One year ago (exactly!), I posted an interview with “Hannah,” a former HOCD sufferer who had found freedom from her obsessions and compulsions through ERP therapy. It’s gotten over 6300 views in the last year and is my second-most viewed post after “A Closer Look at HOCD.” Last summer, I said that Hannah would be willing to do a second interview if people had more questions, so this time I’m using questions straight from blog readers.
Tom asked: How do you get past the feeling that the thoughts felt so real even though you knew they were not in line at all with your inner values?
Hannah answered: Just to be clear up front, I am not slamming homosexuality. In fact, even people who are gay get HOCD– they obsess about being straight! The awful thing about HOCD (for both straight and gay sufferers) is that it is a LIE. HOCD lies to us about our sexual identities, which are so central to who we are. Most of the people I’ve met who have HOCD are not anti-homosexuals or homophobes; many of them even campaign and vote for gay rights. But their OCD is lying to them about their own sexuality, and that’s where the anxiety slams into them– hard. That said, how do you get past the feeling that the thoughts feel so real? You let them come. You let yourself think the thoughts. You let your body react however it wants. That is part of ERP therapy– and not just for HOCD alone. In ERP therapy, you let the thoughts come and just be thoughts. You learn how to be comfortable with uncertainty. Listen, I know that sounds awful— it sounded awful to me too!– but now, after having gone through ERP … through embracing uncertainty … I now am confident about my sexuality. It’s backward– ERP always is– but it works. Like Jackie has said a lot on this blog, ERP re-wires your brain.
Roxy asked: Did you find that the body sensations were the hardest to deal with and overcome?
Hannah answered: If not the hardest part, then definitely one of the hardest. I mean, how do you argue with your own body when you have a groinal response to the gender you don’t think you are attracted to (or don’t want to be attracted to)? It feels like “evidence,” right? But, I’ll tell you the truth here: I am straight. 100% straight, and I no longer have any doubts about that. But I still get turned on by images of beautiful women. I just don’t think that’s evidence anymore. It’s evidence that I’m a sexual being but not that I’m homosexual. I’ve found that I actually am super turned on by romantic scenes between homosexual men in books … I’m not gay, and I’m definitely not a man. What does this mean? I’m no psychotherapist, but I simply think it means I’m sexual. And that’s true. I still know I’m straight. But yes, the body’s reaction is a total mindf**k to the OCD brain. Then, if you’re anything like me, you keep “checking”– did I feel something there? How about that time?— that’s a compulsion, of course, and the RP of ERP is “response prevention.” You have to stop checking.
Howdy asked: I am wondering what it has been like trying to date people. I think [my therapist] thinks I am gay.
Hannah answered: If your therapist is an OCD specialist, then I can almost promise you that he/she doesn’t think you’re gay. That said, since the point of ERP therapy is teaching the client to embrace uncertainty, your therapist is probably wise not to let on either way. But if you truly believe that your therapist thinks you’re gay, I’d find a new therapist. Those who specialize in OCD treatment are going to be wildly familiar with HOCD. As far as your question about dating people, I’ve found that I’ve suffered more from ROCD (relationship OCD) than HOCD, constantly questioning if I was dating (or even liking) the right person, doubting if he was a good person, doubting if we belonged together, etc. The great thing about ERP therapy is that you can be treated for one type of obsession and yet the ERP works on all areas.
Jake asked: What techniques did you use to accept the doubt/uncertainty?
Hannah answered: Do you know how when you say a word over and over and over again, it starts to lose its meaning? For me, it was like that. Listening repeatedly to lies over and over eventually made them sound ridiculous– and clearly like lies. I’m not sure if that answers your question, but for sure look into ERP therapy, if that’s not what you’re already referring to. It’s the best treatment out there for HOCD (or any OCD).
Christine asked: Did you have a “backdoor spike” when recovering? How did you deal with this? Did your thoughts consume you? I can’t go an hour without having invasive thoughts, is this normal? What thoughts did you have that stressed you out the most and what did you do to overcome these? Can you remember how quickly you began to feel your anxiety lift after beginning ERP?
Hannah answered: I don’t think I really had a backdoor spike in this area, though I did in some others. I dealt with it by returning to my ERP exposures. Thankfully, when I’d do that … and then go to bed … I’d usually wake up “re-set.” Very different from the days when (to answer your next question) my thoughts consumed me. If I wasn’t obsessing over something in the forefront of my mind, then I was still feeling sick about it while it existed in the background. I’ve had other themes with OCD than just HOCD, and to be honest, some of them were more upsetting than the HOCD, but the most stressful thoughts with HOCD were often when I would worry if I was attracted to my girlfriends. Or if I would worry that one day I would “suddenly” realize that I was gay– after I was married to a man. I had a romantic same-sex dream one night and woke up “convinced” I was gay. How should one deal with the invasive thoughts? ERP, ERP, ERP. Jackie writes about it a lot on her blog. Maybe she can include a link. [Jackie interjects: go to jackieleasommers.com/OCD for more ERP details!] Finally, how quickly did I feel my anxiety lift after starting ERP? Not right away, that’s for sure– in fact, I think it gets worse before it gets better! At first, the exposures are HORRIBLE, but then– like I said– they start to seem silly (or at least, that’s how it worked for me). I started feeling relief after about 2.5-3 months.
I want to thank Hannah once again for being so OPEN with my blog readers! I hope that you all heard her refrain of “ERP, ERP, ERP” loud and clear. That is the message I’m continually sharing on my blog too. If you want to read more about HOCD, check out these posts: