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Taking Things Literally (or Litterally)
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When I wanted to quit smoking (many decades ago) and when I realized that I had a problem with gambling (also many decades ago), I dealt with the addiction by quitting, absolutely and forever.

The only way I can describe it is to say that I have a literal mind. If you use a metaphor, I immediately visualize it in a literal mode, then run the parallels. It is also characteristic of me to take a rule or a practice and push it to its limits, running it ad absurdum. I love playing with words, looking at their literal meanings and then at their derivatives and acquired connotations and trying to puzzle out how the current meaning came about.

The practical outcome is that if I say, "No cigarettes", then no cigarettes it is. Not tapering off, not the occasional cigarette on the weekend. None. Niente. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

The same was true for gambling. When I woke up the next morning (noon, actually) and realized that I was flat broke and had a gambling problem, I resolved never to gamble again. Period. That was that. I can still feel the rush when I talk about it, but I NEVER gamble. The most I ever do is play solitaire on the computer. If I take $20 to the race track or the slots, it is 'throw away' money, not gambling money.

Changing the way I eat was different. When my doctor said, "Cut the carbs", I took him literally and immediately started checking the internet for the carb ratings of foods. I quickly discovered that the only way to ingest zero carbs was to eat meat. Meat only. Raw.

I was forced to accept a more nuanced view of food. A limited number of carbs, and those carbs from whole grains, nuts, beans, and lentils. The only way I could condition my literal brain to make the appropriate judgments was to make those categories and then say NO rice, NO potatoes, NO white flour, NO sugar. It would have been a lot more consonant with my basic mental structure to have been able to say no carbs at all, but that's not possible.

It just occurred to me as I write this--my taking things literally is probably connected to my innate tendency to be a perfectionist, something that I have worked to moderate all my life. In some things perfectionism is required (as in measuring out hubby's meds), in other things (like housework) good enough is perfectly acceptable.

Just because I'm literal-minded and a perfectionist and a hightly competent person does not make it permissable for me to judge the actions of others. Each of us has strengths and weaknesses and each of us has to find her own path.

That's the lesson I take away from all this.

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