When Compulsion Calls the Shots

Snohomish River from Lowell Riverfront Park Photo by MDessein
Here is an up close and personal session for you – How many times do I have to experience a negative consequence after repeating the same behavior before I figure it out and stop doing it: eating when I am not hungry.
Eating for solace, to ease loneliness, to expand on excitement, to get a temporary feeling of pleasure, to assuage disappointment, to ‘reward’ myself for some accomplishment, to fit in with those around me, to somehow feel better than I was feeling in the moment, perhaps even out of boredom. How many times? Over the last forty years, I could not begin to count, we are talking big numbers here.

“The lesson comes back until you learn it,” has been said in various ways by many people. Yee gods and little fishes…

Maybe you can relate to this one: continuing to date someone even after the red warning flags are up? For many of the same reasons, perhaps justifications is more accurate, as I mentioned above? We may come back to this one.

Another lesson more closely related to the over-eating issue is alcohol use. The reasons above can just be dittoed to here. Then the insidious compulsion takes over, in both cases. There are good reasons at first to assuage or to celebrate, then there is no reason, one just does it. Control is gone. Regulation is gone. The compulsion now rules.

Changes in the reward systems and neural pathways in the brain are established facts in compulsive and addictive behaviors. So how do we get control back? The answers are not easy or clear or the same for everyone. Nor are they here. However, some lessons might be.

One lesson I learned last night was compulsion is a monster that will only harm me. My intuition said, “One dish of ice cream is enough.” My body told me the same thing. The monster replied relentlessly, “One more dish. It tastes so good and creamy. One more dish. Use a small dish, it’s not like you’re eating out of the carton. You love caramel. You haven’t had ice cream in forever. One more dish.” By the end of the evening, the quart and a half was gone. In fact, at the store, the healthy part of me said, “Don’t buy the big container even if it is on sale.”
Yet I did.

The primary takeaway was do not let the monster out of the box. Yes, I’ve heard it and said it before, yet it smacked me upside the head and heart this morning, reminding me of a dear friend of mine, who was one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met. Hank was a radiation physicist who worked for the government and taught around the world. He once said to me, “There are things I can’t have in the house. If it’s here, I’ll eat it. If I eat it, I’ll eat it until it’s all gone.” Hank was a slim and trim man who went to the gym six mornings a week, seven if he could. Yet, he clearly had learned the hard way to keep the monster in the box.

Near Camp Casey
Photo by MDessein

Jack Kornfield talks about the war within ourselves in his book, “A Path With Heart,” a richly enlightening dialogue I will return to another time.

Indeed, the issue of doing negative things to oneself is much more complex than just keep the monster in the box. Some things hearken back to beliefs instilled in us as kids, negative self-image, a variety of fears, low self-worth, etc., etc. For now, I will focus on just keeping the monster in the box.

It worked today.

How Do You Be So Brave?

Inside Passage, British Columbia
photo MDessein
These kids work hard every day just to stay alive.
To live, which I take for granted each day when I get up, dawdle, feed my cats, do some laundry, and never think “What do I have to do to stay alive today?”

These kids have medically complex issues that I cannot begin to explain, like having heart surgery for birth defects within 48 hours of being born then five more surgeries over the next three years, being paralyzed, having a brain injury, childhood onset of scoliosis; these few examples do not touch on the myriad of illnesses and challenges these children and their families face.

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend the 11th Annual Stanley Stamm Camp Guild Fashion Show, a fundraiser for a summer camp founded by Dr. Stanley Stamm for kids ages 6 – 14 connected with Seattle Children’s Hospital who could not otherwise attend a summer camp due to all their medical care needs.

A Fashion Show, you ask? Yes, fifteen of these children came on stage modeling outfits donated by a large retailer. Many of them came on stage alone and did the stroll around it twice, some had help. Some in wheelchairs, some having their hand held, a few of them sashayed by themselves, a couple others had a volunteer or staff member walk beside them. Miranda, who was too shy to talk with one of the MC’s, did a lap around the stage by herself. Matthias waved, did a couple thumbs-up, and shook his booty in the course of his two laps. From his wheelchair with the huge wheels, Tucker had witty responses to questions. Serafina sang a song she wrote. And Joseph.

Joseph is about 12 years old, tall and slender, blind since birth, he walked with his taller-than-he-is walking stick in his right hand and a volunteer guiding him by holding his left elbow.

How many times did I get teary-eyed watching these children be so brave? Couldn’t tell you, as I lost count. Before each child came on stage, one of the MC’s, a longtime volunteer at Children’s, gave a brief synopsis of the child’s medical history and some of their favorite things. The things these children have done to get through another day, and then do it again the next day is remarkable to me.

Such young ones to work so hard to be alive.

Stamm Camp allows these kids to be kids: paddle-boats, pizza, tacos, fishing, swimming, horses, arts & crafts, archery, games, being outdoors, campfires, music… and freedom from many of their daily concerns. The Stamm Camp Guild is a special guild that raises money solely for the Dr. Stanley Stamm Camp. (If you are interested, donations are gratefully accepted: 206-987-2153.) In addition to the medical staff, there are 200+ volunteers who make this camp happen each year for these kids. Some of the volunteers are now adults who were in the camp in their youth.

Dr. Stanley Stamm photo by MYNorthwest

Who was Stanley Stamm? I’m glad you asked. Dr. Stamm founded the pediatric cardiology department at Children’s Hospital as well as pioneered treatments for kids with cystic fibrosis. When he died last year at age 93, the Seattle Times quoted his son-in-law who called Dr. Stamm, “the Mr. Rogers of pediatrics.”
Treat kids like people, not patients was one of his primary tenets.

After the Fashion Show and a few minutes of closing chat from the MC’s, there was the Fashion Models Finale – all the kids came on stage with some volunteers and helpers. We audience members cheered, clapped, hurrahed. All those on stage waved and clapped back at us.
Joseph was front and center. He handed his walking stick to his helper and raised both his arms in a great open V for victory and smiled.

Did I cry? You bet I did.