This is a good story on behaviorism and the associations that can be created to affect behavior.
I liken this story to the one that Osho told about Gurdijeff. Essentially, Gurdijeff was forced to eat a ton of fruit. He had displeased his father and his punishment was to eat every single piece. His father hovered over him and made sure he ate every last bite. After that, he was so sick. For weeks. It was a lesson that always stayed with him. He never ate that particular fruit again. It was as if he had eaten all the fruit for his entire life in one sitting. The association was there- could he even look the fruit? Perhaps not initially, perhaps just a glance. But he never ate it ever again.
The example is exactly what is done in behaviorism: making chains and breaking chains. We speak of using successive approximations to get to a target behavior; and the opposite, the unbreaking on associations, very useful with those with phobias.
My story was similar. There was trauma involved that led to a permanent change in behavior. Here’s the story.
I was sent to summer camp for a few weeks while my mother, now diagnosed as clinically depressed, went to stay in a mental hospital. My father, a functional alcoholic who would come home drunk every night yet go to work in the morning, had never really fulfilled his role as a father, so I was sent to camp. I wondered who had paid for it, as my family was poor, and discovered that it had been a gift from my uncle who was also my godfather.
I was looking forward to going to camp, I had never been. But it soon turned sour after 5 days. You see, I had at that time a pattern of severe constipation. I was unaware of it, and my parents, mired in their own misery, weren’t stern about it.
I would go to the bathroom once a week. Even now, I’m not sure how I managed that, as constipation is defined as no bowel movement within 3 days. One week’s worth of food now turned into toxic waste and held in the system was not a healthy way to be. But then, my childhood situation and my fat body- a reflection of using food as a coping mechanism- could certainly be seen as causes.
I’m not sure if there also a lack of peristalsis, or if I was so miserable that I was unaware of the signals my body sent. I only know that on day 5, I felt that I had to move my bowels. The bathroom was shared; there were several stalls, yet I had only ever been in a private washroom.
I went into the stall, but I didn’t feel comfortable. I wasn’t alone. I couldn’t relax. It’s a situation many find themselves in, dubbed social anxiety toilet behavior.
So, I didn’t go.
I confessed to one of the camp counselors. I was expecting to be given some soap to put up my bottom or some nasty medicine that would help, as was my previous experience, but instead I was laughed at.
This counselor not only told all the rest of the counselors, but now all the others in the camp knew of my situation.
I was laughed at for the next week by the counselors and other children. They would come and try and poke my fat belly and mock me for not going.
I am sure you can relate to the story. Everyone has a good rejection story. I love hearing about those dreams where your pants fall down and you aren’t wearing underwear. It’s a classic rejection story.
When my parents came to get me, there was more horror. There I was, in a teenage body, but I understood everything. And there were the counselors telling my fucked-up parents about my behavior, as if my parents were normal and could take care of me. What did I know, I was still just a kid, after all, under their care according to law.
I came home and the signal to go the bathroom had already started in the car the closer we got to home. I headed for the bathroom as soon as we got into the house.
I had no problems to go, but it was the biggest turd that came out. When I worked for the government, I sometimes worked with clients in wheelchairs. Because of their medications and lack of movement, they would only go once a week. For one woman, I remember, they would put her on the toilet and she would start crying. One week’s worth of feces, well, it hurt coming out. Worse, was that there was no way that big stool was going to make it down the drain pipe. So, they had to chop it into bits. You know, like with a knife. Nope, nothing glorious about it, but part of taking care of others.
It was the same with another man I worked with. He would only go once a week. His belly would get bigger and bigger as the week went on. He would also get crabby and irritable. We had to up his dose of lactulose just to get that toxic waste out of him. I realized in my food experiments with -everything from prune juice, beans, dried fruit and even natural stool softeners- that his anti-psychotic medication over the years meant his peristaltic functioning no longer worked.
He would always feel so happy, almost joyous, when he would go. And like with the woman in the wheelchair, the turd was so big that we had to break it. We even had one of these long snakes in case the toilet got blocked.
So, when this big one came out of me, I understood intuitively that I would have to break it up. I’m not sure what I used, but I did still have to plunge the toilet after it went down.
After that, while I initially went back to the old pattern, something had changed. The trauma that I had suffered had left a stain. Yes, like a poo stain on a “flagged” book, or some such other way you can think of it.
It was probably 2 weeks later that I started going to the bathroom on a daily basis. Constipation became my pet peeve. I had my brother to thank for his crude system reminiscent of the Bristol stool chart. Perhaps he had been a gastroenterologist in his past life, who knows. He would wax on about stubborn ones and false alarms, mixed ones and different types of poop behavior.
It was all so charming that we got dubbed the shit family. Indeed, I spoke about in another podcast and even designed a lovely chart comparing his system to the Bristol stool chart. I can’t say it’s a popular podcast, as most still believe that bathroom behavior is taboo.
Indeed, a friend of mine, a health practitioner himself, whom I had gone out with previously, recounted to me the story that happened with his current girlfriend. They used to have separate apartments, so it happened one day when he slept over at her house that she confessed she wasn’t feeling well. It turned out that she had poop anxiety and was unable to go because of his presence. He said that being with me during my enema day hiatus- ah yes, that’s what happens when you go to naturopathy school and experiment on yourself with various types of cleanses- provoked him into doing a poop experiment. He was never one to be fond of bathroom behavior, including when clients would speak to him about their digestive woes. He himself, despite being educated about health, suffered with constipation due to a diet lacking in fiber. But on this occasion, he said he felt he was taking a cue from me (an openness on bathroom behavior?!) and left the door slightly ajar when he went. Hm, a love toilet tete a tete?
His girlfriend found relief in the gesture, and was able to go to the bathroom after that incident. I told him I was happy for him. It’s a story I’ve heard about with many couples. The women would often feel constipated when they would stay over at their partner’s house and then feel uncomfortable when they would have sex. I haven’t heard so many stories from men about such things, more about what I call a “neophyte” program that women’s farts are smellier than men’s and their bathroom activity can be likened to stink bombs. Of course, I have to explain that all bodies have an excretory system and that many species on the planet have such a system. Only logical, my dear! Better to be aware of the reality of things than to be subscribed to some taboo program that doesn’t serve, and that creates boundaries.
So, yes, that is how my pet peeve even today is constipation. Indeed, after changing to a plant-strong vegan diet high on veggies, my bowels movements are often 2, sometimes 3, times a day. Still within normal range, and normal with all the insoluble fiber that I eat. I feel much better than those days of past, and can certainly listen to and understand others when they speak of their bathroom troubles.
No need for trouble! Better to find viable solutions that work for you. Openness and compassion go a long way, you know, whether it’s a major trauma or something as simple as going to the bathroom. Or both :)