Navigating Recovery While Coming Out

back shot people sitting, one of them is wearing an LGBTQIA+ flag

You may have recently come to accept that you identify as LGBTQIA+ or maybe you have known for years but finally feel comfortable disclosing this information to your close friends and family. Regardless of the motivation, talking with loved ones about your sexual orientation or gender identity can cause anxiety and emotional distress. You may feel uncertain about how they will receive the news or concerned about what might happen to your professional or personal reputation. The decision to “come out” is yours to make, and you should not allow yourself to feel pressured into taking that step before you feel prepared. 

What Does It Mean to “Come Out of the Closet”?

The term “coming out of the closet” or “coming out” refers to revealing your sexual orientation or gender identity to others. Some of the most common reasons people choose to stay “in the closet” and hide their identity include: 

  • Stigmas surrounding the LGBTQIA+ community
  • Family pressure to conform to social norms
  • Fear, guilt, or shame
  • Religious or spiritual reasons

Fear of telling family and friends about sexual orientation or gender identity is legitimate, especially for adolescents and young adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “around 40% of homeless youth are LGBT.” The stigmas surrounding the queer, gay, and transgender communities can make finding resources in smaller cities difficult. Without the understanding and support of peers, coming out can be more challenging. 

How Coming Out Impacts Recovery

The increased stress of coming out can be challenging for individuals in recovery because it increases the risk of relapse and can trigger intrusive thoughts or cravings. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “LGBTQ individuals often enter treatment with more severe SUDs,” making relapse prevention vital. In addition, “sexual minorities with SUDs are more likely to have additional (comorbid or co-occurring) psychiatric disorders.” 

Choosing to come out during recovery from substance use disorder is brave and requires planning to keep yourself safe from potential relapse. You can prepare yourself for the conversation by joining an LGBTQIA+ support group and asking for advice from others who have come out.

Who Should You Tell and When? 

You decide who to tell and when. If you feel uncertain about coming out to a specific person or social group, try asking yourself the following questions:  

  • How could your day-to-day life change if you told them?
  • How do you think they will react to the news based on their previous reactions and life choices?
  • Do they have any cultural, religious, or political beliefs that might impact how they react?
  • Would telling them increase or decrease your overall stress?

Answering those questions honestly can help you determine if you should tell that specific person or not. Choosing to keep your sexual orientation or gender identity private is not something to be ashamed of when it can help you stay healthy and safe. 

How to Approach Difficult Conversations

Once you decide to tell someone or a group of people about your sexual orientation or gender identity, you need to plan how to approach the conversation. Creating a script or mentally practicing what you want to say will help you feel more self-confident and decrease anxiety surrounding the discussion. You can also do the following:

  • Have the conversation in a neutral or public location
  • Ask someone in the LGBTQIA+ community to be there for moral support
  • Set clear personal boundaries before having the discussion (for example: let your loved ones know you will need to leave if they become confrontational)
  • Try to avoid being alone with anyone who you believe might become angry or violent

The more prepared you are for the conversation, the easier it will be to answer any questions your friends or family may have about your sexual orientation or gender identity. You can have a list of useful websites, groups, and programs for LGBTQIA+ allies that you can share with them. 

Practice Self-Care After Coming Out

Stigmas associated with sexual orientation or gender identity can lead to a sharp increase in mental health issues for a short period directly after coming out. Men tend to exhibit more signs of depression than women after coming out. According to the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, “sexual minority men who were closeted experienced a 41% lower odds of reporting major depressive disorder compared to men who were out” and “women who were closeted experienced about twice the odds of reporting major depressive disorder than women who were out.” You can decrease the risk of developing a mental health disorder or depressive symptoms by practicing daily self-care

Revealing your sexual orientation or gender identity to friends and family can feel overwhelming. For individuals in recovery, the stress associated with coming out can lead to a spike in mental health issues, including depression and anxiety. Emotional distress can also lead to intrusive thoughts or cravings. To avoid relapse, it is essential that you use your coping skills and resources. At White House Recovery and Detox, we offer a wide range of holistic treatments that can prepare you for challenging moments during continuing recovery. You are not alone, and we can help you find ways to disclose your sexual orientation or gender identity to your family and friends without risking your health. We believe that everyone should be able to live authentically, and we respect your privacy. You can rely on us to be discreet and supportive during treatment and aftercare. To learn more, call us today at (800) 510-5393.