Obsessions are unwanted thoughts that keep recurring in your mind. A common obsession is "My hands are contaminated." The thought just keeps repeating itself and I can't get rid of it until I perform some kind of compulsion. A compulsion is any act or thought that is used to bring down the anxiety caused by the obsession. For me, a common compulsion to reduce the anxiety caused by the thought of "My hands are contaminated" is to wash my hands. When my OCD was really bad I would wash my hands over and over again until they were rubbed raw and red. Let's just say I've spent a lot of time over the years searching for the best hand cream. My most common compulsion is avoidance. It took me about 5 months of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) before I truly understood that avoidance IS a compulsion - an act (or non-act) that reduces my anxiety caused by obsessions. My obsession might be that a particular bathroom is contaminated - this causes anxiety, so to reduce my anxiety I just avoid using that bathroom. Voila - I have now performed a compulsion! And trust me this is a painful compulsion if you are out with your family for say an 8 or 10 hour outing and you deem that all bathrooms are contaminated. More about how to fight compulsions later.
I am saying a prayer for you and me right now - that we would both be able to fight a compulsion today. It doesn't have to be a big one - just a tiny one. Every little step forward is a step towards health. That is how I've been able to regain parts of my life back.