You’re Feeling Sleepy
Once upon a time, many moons ago in another time and another place, I found myself on a stage with a hypnotist telling me and all the other folks on the stage that my arms, which I was holding up above my head, were being held up so that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pull them down. I peeked out of my closed eyes to the people on my left and my right, yup, they were going along with this nonsense but I knew I could just lower my arms. So, I did. And was immediately motioned off the stage to return back to the audience. I had failed at hypnosis.
This was back in college and they had a hypnotist coming to entertain at the campus that night. At lunch, in the cafeteria, they’d set up a stage and after introducing himself, the hypnotist (Let’s call him the Amazing Steve, though that’s not right) asked for volunteers to come up on stage.
I’d always been more than a bit suspicious of hypnotists. In movies they seemed to have the ability to have someone stare at a pocketwatch and immediately get them to do whatever they wanted. I’d seen stage hypnotists make people act like animals, even after they had been dismissed back in the audience. Or act like you’re very hot and need to take off all of your clothes, but this being a family show, stopping short of taking off anything really revealing. So, while I was curious, I was also a combination of skeptical and a bit terrified that he’d make me do something stupid. And, really, I told myself, when would I have the chance to volunteer for something like this again.
So, I and probably 11 other folks went up on the stage when asked. Now, looking back, I understand that the whole early part of this was to determine who was suggestible in even these surroundings and who was willing to go along with the hypnosis. For, you see, I think the participant has to, at some level, want to be hypnotised. Can’t relax? Can’t let go of those inhibitions? Won’t follow the ridiculous suggestion that you couldn’t just open your eyes and lower your arms when told that you couldn’t? Then, off the stage you go.
And that was me: Too self-conscious to be uninhibited, too nervous at being on a stage to just go along, too much of a control freak to hand over the keys to my will to someone else, especially in front of a couple hundred of my fellow students.
So, I found myself walking back to my lunch table embarrassed because I’d failed to be hypnotised. The American Psychological Association describes hypnosis as a cooperative interaction in which the participant responds to the suggestions of the hypnotist. And I had failed to cooperate. It was anathema for me to cooperate with the hypnotist in that setting because I was sure that The Amazing Steve was going to make me act silly and I was not going to be made to act silly in front of everyone. So I didn’t. And got shunted off the stage.
In the end, of the original 12 or so, maybe 5 were willing to follow along and cooperate with the Amazing Steve. And, as I guessed, The Amazing Steve made them go through contortions and act silly and made them think they were cold and them made them think they were hot and stopped them before they took off anything too revealing – which it certainly looked like they were willing to do because … they were cooperating.
Since I was litte, certainly before I was conscious of the bad habit, I’ve chewed my nails. Mostly nibbling at them, sometimes just chewing. Sometimes it was conscious – I can’t tolerate a jagged nail or bit hanging off – some sort of OCD. In fact, according to an article I read, Nail Biting may be considered an OCD behavior in the new and upcoming Diagnostic of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This will be included with Other “pathological grooming” habits like hair pulling and skin-picking. So, yay, I found my crazy.
My mother tried to break me of the habit, certainly other people noted it was a nasty habit but that never stopped me. I knew that there was something about it tied to soothing as I did it more during a scary movie or stressful times. I tried some of the techniques for breaking habits like a rubber band around the wrist – which just irritated me because I can’t tolerate wearing a ring or a watch because I fiddle with it incessantly (cf. above re: finding my crazy). I tried the bittering agents you can put on your finger, but since that had the same taste as the sour apple candy that I thought was pretty great, that didn’t slow me down and perhaps made it worse.
Despite my desire, in general terms, to change my habit, I was unsuccessful. That changed when was in my mid-30s.
I read an article in the paper about a hypnotist who had helped someone stop smoking and had helped someone else stop biting their nails. My first throught was to recall my only experience with a hynotist and thinking there was no way that would work for me, but they, I though, for $150, it was worth trying. I called the place and made an appointment not entirely comfortable with the idea bug figuring I had little to lose besides the money – and the possibility that at some later date I might start barking like a dog when someone says the word “frisbee”. Because that could happen. I saw it on a television show once.
I called and made an appointment and set my expectations very, very low. Because I wasn’t sure I believed I was willing to let it happen, because I still thought it was about three quarters hokum.
I arrived for the appointment and was met by the hypnotist’s wife, who was a nice older lady who offered me a quiet room and tea. I was left alone for a few minutes before being joined by the hynotist.
He spent a few minutes talking about the process, talking about what our goals were and what I should expect. Before I knew it, he asked me if I was ready and we got started.
He had me shut my eyes and he just talked to me. We did the whole “You’re getting sleepy, you feel very heavy…” stuff and because it was mid-day and I was sort of relaxed, so I went along with it.
And that’s a recurring theme with all of this. I went along with it. I chose to go along. I knew with every ounce of my being, because I was concious the entire time, because I recall everything that was said and that we talked about for the entire time, I knew that I could just open up my eyes and leave if things got uncomfortable.
But, because he had a soothing voice, because we covered what I wanted to work on and he did it in a non-confrontational way that was consistent with what my brain wanted, I went along with it.
Years later, my brother tried hypnosis to stop using chewing tabacco. It didn’t take. In his case, he had an older lady who told him, while under hypnosis, that when he put it in his mouth “it will taste like shit“, at least that’s how he told the story, and that shocked him coming from a grandmotherly type that it totally took him out of the relaxed state he needed to be in.
The other half of it, and this is where I can absolutely see something like this being effective, is that I wanted it to work. And, if I was hypnotized to not do it, then now I had an excuse to not do it. So, I didn’t do it. Mostly. More on that later.
In the course of the session (the only session I had – it took on the first try – which is not always the case for some folks), the hypnotist talked with me and asked me to talk about why I chewed my nails.
I very vividly recall my conscious brain saying “I don’t know why the hell I chew my nails. If I knew that I’d stop“. But, because I wanted to tell the hypnotist something, I racked my brain for a few moments and quickly told a story that seemed reasonable to explain why I started. The story is less important than the fact that since they, for the life of me, I can’t say whether I made that story up – because the story had me starting at an age before I have much memory – or whether I was really telling why I started from a time before I have a conscious memory. It’s an interesting conundrum, though whether it’s true or not, it worked so that was obviously good enough.
So, we talked about why I did and why I wanted to stop and we talked about the triggers and how I could respond differently to those triggers – be more conscious of my reaction to them.
After about 45 minutes, he brought me out of it, I felt fine and left, feeling just a bit like I’d been duped because, again, at no point do I recall not being conscious of what was going on and my part in it or anything I said. So, it must not have worked. But, it did. I stopped chewing my nails.
Now, I’m not perfect. Given a great deal of stress or a really gnarly chip or spur on my nail, I have certainly gnawed on a nail. I’ve also adapted by purchasing and having around me about a dozen finger nail clippers for wherever I might find myself at risk of chewing – my nightstand, the car, at work, in my travel bag. I work really hard to not find myself without that option. Because I’m a reformed nail biter and still a bit of a slob, the floor of my car will often have nail bits that I’ve clipped and failed to clean, but at least they were clipped! And I wish I’d also told him to tell me to stop gnawing at the bits of skin at the base of my nail – WHICH ARE NOT THE NAIL – because I still have a fair bit of OCD about those. If I don’t get to them with a clipper, they absolutely HAVE to come off quickly.
Clearly, I’ve still got my own crazy. But, I remain pleasantly surprised at how effective my one real experience with hypnosis was and continue to believe that for someone who really wants to make a change and if they’re willing to go along with the process (and if they get someone they trust), it can be an effective way to effect change. And this definitely comes from someone who was and, continues to be, skeptical about many, many things.
And I remain hopeful that there’s still not some trigger word running around in my subconcious that makes me bark like a dog – because I saw that once and that could totally happen!