Friday, December 31, 2010

Dealing with Feared Consequences When they Happen: The Impossibility of Coming Out in Advance

What's Right Around Us

A post by Pure O Canuck got me thinking when she about her relationship OCD(ROCD) and homosexuality OCD(HOCD),
When does this horrible urge/need to find the answer end? And why does it seem like others have found the answer and I can't? It seems like others are living happily ever after. Can I say that I feel that way about my relationship at the moment? Definitely not. (Spend too much time on that and the ROCD starts up - but that's for another post.)
This desire to live happily ever after is seductive for all humans, and when you have OCD, there can be a gnawing, erosive need to figure out if you actually are living happily, or whether you have made a huge mistake in who you choose to be with by compulsively analyzing or avoiding all triggers of the fears. I read lots of "coming out" stories in college(which is one of Pure O Canuck's exposures right now), and I longed for the click, the final puzzle piece going into place, the revelation or vision that these stories seemed to offer. But I am realizing that the OCD is latching onto the metaphor of "coming out" as a form of absolute certainty, which in actuality it is not, and OCD is very opportunistic and picks up on other images like being "in denial about being gay." As Pure O Canuck says,
I know that I am not going to get an absolute, certain answer to these questions. (I don't quite understand why - it seems like others have it. But I guess that's just a momentary feeling and it will come and go.)
It's hard to accept that other people seem to have absolute certainty, and there's a longing to have some of that elixir, but in reality, people without OCD may simply be able to move on in spite of some uncertainty, rather than seeking to eradicate every last remnant. Others were indeed in denial about being gay because of strong cultural and religious pressure and condemnation, but eventually reached a point where they came to accept who they were, in spite of trepidation or fear, and often sound at peace, but this isn't the same thing as absolute certainty. OCD never grants peace in the long term. If I feed my OCD with figuring out, analyzing and avoidance, even if one obsession recedes, another one will appear.

My therapist likes to say, "If your feared consequence happens, you'll deal with it then. You don't need to know the answers to your OCD questions right now." That's the basic uncertainty--the women in some of these coming out stories didn't know that they would suddenly fall in love with a woman--but if they didn't have OCD, they dealt with it when it happened, not in beforehand rumination.

I did the exposure of marrying my boyfriend, my now husband, in spite of agonizing whether I was really lesbian, and might never truly be happy, and over the years have grown to love my husband more and more, but I had to deal with a burst of anxiety about whether I loved him "enough" and when our 10th anniversary came, and we planned to renew our vows, I had a panic attack about whether I really could say "until death do us part"(which totally misses the point that I already had taken that vow the first time around!!) OCD narrows our vision, and allows no possibility of grace or peace.


  1. Wow....I hadn't even thought of OCD affecting sexual orientation before...but it does sound like classic OCD. And that is totally frustrating!
    And you're right - seeking reassurance and peace through rituals only brings more misery, and not actual peace.
    Hang in there.

  2. My therapist says the same thing - if my feared consequence arises, well, then I can deal with it then. Trying to ward off with absolutely certainty some unwanted feeling or event guarantees that I suffer now while not actually assuring that I won't suffer later from the very feared consequence I am trying so hard to avoid.

    When you mentioned wishing that you could experience that "click," the final puzzle piece fitting into place, I could relate to this in terms of discovering that I have OCD - now that that puzzle piece has finally found its rightful place in the form of diagnosis and treatment, I worry that it's too good to be true. That it's all made up. That I might discover later on that I actually DON'T have OCD and that the hope that treatment provides will be taken away. That I will be no better off than before, or more confused than ever. Just like you say that "coming out" isn't actually a form of absolute certainty, neither is OCD diagnosis. As with anything else, the more I try to be absolutely certain that I have OCD and that I'm not somehow making it all up or exaggerating my symptoms, the less certain it all will seem. The fact that I may not even have OCD, while unlikely, is one more uncertainty I have to accept. In the end we make have to take our best guess, move forward based on that guess, and if we find out we are wrong later, then, as your therapist says, we can deal with that then.

