The Better Angels of My Nature

by Bill Brenner on December 18, 2009

It’s not hard for me to write about OCD, binge eating and pills. These are a part of life for people across political and religious divides. Depression and anxiety will hit you whether you’re Catholic, Baptist or agnostic; Democrat, Republican or Libertarian.

Religion and politics. Those are tough.

Those who know me know I have strong opinions on both. But I walk a delicate path between friends and family who are all over the map on these issues. So I wasn’t going to touch it here.

On the subject of religion, however, I realized I had no choice. To write about my experiences with OCD without mentioning my Faith is impossible. It’s too much a part of who I am and how I got here.

In April 2006 I was Baptized a Catholic after going through the RCIA program. This, after more than a decade in the religious wilderness. I was born into a Jewish family but we observed it in a mostly secular manner. By the time I reached my 20s, there was nothing keeping me there.

My first taste of the Catholic Faith was when I met my wife. She grew up going to church every Sunday and going to the same parochial school our boys go to today.

Erin never forced her faith on me, and our marriage certainly wasn’t built on the condition that I convert. I slowly inched toward my Faith over time, and my battle with OCD marked a turning point.

Among my friends and family are people who don’t believe in God and don’t want to hear others talk about it. Then there are those who believe in a higher power but are too angry over perceived wrongdoings in the Church. A lot of that anger is justified, especially when observed through the prism of the Priest Sex Abuse Scandal and atrocities that have happened in God’s name at the hands of misguided people over the centuries.

To the right are those who follow their Faith with a sometimes blinding passion. Bring up things about the organized church you disagree with and they’ll shut the conversation down with a few terse words. On this side of the court, to disagree with what the Pope or Bishops say is to be a fake Catholic or worse.

My misgivings, mainly the intolerance that often abounds in the church, are summed up pretty nicely by this West Wing clip, when President Bartlet, a devout Catholic, rips apart a TV pundit who claims to be an authority on the Word of God:

I also get a big kick out of movies that lampoon religion when it’s handled well. A special favorite is this one:

But all that aside, I believe in the central teachings of the Catholic Faith — that through the death and resurrection of Jesus, sinful humans can be reconciled to God and be offered salvation and the promise of eternal life.  (Wikipedia’s definition, but it’s essentially what I believe).

A big part of my conversion involved my battle with OCD. Part of the mental disorder involved relentless self criticism and loathing. Self-hatred is not too strong a description. I was so convinced that I was flawed beyond repair that I simply plowed along with my self-destructive behavior. I couldn’t get out of my own way.

Catholic conversion entered the picture because, as I was peeling back layer after layer in the struggle to find myself, I found that I simply couldn’t get there without help from a higher power. In 12-step programs like Overeaters Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, a central theme is that you need to put all your trust in a higher power. In fact, Step 2 says, “For our group purpose there is but one ultimate authority—a loving God as He may express Himself in our group conscience. Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern.”

I could have been drawn to one of the Protestant denominations or something like Unitarianism. But for me, the Catholic Faith resonated above all others. As I studied the Faith and applied it to my own history, I started to understand that I was not sinful beyond hope. I learned that it’s never too late for any of us, and so I found the strength to move forward and get better. It’s a journey that will continue to my dying breath.

I cherish Mass each week, along with all the Sacraments. My favorite is the Sacrament of Reconciliation — Confession. By spilling out the junk on a regular basis, I feel lighter, less burdened and able to deal with the lingering byproducts of my condition.

The community aspect has also been a tremendous source of strength. I’ve made some dear friends along the way, some of whom don’t share my skepticism of the Church as a governing entity.But we’re able to put those things aside. After all, we’re in full agreement on the central aspect of the Faith.

Faith isn’t for everyone. It may not even be the key to recovery for a lot of people. But it was essential for me, and that’s all that matters.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

L2 November 5, 2012 at 1:11 pm

After finding out that I could be FLAWED & still LOVED enough that Christ would die for me, it changed me – what a blessing!!! It doesn’t mean that I eschew medicine, nor that my mind is easily stilled (though contemplative prayer helps!), but it means that I see the gift in the OCD/ADD & that I can choose to allow God to renew my mind (Romans 12:2 says to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind” – & brain research says that we can grow new neural connections/thought patterns with practice) through His word…Amazing how often He rebukes my thoughts with His Word(i.e, as I strive for perfection in something “we all fall short” comes to mind – or, when I am frenetic with activity, I hear “Be Still & Know that I am God”) …I wonder if my OCD tendencies will wind up being integral in following His plan for my life, as I hear Him say “My strength is made perfect in your weakness” – what a funny sense of humor He has! Thanks for your blog, Bill – it’s part of your testimony & I know it is healing to many 🙂

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: