Ten steps forward… one hundred steps back.
That’s often what the journey of healing from this disorder feels like. “Relapse” is a nasty word that will literally send any Trichster into a cringeworthy state of shame and fear. For me, it’s a word that sounds a lot like “failure”.
If you’re new to this blog or I haven’t had the chance to share my story with you yet, I’ve struggled with an OCD disorder called Trichotillomania since I was a child. (You can read all about it in my original blog post, here). Mouthful of a word, right? Let’s call it “Trich” for short. It’s the term that describes the overwhelming, involuntary, and often subconscious urge to pull out my hair; mostly in times of focus, anxiety, idleness, or simply put, as a coping mechanism for any other number of environmental or emotional triggers. Yes, that age-old phrase about being so stressed out you could go bald? Well, I do. And my personal kryptonite is my face- easily accessible lashes and brows that my brain swears to tell me do not belong there. Get rid of them. And so without permission, my body seems to react to that prompting as if I exert no control over my own movements. Trich is an endless cycle of complex triggers, conditioned neurological responses, pits of shame… and no cure yet discovered by the medical community.
Earlier this year I shared a little bit about my first huge, amazing stride in finding healing from this disorder. After nearly two decades of hiding it from others, I made the decision to go public with my Trich. I surrendered it to God and was met with the most gracious group of people who then covered me in prayer and declarations of victory over my life for the first time. Chains were broken that day, and over the past few months I had been seeing progress like I had never experienced ever before. For many months, I was able to control my urges, avoid pulling, and see so much growth that I was actually able to wear mascara! (That sounds insanely feminine, I know. But trust me, this was a majorly tangible example of success for me, especially as someone who really has never had that *girly* experience of wearing makeup for “fun”, rather than pure necessity to cover up a disorder.)
But… here’s the sucky thing about Trich.
Progress, growth, and tangible results take a natural course of months to see. One single day of beating my urges or being “pull-free” does not equate to healing for me. It’s a step, for sure. And I try to honor those rare days for what they are. But the truth of this disorder is that ultimate healing and progress takes hundreds of steps: hundreds of those days to allow for hair growth, hundreds of moments of overcoming intense neurological processes and deeply rooted urges, and hundreds of practices and small moments of retraining my mind and cognitive habits, to start to see the product of it all. And even after hundreds of days of victory, it only takes one moment- a matter of mere minutes- to stare into the face of defeat.
Months and months of growth, destroyed in one “pulling episode” over a few key seconds.
This is relapse.
This is the pit of shame and regret and anger and self-berating and questioning that can feel like even though you made ten really important steps in the right direction, you still ended up 90 steps back from where you started.
It’s like you’re walking upwards on the down escalator, dragging your feet, feeling the weight of exhaustion as your muscles cry out from the pain of stepping over and over again, only to look up at that top floor- still all the ways away- and realizing that despite your aching legs, you’ve put no distance between you and the starting line.
Where you want to be is still out of reach, and all you have to show for it are sore muscles, a hurting heart, a deflated self-confidence, and a lack of motivation to try again.
With Trich, you’re not allowed to have even one bad day, lest you risk falling backwards to ground zero. And that makes efforts, motivations, and faith to start again… pretty unsustainable. Trich is an exhausting, emotionally depleting, and mentally taxing mountain to climb- especially when you can finally turn the corner and see that summit up ahead, only to trip on a single rock and come cascading down the cliffside once more. And after time and time and time again of that routine- after twenty years of falling down that same mountainside- it makes you want to just stay at the bottom, set up camp, and put up a resentful “welcome” sign, since this might as well be your home now.
I don’t know what mountain you’ve been trying to climb lately. I don’t know how many times you have painfully ascended towards victory, only to descend just as swiftly into the trench of failure. I don’t know how long you have looked at that summit- two years, twenty years, or longer- and wondered if the day where you will set your flag upon it even exists anymore. I don’t know how many times you have waved your white flag, sat down at the bottom, arms folded, and vowed your refusal to take another step. And I don’t know why God doesn’t always clear all the rocks from our path to prevent us from crashing down so often.
But can I share why I choose to keep climbing, over and over again, decade after decade?
Because I know that that camp I have tried to stubbornly and heartbreakingly set up at the bottom, in that valley of shame and fear and defeat, is not the home that God planned for me. I know that I will stumble down into it countless more times… but I also know that it is not where I belong.
I get it- it seems hopeless, and beyond frustrating, and sometimes downright foolish to keep going back up, knowing what could (or inevitably will) come. Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results”. And if you’ve been climbing the same mountain for as long- or longer- than I have, then it’s hard to not feel a little insane yourself. And frankly, that’s a really clever-sounding rhetoric of the enemy to get you to stop trying; tricking you into thinking that it’s the logical choice.
But here’s why getting back up and taking all the familiar steps again is actually not a repeat of what you have done every time before: because every time you take another step, you are not who you were before.
God may let you stumble, question, doubt, get angry with him, and crash hard. But He will not let you go unchanged by it. It’s a promise He keeps.
“You meant it for evil against me, but God intended it all for good” (Genesis 50:20)
“We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28)
If I look back at the way I started my climb of this mountain five or ten years ago, I realize how far I have come in knowledge of this disorder; treatments and techniques that will (or definitely won’t) work; and a comprehensive understanding of how faith makes a difference. And I’m betting that if you looked back on your own journey, you might agree that you’re not who you once were either.
You are more equipped. Wiser. More gracious with yourself. Each and every time.
And you know the cool thing about God? If before you stand up and take that first step again, you find yourself needing time to wallow and brood and be upset- He can take it.
When I find myself having crashed back down into that valley, I don’t open my eyes, immediately delighted by the chance to start anew, bubbly and bouncing my way back to the starting line. Not even remotely.
For awhile, I am resentful. Upset with myself. Upset with God. Full of doubt and anger and guilt. And just so. freaking. tired. Of all of it.
When I fall down, I want to spend a few days licking my wounds, crying, and thinking about how much it all just sucks. And I have learned that God wants us to honor those feelings for what they are- he allows us to feel deeply every human emotion and reaction we may have. And he sits in it with us, even when we don’t want Him to. He graciously holds our hand and wraps us up, even as we are content to stay covered in the dirt and bloody scrapes from our fall, while we let our brief phase of self-pity and loathing run its course.
Take your time. Feel what you feel. Honor it. Confess it to Him- He has shoulders big enough to bear it all, and you’ll not find him offended by your anger, hurt, or questions. He won’t turn away from you. He stays in the muck, gets down in the dirt, and holds the wet rag for you when you’re ready to clean yourself up and get back to it.
But do get back to it. Over and over and over again. Do keep chasing your summit of victory. If ever you raise a white flag of surrender, let it be to God and not to the mountain in front of you. Do keep growing, learning, and getting better at the climb you have climbed so many times already.
A year ago I decided to get a tattoo of a mountain range on my ribs- close to my heart. (PSA- if you’re debating your own tattoo locations, I officially do not recommend the ribcage unless you have the pain tolerance of Chuck Norris). I got it not to remind me of the intimidating mountain I face every day, but to remind me of who is already standing on top of it.
God has already scaled that mountain for you. He’s already been atop it and placed a flag there in honor of your complete and final victory. But then He comes back down alongside you to help you reach it for yourself and endure the journey- whatever it looks like for you.
Keep climbing. Keep ascending. And if you find yourself failing of your own strength to keep going, take His hand for support.
He’s got this mountain. You don’t need to scale it alone.
“I will praise you on the mountain,
And I’ll praise you when that mountain’s in my way,
You’re the summit where my feet are,
So I will praise you in the valley’s all the same…
— (Highlands, Hillsong)
“If all I know of harvest is that it’s worth my patience, then if you’re not done working, God I’m not done waiting”