Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Creeping Normalcy

Interesting... but actually obvious when you think about it.

The problem with putting it into play on purpose would be that it appears to work by virtue of total ignorance of its process. Note the phrase 'unnoticed increments'.

Although I'm sure a weaker version of it would make a change more palatable, even if it were on purpose. That's how most varieties of programs are generally advocated. There aren't many exercise programs out there advising beginning jazzercisers to start out with jump-splits and high kicks for an hour a day, or Buddhist monasteries insisting their new monks meditate for 20 hours a day and live on tea and bread. Are there? Maybe there are. I wouldn't know. I have no experience with being a jazzerciser except for the knowledge that that isn't a real noun, and no experience being a monk other than having lived with someone who meditated for five hours a day and went to a Buddhist university. I have experience with seeing a psychiatrist, though, during my high school years, and when they were advising me about my severe anxiety, none of them dared suggesting that I cure myself by immediately entering the school's talent show or sitting fenced in in the center of a large classroom. No, it was 'feel yourself out... go at your own pace' and 'why don't you try taking deep breaths and counting to ten' and 'maybe tomorrow you can sit one seat in from the door instead of right next to it' and 'could you maybe set a goal for next year of being able to play an obscure instrument in the school band production?'

Come to think of it, creeping normalcy never worked for me. All those suggestions fell flat. The only thing that ever worked for my anxiety was throwing myself into terrifying situations with no possible escape. Like sitting in the absolute center of the bleachers at a Shakespeare production, where the bleachers are tiny and have about an inch of escape room when everyone's sitting down, and it's considered a major faux pas to be standing and squeezing and excuse-me-ing through the crowd while Macduff is stabbing Macbeth or whatever. Or traveling to a very isolated area of a poor country where malaria and bird flu abounded and good hospitals did not (abound, that is).

But that just supports my theory (which I'm in the middle of in the 'Choice and Change' thread) about how tricking yourself into thinking you have no choice, or literally giving yourself no choice, may actually be a good thing in embarking on change.

Drug rehab programs must have recognized this. When you go to inpatient rehab (from what I've heard) you leave everything you know and are familiar with, and go to a place where you're treated as if you were at boarding school. You are accompanied everywhere... bathroom included, bedroom included. Checks at night. Body checks. Monitoring on your phone calls. No care packages. No possible way to possibly relapse. Free will plays no part in it; choice plays no part in it. That is, while you're there. Afterwards is another story.

Afterwards, choice comes flooding back in overwhelming quantities. Yes, you're supposed to keep up with a counselor and groups... but you don't have to, and it's easier not to. Yes, you're supposed to find new friends who enjoy things other than drugs... but you don't have to, and it's easier not to. Yes, you're supposed to fill your nights up with clean activities... but you don't have to, and it's easier not to. Are these choices easier or more difficult to resist after a period of such restricted choice? Do people just get used to doing what they were taught in rehab, or do they revel in their sudden freedom and relapse more easily?

I'm not sure if an enforced creeping normalcy would have higher success rates than rehab, which rarely jumps above 50%. I'm also not sure how enforced creeping normalcy would have to manifest itself. Slow replacement of (for example) drinking with other activities, one half hour at a time? Alcohol slowly becoming unavailable, out-of-place or inconvenient during these new activities? The new activities slowly becoming the norm?

Of course nobody can constrain their own freedom of choice forever, and that's why it's so difficult to sustain a new state.


Becca said...

you write in such a proliferate manner that i have a hard time keeping up, especially bc i don't get internet in my classes, but i have figured out the solution is to call up this page b4 i lose the internet and then i'll be able to be caught up very soon!

Dan R said...

I don't believe that your therapists were encouraging creeping normalcy, because creeping normalcy would have to be applied on you, not by you.

It would have to be totally unnoticed by you, and eventually you wouldn't even notice that you were hosting the school talent show.

It would've seemed normal to you.