I came across the phrase “radical discontinuity” in a reading recently. I like the words strung together that way. It sounds energetic. It sounds immediate. It sounds like change. It sounds like something I might want in my life.
“Radical discontinuity” is an interesting concept.
In my mind, the term “radical discontinuity” reflects a sharp break between the then and the now; a shift between yesterday and today brought about by decision or circumstance. It is a change that results in a dramatic evolution in behaviours.
It’s not unheard of or secret. People do it all the time. Getting trapped on a desert island is one way to radically discontinue your routines. Going to rehab is another. You’re ripped away from your life, your patterns, and the things you use to alter your mood and plunked down somewhere else, with new rules, a daily game plan, and behavioural constraints.
You’re radically severed from your problems and at rehab, you also get to work on changing your brain. It’s dramatic. Some people find might find it horrifying. Some people might hate every second. Some people will be eager to quit. In the rehab example, however, I thrived.
I hated the first forty-eight hours of my most recent three-month inpatient stay, to be sure. I grieved leaving my son. I hated the loss of my things, hated that I didn’t have my own space. I hated that I was supposed to not do the things I’d been filling my days with. I am, however, a people pleaser. And in rehab, there are a lot of people to please and a lot of ways to do well. All you have to do is improve.
Turns out that the word for my behaviour is not recovery but compliance. I follow the rules and do what I’m told, not because I’ve found the way, not because I believe in my bones, but because I always fall into line. I was always the good girl, the good student.
The difference between radical discontinuity and compliance can be seen in the “what happens next?” Leaving rehab when you embrace the former, when you sink into recovery and feel it in your soul, is different than leaving when you’re compliant. Without the structure of rehab to prop me up, I quickly decompensated into a nervous breakdown. They are unpleasant and not something I recommend.
In many ways, however, the breakdown was an own goal. I didn’t make the changes at a cellular level. I didn’t take what I learned and weave it into my thinking patterns. I disconnected but didn’t evolve, I just slid into a holding pattern. I thought I was recovering but what I was really doing was waiting. Please and perform. It’s great for keeping life smooth. It’s not great for personal growth and healing.
My problems with execution do not negate the value of radical discontinuity. The problem was me. I didn’t understand certain things. I didn’t understand that my need to please and be seen as acceptable would temporarily override my need for my eating disorder behaviours. I didn’t understand that the new environment and structured lifestyle in rehab held off my depression when I went off my meds in an effort to be “pure” and “chemical-free”.
I know myself better now. I know it’s pointless to try and alter external behaviours for prolonged periods if you don’t address the underlying thinking.
I think more these days; I’m contemplative as all get out.
So, radical discontinuity. I’m starting to consider it.
And it occurred to me that perhaps I could orchestrate some meaningful radical discontinuity for myself. Kickstart some movement in my life. I have been stuck. I have hit a recovery wall. I advanced to this point and now seem stuck in endless circles, unwilling to fall back but unable to progress forward.
I may not need three-months of rehab right now but I could, theoretically, make a plan on my own that would function in the same way. I’m well-versed in writing plans. They’re just usually to my detriment and involve lots of complicated rules about things I’m not allowed to eat. This would be a nice change. I could theoretically try several changes at once, significantly altering my day-to-day in a hopefully positive fashion.
My inside voice says “Because New Year’s resolutions work out so well.”
I could make a spreadsheet. I enjoy spreadsheets. Or a list. Or both. The advantage of drawing up plans is that I can avoid implementation for a while. But I could start outlining the changes it might be appropriate to make: get back to good sleep hygiene; cut back on coffee; change the makeup of my diet so it isn’t 80% simple carbs; get outside into the actual air once a day; go someplace new three times a week to counter my tendency to agoraphobia; get dressed and practice self-care every day; start meditating consistently again. There are so many things that I could be doing that I’m not. To be fair, learning to live without throwing up and self-harming has been a big change. But, I’m ready for more. What if I committed to making several of these changes all at once? Just like going to rehab only I get to stay home.
Is it a good idea or a bad one? Would I be successful or fail and have a handy new stick for self-flagellation? Would it improve things or would the dramatic change send me spiraling? I worry about exacerbating my depressive disorder a fair bit.
People do radical discontinuity all the time, even if they don’t call it that. They survive it and more importantly, sometimes the results are awesome. If I got dropped onto the aforementioned desert island, I’d have no choice but to radically evolve. Unfortunately, despite the logic of that, my anxiety level when I think about change suggests my brain on some level thinks evolution might not be for me.
It’s strange how we’re made up of a variety of bits and pieces. My logical brain says a change could be problematic and my gut says it will be too difficult. My inside voice suggests successful change is for other people. And yet, despite my instinctive naysaying, some part of me wants it.
It’s not unprecedented; I’ve made changes in my life I never thought were possible. I barely ever throw up anymore. From multiple instances daily, this is dramatic. Yet for some reason, I’m afraid to make another change, afraid to rock the status quo.
I forget that I was afraid to stop vomiting, too.
Once I decide on good idea or bad, all that’s left is implementation. Just pick a date and go. Do it. This is often where plans fail. We have ideas. We know what needs to be done. We just don’t pull the trigger.
I’m the same way. I feel held back by something inside. It’s almost physical. I feel literally constrained even though I know the problem is in my head and heart and gut. In those bits and pieces of me that aren’t me yet contribute so significantly to me.
I’m sure part of it stems from fear. Change is a scary business. Change is not something our species likes. And why rock the boat when I’m already so much better? Isn’t it selfish to still want more? Perhaps, but I do. I yearn for it.
Perhaps I will listen to the me that is me for a change; perhaps radical discontinuity and forced evolution are what I’m looking for.