My teenage daughter and I come from a long line of nervous smilers, appalled smilers, and many other smile-related coping mechanisms. My Charismatic Christian grandmother even tried to pray a demon of mockery out of my sister due to her nervous giggling. Of course, that’s a whole other post, perhaps titled, “Nonsense Be Thy Name,” but I digress.
My daughter often asks me questions I can’t answer. I’m instructed not to answer by her therapist as they are reassurance-seeking questions fueled by her OCD; thus, my answers would be enabling.
They often start with, “So, I know this might be an OCD question but…”
That’s my cue. The point where I know immediately that I can listen and offer support, but I am not supposed to reassure and become part of her OCD ritual. As many who’ve suffered OCD—especially harm, morality, checking OCD and the like—know, reassurance is an abyss that can never be filled. “Are you sure I’m not a bad person? Are you sure I’m not a murderer? A weirdo? Someone who doesn’t deserve to live because I have these thoughts?” The list goes on.
“You know I can’t answer that,” I reply.
“Arr,” she moans, almost comically, as she scrunches her face and gives that little smile that helps her deal with the crushing anxiety that OCD brings. I call it the “Smiling Buddha.” It’s a wonderful counterbalance that keeps this thing from crushing her. I don’t believe Smiling Buddha is avoidance or minimizing. It is a grace. It doesn’t fix everything or banish the beast, but while the OCD beast thrashes around demanding attention, ritual, and blind obedience, Smiling Buddha tames the tyrant with a quiet, unexpected power.
We know Harm OCD is a big problem that demands big solutions, tough solutions. In fact, we feel that we are damn near broken as we implement these solutions. The ERP therapy itself is painful and demanding. There’s nothing easy about lying in the floor in absolute terror that you might be a murderer and being told to do nothing to reassure yourself. The harsh reality is pretty much what Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell keep on going.”
Here’s to the Smiling Buddha–the little graces that are so unobtrusive, modest, humble, and unassuming, that we almost overlook them. In hindsight, they are irreplaceable anchors in a stormy sea.
There is nothing weak about this bundle of fear, nerves, and sorrow I see before me seeking reassurance, this lovely soul that is my daughter. I don’t reassure. I just listen, as Smiling Buddha sits across from me, quietly accepting, unmoving in the torment that is very much still there.
Grace in the flames.