It’s 9:30 pm on Sunday evening. Blake, the hubby, and I giddily walk into our local drug store. It’s eerily quiet. The shelving units are on casters, the walls are bare, and the clerk looks at us like there’s something wrong that we are there. I glance in the direction of the ice cream counter. I can see that it’s still there.
“We’d like to get some ice cream,” I say.
The clerk looks back at me like I’m from another world.
“It’s closed until we finish the remodel.”
I’m disappointed. I mean, really disappointed. The three of us walking into a store to buy ice cream together – well, this hasn’t happened in years. Blake agreed earlier to go get ice cream together tonight and I was delighted. I’m not about to give up now. I think for a second.
“You have another store nearby,” I say, noting which one I’m talking about. “How late are they open? Is their ice cream counter open?”
“Yes, their ice cream counter is open. They’re finished with their remodel. They’re open until 10, if you can make it on time…”
Of course I can make it on time. I rush out the door with Blake and the hubby following close behind.
“It’s okay, Mom,” Blake says. “We don’t need to rush over. I’ll be okay without ice cream.”
“Honey, it’s just over the hill here. It’ll take five minutes to get there.”
It’s Not Just About Ice Cream
I’m a woman on a mission. I want to make it to the drug store before they close up for the night. We must have ice cream. This is about so much more than ice cream. It’s about being able to do something as a family that we haven’t been able to do in so long. It’s about how anxiety and OCD have stopped us from being able to do this simple activity together – and how tonight there is a little window to change that. I want to seize on this opportunity.
To be perfectly fair to Blake, it’s not all about OCD or anxiety. He does have some real dietary restrictions. However, quite some time ago we learned what he can and cannot eat, and how to check that all is okay when he’s out in the world. It’s just that, until tonight, he’s felt far too uncomfortable to do it. Avoiding has been his compulsion. Better safe than risk breaking a rule.
I pull into the parking lot and we go quickly inside. Yup, this store has finished its remodel. Still eerily quiet inside. There’s one lone clerk to be seen. When he glances in my direction, I have a feeling he’s going to tell us that they are closed. Then the hubby asks him if we can get some ice cream and he seems to lighten up as he moves to the ice cream counter.
I Don’t Need Any Ice Cream
The hubby orders first – a big double scoop. Blake pulls me aside. He looks nervous.
“I changed my mind. I don’t feel comfortable with this. I don’t need any ice cream.”
I feel a little switch flip inside of me. Wait? Hadn’t we already talked this out? I’ve taken us to two different stores just to reach this moment?
“Blake. Come on. You can do this. Did we really come out for you to change your mind?”
The hubby sees what is happening and gives me a look.
“Hey, it’s Blake’s decision. Let him do what he chooses.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m going to go order.”
And I order my single scoop of chocolate malted crunch, not sure I’m going to enjoy it quite so much. My sugar cone breaks when the clerk goes to put the ice cream in it and he has to start over.
“They’re making the cones thinner now,” he tells me. “I use twice as many because they keep breaking.”
He hands me my cone and I take a lick. It does taste really good. I just wish Blake could enjoy it, too.
I Want to Try
I turn around, ready to pay for our cones, and see Blake right there.
“I changed my mind, Mom. I want to try. What is it I have to check for? How do I do it?”
I explain to Blake that he just has to ask the clerk to show him the containers that the ice cream and cones are stored in. There, he can check the ingredients appropriately. He’s nervous, in part because he’s learning a new skill, but to a larger degree because his OCD is telling him this is bad, he’s breaking the rules, something bad could happen.
Blake asks the clerk to show him each. It all checks out. He orders a double scoop of chocolate. He eats every last bit, his anxiety melting away with each lick.
A Double Scoop; A Double Triumph
That night the ice cream tasted better than I remembered. Probably enhanced by the sweetness of what occurred. Blake stood up to his OCD for the evening, and he triumphed. He took a new step toward a little more freedom.
I also took a step. You see, I’m part of the problem. When I see Blake giving in to his OCD, like he almost did when he said he wasn’t going to get any ice cream, I get emotional. I actually start to get angry. I want him to stand up to the OCD…but my anger and frustration don’t help. They make things worse. If I would’ve not taken the hubby’s cue and continued to push, it wouldn’t have gone well. Blake would have remained steadfast in not getting his ice cream because my emotions would have only created more anxiety for him. When I stepped back, Blake gained space to do what he needed to do. He was able to find his bravery and do what felt uncomfortable.
Bravery is what defeating OCD is all about – doing different than what your brain is telling you to do. My boy was brave that night. I like to think I was brave, too. Or strong. It’s difficult to step back…at least it is for me. I hate when OCD steps in and takes things from my son and from our family experience. Helping Blake means I have to respond differently that how I might automatically want to. So I guess we both grew just a little from that experience. I think we need some more ice cream…