Recovery from any addiction or compulsion seldom occurs in a linear fashion. While there are those rare few who simply decide to change and find it smooth sailing from there on forth, the majority of us experience both hills and valleys. Sometimes we take three steps forward and one step back, and other times it feels like we’re moving backwards instead of progressing.
As a new month has begun, it’s time for me to post my next accountability update. While I usually experience a few butterflies in my stomach when typing up my monthly reports, this time I feel a sense of downright dread. I have to admit to both my readers and myself that I have hit a bump in the road. After a number of months of fairly steady recovery – with some minor setbacks along the way – I’ve plunged back into some old and unproductive behaviors.
In today’s post, I share the details of my recent relapse and highlight some of the reasons for this backslide. I also recommit to continuing my recovering shopaholic journey and highlight some of my plans for the remainder of 2014. I know I’m not alone in struggling to overcome a compulsive shopping problem, and I’m sure many of you will be able to relate to my difficulties.
It is my hope that this post will be inspiring for you instead of depressing. I also hope that those who have believed in me and cheered me on will continue to do so despite my failings. Even as I typed the previous sentence, I know that will be the case, as most of us are far harder on ourselves than anyone else can be.
So, What Happened?
While I will highlight the details of what I bought and how much I spent in my upcoming accountability post (to go live within the next week), I’ll tell you now that those details aren’t really all that heinous. Yes, I overspent my budget and pretty much blew my item limit, but what’s far worse is how I lost my way emotionally. Instead of doing the things I knew I needed to do for myself and my life, I wasted countless hours on shopping, returning, and browsing e-commerce sites.
In some ways, I felt more like the Debbie of 2012 and previous years than the stronger and wiser woman who writes this blog. There were some marked differences, however. I frequently exercised the “power pause” and most of what I purchased was on my shopping priorities list. I didn’t completely lose myself in the experience of shopping like I used to. To a large extent, that spell has been broken, yet in the absence of more constructive replacement activities, shopping took center stage once again.
I don’t even want to contemplate how much time I spent on shopping-related activities over the past month, nor do I really wish to consider the countless other things I could have done instead. I have a list of personal and professional projects I want to tackle that’s as long as my arm, but I opted to spend my time ensconced in shopping rather than doing things that would make me feel proud of myself. As a result, I am hanging my head in shame today as opposed to striding confidently with my head held high.
Enumerating the Reasons for Relapse
After I emerged from my shopping-induced coma of sorts, it didn’t take me long to understand why I had veered off the beaten path. While there are some very plausible reasons as to why I faltered, before I go into them I’d like to make one thing abundantly clear. I take full responsibility for my actions. No one held a gun to my head and forced me to shop. I chose to do it and I don’t blame anyone else for my actions but myself.
Not only is it healthier for us to accept responsibility for the choices we make and the actions we take, it also empowers us. After all, if we can choose to do the wrong thing, we can also choose to do the right thing. I believe it can be constructive for us to understand the precipitating factors that motivated our behavior, as that can help us to take precautions in the future. However, I feel isn’t healthy to dwell on such explanations for too long. I’m sharing my reasons for relapse in today’s post, but I will quickly move on to recommitting and outlining the next steps for my journey.
In no particular order of importance, here are the primary reasons for my recent relapse:
I’ve alluded to my less than stellar health on the blog in the past, but I experienced some additional challenges during July, including a severe tooth infection that necessitated multiple antibiotics and a number of dental visits. My face swelled up to a degree that put a large damper on celebrating my wedding anniversary on July 4th and had me looking far from my best for quite a while. The cost of this treatment also led to some serious stress, as I do not have dental insurance and have already spent quite a bit of money on my teeth this year. A more perfect person wouldn’t have turned to shopping in the wake of financial challenges, but unfortunately I am not such a paragon of virtue.
I also continue to experience other health issues that have defied multiple efforts towards improvement. It’s been intensely frustrating to keep trying new treatment modalities, only to struggle with the same troubling symptoms over and over again. Of course, I’m not going to give up, but the aggravation of continually bumping up against walls has led me to seek solace in what was once a successful escapist activity for me.
The “Real Simple” Article
I knew the article about me would be published in the August issue of “Real Simple,” which would hit the newsstands by mid-July. While I was honored to share my story on such a wide platform, I was also nervous about what the reaction to the piece would be. I worried about people in my life reading all of the sordid details of my shopping behavior. I wondered if there would be any backlash I’d have to deal with.
I also wondered what the response to the article would be overall. Would it be a blip on the radar screen or tantamount to an earthquake registering high on the Richter scale? What’s more, I wasn’t really sure which result I wanted. A close friend encouraged me to capitalize on the publicity and start offering consulting services, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that or even wanted to pursue such an avenue. But another part of me was afraid of missing out (that FOMO thing again!) on an opportunity that might never come around again.
I tried to push myself to not only publish my first e-book before the article came out, but my second one as well. I am unable to work at a computer for long periods of time without pain (I have neck, back, and arm issues), but I pushed myself beyond my comfort level trying to get it all done. In the end, I had to accept that it wasn’t feasible for me to publish the second book in time for the article’s release, but I felt a bit like a failure for not reaching my goal.
Feeling Unattractive and “Not Good Enough”
Back in June, I published a post called “What I Wore in May 2014 and My Style Reflections.” I received a lot of “constructive criticism” on the outfits I posted, including the ones I identified as favorite ensembles that I felt good wearing. I also had several readers tell me my hair color was unflattering on my skin tone. I handled the comments graciously, and many of them had good merits, but I ended up feeling quite deflated when it was all said and done.
