Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The seasons escape you

Ever since I started delving into psychology scholastically, I've become fascinated with the idea of identity: how it's created, what it means, how your environment or social life affects it. Almost all of the research I've done in school has been about identity and self-perception in one way or another: transexuality (nature v. nurture), how orientation and perception affect romantic relationships, conversion therapy (kind of nature v. nurture again). I even largely chose what grad schools I wanted to go to based on their philosophies of identity and the social realm. I guess a lot of that really cuts to the heart of psychology as a science. A vague and tenuous science, but a science nonetheless.

So I've been thinking a lot about the role that therapy plays in all of that, especially while I've been writing my thesis, and strangely, become more open-minded towards the idea of conversion therapy than I was before I started my research. I mean, I still think the agenda is bullshit, but as a pure science and form of therapeutic treatment, I actually find it really interesting and that proponents make a couple of valid points. But only a couple. It's still not something I would support or advocate, but it has set me thinking.

People go to therapy for all kinds of reasons. Largely, whatever kind of goals you want to achieve determines what kind of therapy you go to. Most people don't put that much thought into it, and the typical therapy client probably wouldn't even be able to tell you that there are multiple schools of therapy for all kinds of different purposes. Most conventional therapists today practice cognitive-behavioral therapy, which is just a short-term exploration of your bad habits and negative thought patterns and concrete actions you can do to change them to improve your life. In a nutshell. For my money, this is the most valid form of therapy, and what I intend to mostly practice myself. I used to be very into this idea of "exploration" and trying to go backwards in one's life and pinpoint exactly where every little thing went wrong and its origin.

Not so much anymore. I think that it can often be valuable to try to unlock some of the mysteries of your subconscious and try to find those blocks you've developed, or why you might always act out in certain ways that are harmful. But it can also just lead you in circles and create a lot more questions than it answers, when what really matters is the here-and-now and how to get your life back on track. CBT is a very pragmatic form of therapy.

So in the last year or so I've taken on a little personal project of my own. I've tried to do my best to feel less. Just in general. I've made it a personal mission to try to dull my emotions, not to the point of apathy or inertia, but just to where I can easily brush them aside if need be.

Sometimes I desperately want to be one of those people that nothing affects. Or maybe just one of those people who can get sad about something, go lay in bed, have a good cry, then be done with it.

Nope, not me. I dwell. And dwell. And dwell. And always imagine the worst case scenario, no matter the scenario.

So I think that was one reason I started drinking so heavily a year or so ago. I just wanted to experience nothingness, I think, without having to do heroin or overdose on Xanax.

But by engaging in this little experiment, am I betraying my true nature or just adapting? Obviously, drinking my feelings into obliteration 5 nights a week isn't adapting, it's just called repressing, and that benefits no one. But I've learned my lesson from that, which is that it just makes everything worse. I get depressed when I get drunk, but for some reason I just kept doing it over and over and over anyway. Maybe so I could blame my awful feelings on the drink, not on the fact that they already existed and I wasn't allowing myself to feel them while sober.

So alcohol is not the key to being comfortably numb. Necessarily. Anyway, I no longer get hysterical, or particularly panic-stricken, or vengefully full of rage. Or even really cry all that much, except in stupid movies. Whether this is a function of 2 years of alcoholism, or maturity, or simply a newfound apathy, I'm not sure. But I will say that it feels better. Feeling less is a good feeling.

But have I really altered my inherent nature? That's hard to say because I don't really know what my inherent nature is, and the answer to that question probably lies somewhere within the answer to the question posed in the preceeding paragraph.

But it's kind of like cognitive-behavioral therapy, I guess. Would an opponent of conversion therapy argue that learning to alter destructive behavior and thought patterns in CBT is just a milder form of what's practiced in conversion therapy?

This is probably a stupid question, and yeah, I guess it is kind of the same thing. It's like how proponents of conversion therapy compare it to drug abuse: you go to rehab to kick drug abuse and if you never, ever use drugs again, you're no longer a drug user, even if you might want to use drugs again at some point but don't. It's a stupid and weak analogy, but might the tendency toward substance abuse be just as strong a drive in a person as sexuality? Maybe, but one (sexuality) is an arguably inborn personality trait, while the other (a propensity toward drug abuse) is a maladaptive, learned behavior.

So we all have our biology that's inescapable. But our reactions to it are not. As a magnet that my mother has hanging on her refrigerator says: "Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it."

So true, Mom, so true.

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