December 22, 2010

Exposure Hell

I'm going through Exposure Hell at the moment.  I'm doing some really tough exposure, and I'm really struggling with it.  I’ve worked my way through so many things, and now – funnily enough – those things seem pretty much like no big deal (for the most part!).  BUT – the drive to “figure it out” and “find the answer” is still there, which I guess is just an urge to ritualize, which might take some time to go away. 
I think I deserve a momentary pat on the back so I’m going to list the things that I worked my way through on the hierarchy:
1.       Looking at women in the Victoria Secret catalogue and rating them on their attractiveness.
2.       Wearing a t-shirt that says “I might be a lesbian” around my house.
3.       Walking through the “lesbian” area of Vancouver.
4.       Picking up and reading the gay/lesbian newspaper.
5.       Looking at lesbian personal ads - without photos.
6.       Looking at lesbian personal ads – with photos.
7.       Writing exposure scripts about my feared consequences and reading them (still doing this one).
8.       Reading coming out stories about movie stars.
9.       Reading gay male coming out stories.
10.   Posting photos of lesbian couples and words like “lesbian”, “bi-sexual”, “dyke” throughout my house and leaving the gay/lesbian newspaper on my coffee table (still doing this one).
And now I am reading lesbian coming out stories.  Not only the stories about the girls who always knew, but the ones about the women who were married, had kids and suddenly found themselves in love with a woman.  Let-me-tell-you – it is very hard.  The urge to avoid is immense.  The urge to mental check is immense.  The urge to analyze is practically impossible to resist. 
There are two parts about this exposure that make it particularly difficult for me:
1.       The fact that there are parts of these stories that I can relate to.  Some of the stories I read and I just can’t relate.  For example -  I don’t remember being attracted to women from the time I was young.  Of course – when I say that – my OCD mind wants to pipe in “are you sure?  You don’t remember that for sure.”  I guess inadvertently I am finding some “reassurance” in some of these stories – but how do I not?  How do I stop myself from being relieved that I don’t relate to the experience of every lesbian coming out story?  In my mind – if I can relate to these stories it must mean that I’m a lesbian in denial – surely this is the only explanation.  Of course it would only make sense that if I can say “yes” to some of these key factors – it’s pretty much a certainty that I don’t actually have OCD, but I am going through a sexual identity crisis.  So – the fact that I can relate to some of what these women write about becomes inconclusive proof that I am actually going through my own coming out process.    
2.       The fact that these women find THE ANSWER!!!  So many of these stories follow the same pattern:   I never really felt attracted to women, but I always felt more comfortable around women than men (I can relate).  I married a great guy who was kind and generous etc. (I can relate – though we’re not married), but there was something missing (I can relate – is it the problems we’re experiencing or the fact that I’m maybe a lesbian?).  Our sex life wasn’t great (I can relate – is it our problems or me coming out as a lesbian OR my OCD?).  Then one day I met a woman and we fell madly in love.  Our emotional connection is so intense and our sex life is better than it ever was with a man.   I’ve never been happier.  I’ve found the love of my life and we’ll be together forever.  Wow!  Sure seems pretty perfect to me!  Sure seems like “the answer” to me!  And the worst part of it is – I don’t know how to NOT check/compare!  How do I face this?  “Yeah – well – even though all these women confirm that life with a woman is so much better, I am going to continue to stay with a man for now and sacrifice the chance at true happiness.  At least until the day comes that I just can’t take being miserable anymore, and I throw myself into the arms of another woman?” 

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.)
Yesterday was a particularly difficult day.  Today I woke up and sent an email to my therapist.  As soon as I sent it I wondered if I was looking for reassurance or just some encouragement.   I then went back to the drawing board and did more exposure.  Now that I’ve done that, and written my blog post I know what I need from my therapist – and my virtual blogging friends – support and encouragement.  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 momentarily feeling and it will come and go.) And I know that I need to continue doing exposure.  I think there is a part of me that every time I send an “emergency” email to my therapist thinks “this is the time she’s going to read what I wrote to her and say – stop all therapy now – I think you’re actually a lesbian in denial so we’re going to change therapy”.   Somewhere inside I'm thinking that if I just give her enough information she'll "diagnose" me.  I guess in some ways it's like returning to your physician for health fears.  The idea that more or new information might provide the proof or "the answer". 
I hope she writes back and says “keep doing the exposure – you’re doing great”.  And maybe a few tips reminding me not to avoid or ritualize.  I need someone to have faith in me right now – especially when I don’t have any faith in myself. 
Tomorrow I’m watching the movie “The Kids are Alright”.  Wish me luck. 


  1. This reminds me of my therapist saying, "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--these women in the stories didn't know it would happen that they suddenly fell in love with a woman--but if they didn't have OCD, they dealt with it when it happened, not in beforehand rumination. My own sister is an exposure--she had at least 10 boyfriends before I even had one--then she was with a woman for 12 years, and then last year, fell in love with a man, and left her partner. She said she thought being with a woman would solve all her relationship problems but it didn't. She calls herself bisexual--which seems even more uncertain if you have ocd!

  2. Expwoman - very good point re: deal with it when the problem arises!! How many of my moments have been wasted due to me obsessing about something that might happen in the future? Some of your therapists "sound bites" are awesome!! Oh my gosh - your sister would definitely be exposure for me! I spiked after I read what you wrote! Thanks for all the comments and feedback!!!

  3. Your thought processes are a lot like mine. While your worries are illogical, your thought processes are overly-logical! Ugh, I do this.

    You are REALLY attacking this hard! I'm wondering what exposures you could think up for me!

    I hear you about the urge to KNOW. I don't know when it ends. At least that is something you can't know, and knowing you can't know is an exposure for you! I had the lesbian struggle when I was in my early teens, but not to this degree. It was just "What if I am gay?" My OCD was too undeveloped to make it a full-blown, logic and checking-inducing situation.

    I feel ALL of your pain and think JUST like you do. You have my faith! Even though I am not your therapist, I hope it means something that I think you are doing great!!

    I also hear you about wanting your therapist to validate your thinking. I wanted that yesterday when I thought I had my issues all figured out. I had a way out of my stress, but it was distructive, and I wanted my therapist to give it her blessing. She did not, but she saw a better way out! Anyway, I heard a sermon about that relating to God. You can relate this to God or anyone/thing that has greater power over you. Some people go to God, or their pastors, (or in this case therapists) with a solution. Instead of wanting an objective solution, or being willing and open to hearing one, they simply want the blessing on something they have already figured out. If that is what you are doing here, you are not giving yourself the chance for someone else, perhaps someone stronger than you, to find a better one. I am saying this because I was totally surprised when this happened to me just yesterday!

  4. Blogger - thanks for your support - it definitely means a lot! I Skype with my therapist (who is in NYC), and don't go to a support group so I sometimes feel very alone in this struggle! We "OCD'ers" seem to think the same way - it's so helpful to know that there are people who understand my pain. I really liked how you put - "your worries are illogical but your thought processes are overly-logical" - that is SO TRUE. But I am learning that one cannot think her way out of her OCD concerns. I have certainly exposed myself to a lot of things, but my fear is that in some ways I am using exposure as a "compulsion" to try and make the thoughts go away. I need to talk with my therapist about this in our next session.