Why I have so many old clothes
25 sleeps to go. Stakes are high. The Grand ERP Trip is approaching at pace.
The reason why a lot of my clothes have holes in them is, obviously, because I have worn them so many times. I bought them several years ago and, since Husband and I had no income for 22 months until last August, I couldn’t buy much new stuff. Instead of throwing my old, holy clothes out, I have accumulated them in anticipation of my upcoming Exposure-And-Response-Prevention (ERP) Trip to Zurich, Switzerland.
The stakes are high. Zurich is highly contaminated to me because my parents and I were there together once, over a decade ago, for a few hours only and since my parents are my source of contamination, the entire city is dirty. A year ago, I wouldn’t even have touched, let alone bought, items here in England that are made in Zurich (or nearby) like Sprüngli chocolate. Not only is this year’s advent calendar a Sprüngli one and made by the Zurich Lake, I am even going to travel to Zurich for about 2 weeks in December. Something I used to think wasn’t possible.
The goal is to be able to return from ‘dirty’ Zurich to England, where my husband and I currently live, and to NOT throw away any of the items that I have worn/taken with me to Zurich, as well as to not wash myself excessively to remove ‘my parents’ from me.
I feel there is a lot at stake because I’m planning on taking my favourite clothes with me. This is to support the overall feeling for me while being there – I want to feel good about myself, and I believe that this could be helpful in the fight against Sonja (=my OCD, which I named Sonja). It shall be part of self-care and self-compassion to make me stronger. I even plan on painting my nails just for the trip.
At the same time, this means that if I DON’T make it and succeed the moment I return to England – meaning that intrusive thoughts and extreme discomfort will overwhelm me – I would have to throw away my favourite clothes. All of those that I had with me in Zurich.
For that reason, my old, holy clothes currently serve as my backup plan. The last time I was in Zurich was Christmas 2014. My husband and I went there from Paris, where we lived at the time. Both of us took clothes with us that we separated from what we usually wore in Paris. Both of us needed to take a shower on returning to Paris and get rid of the Zurich-clothes. That’s what Sonja demanded.
There are 25 sleeps to go until The Grand ERP Trip and maybe this is enough time to change my mind about my favourite clothes and Zurich and jump onto plan B instead. I could take the old and scruffy stuff with me, leave my favourite clothes at home and play safe. I might still not wash myself excessively on returning.
However… I really do not want to go through what I used to endure and what I call Going Through Transformation in my novel, One Of Us Has To Go, because it is sooo very horrible. Not only is the actual act of washing myself – the compulsion – gut wrenching, it is also a particular darkness that would hover over me for several days previously, leading up to the event of washing myself and throwing away clothes.
Either way, there will be a fight and some unpleasant feelings: the fight against Sonja/OCD when resisting her demands and then sitting with extreme discomfort and anxiety; or the darkness that resembles depression for me when I know the horrible washing routine at the moment of return is coming closer and closer.
Unlike in the past when I chose to obey any rule imposed by OCD, I have begun to suffer more at times when that other darkness enters my head – the one that comes along leading up to extreme compulsions.
Hopefully I’ll manage to stick to plan A which is fight Sonja and take my favourite clothes with me.
The last time I did something similar, almost two decades ago, the exposure I faced back then didn’t work out and I had to be Going Through Transformation – an excerpt from my book:
I copied Sonja, everything she did, undergoing hours of torture. I undressed and stuffed my northern-Germany clothes into the bin. I washed my hands and then soaped the key to my room, before rinsing and repeating. Doing it twice was safer! I placed my clean key next to Sonja’s on the shelf below the mirror. Then I started scratching Goran contamination away from underneath my finger- and toenails, using Sonja’s file once she’d finished with it herself. She watched, and I was only allowed to stop when no more skin came off.
One hour must have passed, at least, when we stepped into the tubs to shower. I followed all of Sonja’s instructions – rubbing shower gel everywhere – into my skin, my hair. I rinsed my body assiduously, for minutes on end. Then I poured shower gel onto my flattened palm, mixed it with water and sucked the froth up my nostrils. I needed to cough and make awful noises. The gel was pinching and biting the inside of my nose. My inner tracts burned up into my head. It felt as if my brain was being attacked but couldn’t escape from my skull. I had so much pressure in there. I rinsed my nostrils in the same way with plain water.
