Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spare Change

So once again, I am late to the party. The Fox television show House, MD has been off the air for a couple years now. And I had never seen a single episode, even after it was recommended by Diane Rehm on her NPR show. Lesson learned. Always trust a recommendation from Diane. Now that it's on Netflix, I’m hooked. And not just because of dreamy Hugh Laurie and his mad piano skills.

Like any worthwhile form of entertainment, House got me thinking. One of the good doctor’s mantras is that everyone lies. And they do. But, it was another thing he said that keeps rolling around my head.

Do people ever really change?

When I got my MS diagnosis almost a year ago, I had to quit smoking. And I did. Immediately and cold turkey. There is nothing like the threat of a chronic debilitating illness to scare you straight(-ish).

I’m stubborn. Precocious. Tenacious. I have been for my whole life, and that will never change. Quitting smoking was not me changing. It wasn’t strength or willpower. I was just stubborn enough to quit.

How is stopping a bad habit NOT a change? Because it is only a change in routine, not a change of who I am. I will backfill that hole where smoking used to be with some other habit—cafĂ© mochas, as it turns out—because that need for ritual and pleasure will be there forever. I will never be able to remove that need that was once filled by smoking. Much like one of the two dozen scars in my brain, once it’s there, it is there for the remainder of my days. I can’t change it. I can only choose how I act on it.

I’m working on a project in my house. I’m moving my bedroom to the lower part of my split-level and creating a mini-man cave for the Kidlet in the soon-to-be-vacant master bedroom. I love a good project. Once I get going on one, I become very single-minded. Perhaps a bit obsessive. Maybe a touch excessive. But that has always been the way I do things. And the people who know me best know that about me.

Sister MSW helped me move an enormous and  heavy TV set from the lower level to the upper level. And this was after she had just run 10 miles. Yep, I wasn’t going to let her exhaustion stop me from enlisting her help. Enlisted may be too generous of a word. Drafted may be a better description.

When we had hauled all that weight up the stairs, she said, “You are in your manic stage of your project.”  She knew me well enough to recognize where I was in my head. Because that is how I have always been, and that will never change. I don’t mind the manic-project stage. I get shit done.

I used to think a good therapist could help me change. Help me change why I do what I do. But, the more therapy I have, the more I realize that the point of therapy is figuring out ways to cause myself less self-destruction while dealing with the parts of me that I cannot change.
Do people ever really change? Or do they just try to convince us that they have changed? Or maybe they are just trying to convince themselves.

Can people change? Probably not. Things change, people react. Reacting is not the same thing as changing.

Yeah, yeah. I know. If we can’t change, we will always be the caterpillar and never the butterfly. But I think that is a flawed, short-sighted argument. Becoming a butterfly was always what was going to happen to that caterpillar, unless he got eaten by a bird or squished by the kid that found him in the schoolyard. His caterpillar body may change, but the fact that he would eventually sprout wings never can. So, let’s all stop using the butterfly metaphor.
The science of psychology tells us this: People don’t change, they just become a more clear version of who they really are. People don’t change, only priorities do. If you think someone has changed, the truth is that you are only learning who they really were all along.

When I think about the people I know best, I can’t remember the last time one of them genuinely surprised me with something they did or something they didn’t do. I can predict their actions because people don’t change.  And that is OK too, because there is a certain feeling of security in knowing there won’t be many surprises. I've had enough surprises of late.

Nothing ever really changes.

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