say the least and a bit of a brat. But despite being the golden child, I was not the rebellious type. I was a compliant people-pleaser, at least tried to be. I never succeeded all that well, being as my mother loved all the attention of having a baby and tried to keep me that way as long as she could. Dealing with very annoyed and jealous brothers as well as a mother who finally found someone who she could control (Me) made it hard for me to individuate. I was immature socially and had major self-esteem issues. I first considered and attempted suicide at the age of nine or ten.
I got married at twenty and became a father at twenty-one. Between graduation and marriage, I did slip in three semesters of college. I really didn’t do well with it due to lack of focus and a lot of anxiety. I was juggling the stress of college, the pursuit of cars and girls and never having truly learned that failure or success was not dependent on perfect circumstances, BUT ON ME. Low self-image and LEARNED incompetence was not exactly a recipe for success.
So, at twenty I left the world of flipping hamburgers and going to college to join the world of physical labor. The labor market was tight in the early eighties, and I had no real marketable job skills. I struggled to stay employed and with a baby, getting by was tough. Fortunately, I was Dutch and good with math. I was able to stretch a dollar.
My mother seized the opportunity to be a hero at the expense of my dignity. She pitied me when instead she should have encouraged me with affirmation that I could do it on my own. She loved being the hero to my wife. My wife didn’t catch on till later in life. She came from a rather high functioning family and thought my mom was just being kind when she helped us out financially. I was HUMILIATED by it all and began a habit of working long hours and doing whatever it took to support my family.
By 25 my esteem and low functionality had led me into another depression. Although I had become more independent and prosperous through long hours and hard work there were still boundary issues in my life. This led to a major nervous breakdown at the age of 28.
My mom had been a master at using head games to manipulate me. This made it difficult for me to trust my intuition. This constant self-doubt began to carry into my spiritual life. Soon I began seeing God as UNPREDICTABLE. I had a hard time feeling sure that God was okay with me and that my salvation I had for over 15 years was a reality I could be SURE of. I still prayed and sensed his presence. I still had the desire to follow his lead, but I could no longer feel sure about anything. I was so confused.
This ordeal put me in a nonfunctional crisis. I was hospitalized and lost weeks of work. It took almost 2 years to figure out what was going on and get my life fully back. Besides discovering my codependency, I learned that I had obsessive compulsive disorder. I learned that Prozac was the recommended drug for this. But most importantly, I for the first time in my walk of faith got serious about learning the truths of scripture. I came to grips with the reality that I couldn’t appease God with my good works, but that I was solely dependent on the great work of Christ for my redemption and good standing with God the father. This more pure understanding of my depravity and the righteousness of the cross of Christ became a new paradigm for me. I was lacking knowledge of my true identity in Christ and the awareness that my irrational obsessions were the result of a lifelong medical condition exacerbated by unpredictable authority figures like my parents. Although I hold NO resentments toward them, between my mom’s manipulative head games and my dad’s erratic bipolar disorder, I never LEARNED certainty. BUT, God’s word is certain. My salvation is sure and I learned to build a new life on these principles. God’s love is unconditional unlike our parents who are sinfully human like us.
You’ve had quite a scrupulosity story, Randy. What would you say to others who are somewhere on the same OCD recovery road that you’ve traveled?
There is truly victory in Jesus. If I ever I feel completely hopeless, I know I can count on Jesus to never let anything separate me from HIM. I can’t depend on me, but I can depend on him always. This brings me the peace I need to press on. With the emotional security this provides, I’m less driven to self-destructive behaviors. I no longer need to take refuge in the comforts of this world for temporary peace.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ with Scrupulosity. There is hope! Our hope in Christ is not an “I hope so!” No! Our hope in Christ is an “anticipation” for what is to come. Jesus won the battle over our sin when he took it to the cross. Now he gives us his spirit so that we can conquer sin in our daily life and experience the joy of the fruitful living he intended from the beginning. Brothers and sisters, we WILL be together one day in Paradise.
Thank you, Randy, for sharing your scrupulosity story! I encourage our readers to comment below if this story touched you or helped you think of something new in your relationship with God. Let Randy know you appreciate his courage and openness. We’re all in this together!