Now I had to clean the inside of my mouth. Sonja had already poured shower gel directly from the bottle into her mouth, caught some water from the running shower, and was about to gargle the mixture, bending her head backwards. Everything was going deep into her throat, as far as possible. I forced myself to open my mouth and squeeze my shower gel bottle for the gel to flow onto my tongue. It tasted so bitter. I caught some water, bent my head back and gargled just before I would have swallowed the stuff. It wasn’t easy not to spill it all out as I made abominable noises. Then I spat it out into the tub, soapy bubbles around my mouth. I retched for some seconds. Thoughts of abandoning this horrible routine throbbed in my head. I wanted to ask Sonja, beg her. I couldn’t go any further. I didn’t want to.
“And now the eyes,” she said.
“No. Sonja, I can’t do this. Please.” I actually did beg her.
She turned, her head slightly bent so she could see me fully from the back room. “But you promised. So keep going. It will be over!”
There was no abandoning. How could she be so disciplined? It was unbelievable that she was able to do all this against every natural reflex and reluctance. I had to coerce myself to keep my eyes open as I rubbed shower gel into them. Once I felt the burning pain, I was allowed to rinse with water.
After that, everything needed to be repeated. Long and thorough soaping of my body and hair. Rinsing, for minutes. Then washing my nose. I was already disgusted simply by the look of the green shower gel, pouring it onto my flat hand. I hated its smell, although I knew it was nice. Shower gels normally aren’t horrible.
I sucked the froth I had made all the way up my nose, and I heard my own noises echoing off the tiled walls. I rinsed. Tears wanted to make their way out from behind my eyes. But Sonja pushed me on to the next step. So callously demanding.
I pulled myself together and poured shower gel into my mouth, added water and gargled deep down into my throat. Just before swallowing, I again heard the echo of my noises as I spat the whole shitty cocktail out around my feet, followed by retching. It was murder! I rinsed with water. The insides of my cheeks were sore, burning from the alkaline shower gel.
We finished the second round of the procedure by washing our eyes, and then started the third one by soaping our bodies again. Washing of noses, throats and eyes followed. I was lucky Sonja hadn’t invented a technique to wash deep inside her ears.
During all of this washing, I thought it would never end. I almost didn’t believe I’d ever get to the point where Sonja could pronounce me, and herself, clean enough. But then, finally, we reached the finish line. Thank goodness, the torture was over.
Sonja protected her fingers with a piece of tissue to unlock the door. The lock and handle were far too contaminated since she had touched them with her dirty hand before washing herself. The tissue was the last item left in the prepared plastic bag from the handle of her bedroom door. I had nothing left in mine, since putting on my Munich clothes that were now glued to my limbs and body like a second skin – wet, as I had pulled them on without drying myself first.
“Leave your shower gel behind. The cleaning lady will clear them away,” Sonja said.
Our bottles were pretty much empty anyway.
I was allowed to enter my room, having successfully managed the switch. Welcome back to the clean Munich-world, me! On the way into her room, Sonja didn’t forget to thank me for my effort. I peered at the time displayed on my alarm clock: 4.03. I turned the heating on and brushed my wet, matted hair. My skin was softened, my fingers wrinkled. Like those of a washerwoman. I glanced into the mirror. My face was white. My eyes red, making me think of Floppsie, the albino rabbit I used to have as a kid. They were smarting! I didn’t bother brushing my teeth; the insides of my cheeks were still burning. I unpeeled my damp clothes and spread them over the radiator, then rubbed my skin with the towel from next to the sink and slipped into my pyjamas. Crawling into bed, I just wanted to close my eyes.
It was cosy in bed. Very cosy. I was happy to be back in Munich. Very happy.
When I woke, my eyes felt bizarre. I got up, felt my way across the room. By the time I reached the mirror over the sink, I still couldn’t move my eyelids. They were stuck! I splashed water from the tap over them. Eventually, I was able to see myself in the mirror and looked closely into my sore eyes, pulling long threads of slime out of them.
I felt harmed. Harmed by Sonja’s routine. In fact, I didn’t just feel harmed, I was harmed. I left my room, wanting to tell her off for what she had done to me. For what I had let her do to me. For what I had done myself to me.
But that was the point: I’d given in to her inhumane demand voluntarily. I had allowed it.
So what could I now accuse her of? Blackmail, maybe? She’d said she wouldn’t be able to deal with me any more if I had said no. The problem was that it was too late, because I had made the decision to suffer the torture. Because I didn’t want to risk losing my best friend.
And still I knocked on Sonja’s door, but when I saw another two red Floppsie-eyes, I just turned around, marched back into my room and banged the door closed behind me.