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Sometimes Its OK to Have Ice Cream

Copyright © 1995 by John D. Goldhammer

This article appeared in the Summer 1995 issue of Mentor logoMentor Magazine

For me, God died one dark June night in 1950. The world as I knew it ended. I was nine years old. My father was returning home from his last trip as a traveling salesman before starting a new job that would not require him to be gone for months on the road. The Colorado highway patrol said he missed a curve on a mountain road outside Durango, smashing into a black metal telephone pole. Maybe he had fallen asleep? His car was demolished. He was thrown from the car as it rolled over and over.

My mother and my father's parents flew to Durango that night leaving me and my little brother with our cousins. That next morning, in a Durango hospital, my father died from massive internal injuries. He never woke up. Just before he died, apparently dreaming, he said, forebodingly, "Uh oh." I still miss him 44 years later. Remembering the times we spent together brings a nostalgic mixture of deep sorrow, love, and fond memories.

I was not allowed to go to my father's funeral. My mother, trying to protect me from another traumatic experience, actually prevented me from participating in the ritual of saying good-bye.

After crying inconsolably for weeks and raging against such a cruel God, I trained myself to be a brave young man - never to cry. And now after half a lifetime of "big boy" macho toughness, the tears are back - I've begun my grieving process. I've discovered, much to my surprise, that I like being able to feel my sadness. I now realize that I cut out a part of my soul trying to be strong. What I thought was strength turned out to be repression of a devastating, painful event.

You're thinking, "What does this have to do with ice cream?" Whenever I'm upset or feeling insecure, some part of me takes over, dragging me to the ice cream section at the local market. Afterwards I typically experience a mixed bag of emotions ranging from euphoria to extreme guilt. Sugar-saturated and shocked that I just polished off three of the 270 calorie, two-ounce servings after a perfectly adequate meal, I ask myself, "Why did I do that? What's more, why did I have to have that? How could this little container of coffee ice cream overpower a grown man? Where's my will power?"

It's embarrassing. In the supermarket I feel like a kid sneaking contraband past his parents. I assume the check-out clerk, who now recognizes me on sight because of my frequent visits, is thinking, "Shame on you! Where's your self-control?" When I can get away with it, I convince my wife to go in instead, while I lay low in the car. Along with the ice cream I make sure to put something healthy in my cart like fruit and vegetables, so people will realize that I really do eat sensible food. They'll think, "Maybe the ice cream is for someone else."

A Therapy Session With Myself

OK, I'm a therapist, a "depth" psychologist, the kind that supposedly can really get at the hidden meanings of things. After years of sneaking around with my ice cream I decided to do some serious self-therapy, devise a psychological battle plan against this gargantuan impulse. The next time this craving knocked at the door of my otherwise always-in-control psyche, I planned to delay gratifying my longing for ice cream. I decided to create what I like to think of as an insight gap - a sort of empty, do-nothing space where I could just think and imagine. I did not have to wait long. Simply waiting created space, a gap in-between my urge to indulge and acting on my impulse. In this gap I thought and wrote about my feelings. A strong association with my father came up.

I remembered that my father took me everywhere with him. And I recalled our frequent trips to the neighborhood creamery as a small boy, around three to five years old - my hand held firmly and reassuringly in his strong hand. For me, he represented ultimate love, security, and comfort. I loved being with my dad; and the taste of those double-scoop delicacies became intense memories for me, not only of ice cream, but of special times of bonding with my father. Suddenly ice cream became a metaphor for the fatherly affection and security that had been so abruptly taken from me.

The result: paradoxically, I am more in control, not through some patriarchal authority, but through new empathy for a part of myself - through soul work in the space-in-between impulse and action. I now feel more capable of extending understanding and compassion to others. Of course I still love ice cream. But now I can acknowledge and comfort this little guy inside me who misses his dad. In some way I can try to be the father he lost.

So when the urge to splurge grabs you by the collar, stop, wait, watch, feel, imagine, write. Maybe you'll discover some wounded, banished part of yourself reaching out, wanting your acknowledgment and love. Now when the impulse to get ice cream comes, I talk to this insecure little fellow, reassuring him and letting him know that it's OK to cry, to be sad, to grieve - and yes, sometimes it's OK to have ice cream.

John Goldhammer. Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and author of three books. His new book, Radical Dreaming: Use Your Dreams to Change Your Life, has just been released (July 2003). Adapted from: Radical Dreaming: Use Your Dreams to Change Your Life (Kensington Publishing / Citadel Press, 850 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10022). John lives in Seattle, Washington (206) 306-0322. He is also the author of: Under the Influence: The Destructive Effects of Group Dynamics (Prometheus Books), and The Save Your Business Book (Macmillan / Lexington).

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