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.