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.


  • Gayle Helseth-Kenison

    April 15, 2019 at 11:25 pm Reply

    My Dear Friend-Wow! Love this! Gayle

    • Mary

      April 15, 2019 at 11:49 pm Reply

      Thank you, Gayle. This one was a tough one for me to publish. Hug to you~


    April 16, 2019 at 6:24 am Reply

    Hi Mary!!
    Just before I opened my email this evening, I had an ice cream bar (love the Magnum dark chocolate over vanilla.) I was contemplating having another one – did I mention that I love the dark chocolate coating over the vanilla? I wasn’t hungry, I was quite full and sated, but I thought ‘why not have another one?’ I didn’t move from my chair. I just sat there for a few minutes. Once more I thought about getting up and getting another ice cream bar (I have had 2 bars in one sitting before.) Then my will power kicked in and I said to myself ‘you don’t NEED another bar; it won’t make me feel better.’ And my physician & I just talked about me needing to loose weight to hopefully lower my blood pressure. So I “kept it in the box” tonight.

    Wishing you a Marvelous day and that you are able to keep tomorrow’s “monster in the box.”

    • Mary

      April 16, 2019 at 3:08 pm Reply

      I tell ya! Thanks Michele, it’s ongoing isn’t. Good work! As always, thank you for reading and taking the time to share. best to you.

  • Aletha Helm Riter

    April 17, 2019 at 2:59 pm Reply

    I am being successful in keeping my “Monster” in the box…I call it Pandora…. I have struggled also with wanting “just one more” as well…. but I am learning thru age and experience that keeping my monster at “bay and controlled”, that I can open it only “once” than cover the lid & keep it on tight. My motivation is that diabetes runs on my dad’s side of the family… so that damn box has been has been only seen and not heard…

    • Mary

      April 17, 2019 at 8:35 pm Reply

      Motivation. Another great springboard, Aletha. As is Pandora, which literally means ‘all gifts.’ Thank you for sharing, Aletha, we keep figuring it out, right? Best to you~

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