  3. Great post - thanks. I agree with your point about OCD luring us into thinking that "coming out" is a metaphor for "finding the answer". Moments of feeling like you have "the answers" are things that we all have, but they are fleeting. Dr. Grayson talks about that in his book - when people get married they presumably feel "certain" and "like they've found the one", but 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, so that obviously must change. Just because these women seem to have found the answer to all their problems by becoming out and being completely in love - doesn't mean that they will always be in love with their partners. Your sister is a good example of this. I struggle a little more with the "deal with the problem when you get there - because with OCD - it "feels" like I"m "there" - just as a hand washer "feels" dirty. So my OCD goes to the place of "well - maybe you are really gay right now - how do you know you're not?" So because I don't KNOW FOR SURE that I'm NOT a lesbian - this means that I probably am one. Does that make sense? It's hard not to latch onto the thoughts/images etc and check - obsess about "is this me coming out? Is this a symptom that I'm really gay? I better listen to these thoughts.....and try to figure out what they mean. I guess at the end of the day it's about taking the risk and trusting that if I ever decide that I'm a lesbian I'LL KNOW IT.

  4. Shana--Thanks for commenting. It is amazing what ocd can latch onto!

    Fellow Sufferer--I hear you on the uncertainty about an ocd diagnosis--I also had hoped ERP would feel "certain"--I assumed it would just work zip zap, rather than being an ongoing process, though one that has been immensely freeing.

    Pure O--I resonate so much with the continual ocd refrains, the constant badgering of a new angle. Remember that OCD wants to perpetuate itself--that any argument it makes is just a way to keep it going. The "best guess" concept has really helped me--if pushed to make a guess, I can usually pick what I value or like or believe, even if it feels uncertain, or scary or not definitive enough--I use that as a benchmark, something to move toward, even if I'm not totally feeling it, because only in an OCD world do we feel 150%.

  5. ExpWoman - thank you so much for your support -and feedback/tips. They really, really help. I do have a question for you though: I've noticed that you "label" your OCD a lot - ie: an OCD thought, OCD's motives etc. Do you find that helps? From everything I read (even in Jonathan Grayson's book) - experts don't recommend that because they say that EVERYONE has thoughts like these from time to time. I'm wondering if I am misunderstanding how you are handling your thoughts? But it really seems to help so I'd like to hear what you have to say!!! And - since our experiences are parallel in so many way - perhaps I will try your method!! I hope you know where I'm going with this question?!

  6. Pure O--For me, when I say "my OCD thought" it's a shortcut to label a pattern of compulsiveness, and help me get some distance from it. I agree most people have intrusive thoughts or thoughts similar to someone with OCD at times, but what distinguishes someone with OCD is the pattern that envelopes the intrusive thoughts--ie.the compulsions, the figuring out, analyzing etc. It's not that I actually think OCD is a "person" or an "entity"--but that it's useful to me as a metaphor. I am aware that I am using OCD in this way, and sometimes wonder if it's a problem, so it's interesting to read your take on it. If you have some specific posts in mind, let me know.

  7. Hi - no I don't have any specific posts in mind - you just really seem to be able to "externalize" your OCD well. It's confusing for me because I have read that it really helps to think of your OCD as some outside monster/imp/whatever, but I guess one needs to be careful what to label - not the thought, but the REACTION to the thought. I think being able to do that really helps to get perspective and know when to take action (ie: stop analyzing and figuring out). I find it hard to do with my OCD themes though - because OCD tries to lure me back into compulsing by saying that these things (sexuality, relationships) are things that other people think about and SHOULD try to figure out in order to live a happy, fulfilling life on this planet. As I've mentioned in other posts - OCD tries to tell me that other people have these questions figured out so why shouldn't I? Not sure if my comments are making sense or not......