I’m not sharing this to make anyone feel bad for what they wrote. As I mentioned above, many of the comments were accurate, but they brought up old wounds for me of feeling not good enough. While I encounter these types of feelings in many areas of life, they are at their strongest related to the way I look. In fact, I’m quite certain my “I’m not good enough” feelings were one of the primary motivators of my overshopping behavior, as well as the eating disorders I suffered from for many years.
Following the post and after I looked at photos of myself from previous years, I decided to change my hair color and go back to more of a brunette tone rather than the increasing red hue I’ve sported more recently. Sadly, the result I received (from a professional, not at home) was not good. My hair ended up being too dark, especially around my face, and I hated it. I’m also trying to grow out some of the layers in my hair, so I agreed to have my hair trimmed to even out the ends. This “trim” ended up being more than I expected, leaving my hair at a shorter length than I was comfortable with.
So I felt like my clothes were all wrong and my hair was all wrong. Fortunately, my hair color has faded and I’ve gotten it fixed at least to a certain extent (it’s a work in progress), but I continued to feel up in arms about my wardrobe. That feeling, coupled with the two reasons outlined above, set off my July compulsive shopping relapse. I got many of my skirts shortened (many commenters said they were too long) and started feverishly shopping for clothing that would somehow render me more acceptable to both myself and others. This is, of course, a slippery slope and it was difficult for me to stop at buying just a few items.
Clothes are Just Inanimate Objects
So, there you have it, the main reasons for my recent shopping relapse. It’s worth reiterating that I didn’t share my reasons as a means of excusing my behavior. I own what I did and I take responsibility for it. I’m not proud of it, but I can’t turn back the clock and change the course of events. I need to accept what happened, forgive myself, and move on.
It took me a while to remember that clothes will never make me feel good about myself. They are merely inanimate objects and thus cannot soothe my fears, increase my sense of self-worth, or make me feel happy about my life. Those things have to come from within. They cannot be bought at the mall, inside a boutique, or through visiting an e-commerce store.
I ended up returning a number of the items I purchased, particularly those I ordered online during the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale. As we all know, online shopping is a risk and I never intended to keep everything I ordered anyway. As one commenter mentioned, it’s basically a way for us to try things on in the comfort of our own homes. However, such online buying can be problematic, as many shoppers don’t get around to returning the pieces that don’t work out for them. Fortunately, I did return many substandard pieces and recouped the money spent, although the time those returns required was definitely non-trivial.
Goals, Rules, and Paradoxes
I may still return additional items that I bought during July, but as I mentioned previously, a lot of what I purchased was on my shopping priorities list. Because it’s so difficult to find certain items, I hesitate to return everything, especially those things I love and which suit my lifestyle needs.
I eventually want to reach the place where I have a yearly budget rather than monthly targets and don’t need item limits to push me to shop wisely and buy higher quality pieces. But I’m not quite there yet… At this point, I need to get back on track and ensure that I finish 2014 in a much better place than when it began. I’d also like to meet at least some (if not most!) of the shopping and wardrobe goals I set for myself back in January.
In truth, I probably set too many goals (that’s kind of a pattern of mine…) and some of them are at odds with each other. For instance, I limited the number of items I can buy, but I also committed to donating or consigning all closet pieces that aren’t at least “8”s on a scale of 1-10. I’d like to release some less than stellar garments and shoes, but I started bumping up against the barrier of my item limit as a result of ill-advised purchases earlier in the year. If I purge staple items that I don’t love, I likely wouldn’t be able to buy replacements until next year, so I continue to hold on to them.
While I don’t wish to give myself carte blanche to buy as many pieces as I want, I also feel somewhat stymied by the item limit. What I’ll likely do is retain my budget but bump the item limit up a bit so it feels more doable for me. I think part of my overshopping during July was in reaction to thinking, “I’ll never make the item limit anyway, so why even try?” I definitely don’t want to purchase as much as I bought last year (76 items), but perhaps aiming to cut that number in half was biting off more than I could chew this early in the game.
Forgiving Myself and Moving On
My primary goals are to shop less, buy better, and cultivate a resonant personal style and a workable wardrobe. Despite my recent setback, I feel I’ve still made significant progress on all of those fronts this year and intend to continue making improvements. So it’s time to forgive myself for my failings in July and move forward with a positive attitude and a recommitment to “progress not perfection” for the remainder of 2014. I will delve more into specifics in future posts, but for now forgiveness and positivity are first and foremost.
I realize that I may have disappointed some of you and I apologize for that. I also disappointed myself, but I am only human and as such am prone toward making mistakes. I could have glossed over all of this on the blog, but I remain committed to sharing the truth of my journey, warts and all. I am very happy to have inspired some of you and I hope to continue to do so.
If nothing else, mine is a tale of falling down and then picking myself up and moving forward once again. That’s what we all need to do, as we all have our failings and will regularly let ourselves and others down. But we also have our successes, which can help to motivate ourselves and others to forge ahead and stay the course.
Both our ups and our downs are important parts of the journey for all of us. My journey continues and I have faith that one day, I’ll truly be able to put my struggles with overshopping behind me – for good. I have faith in that for myself and for all of you. That’s why I continue to write this blog and why I continue to fight the good fight for myself and all recovering shopaholics.
Please Share Your Thoughts and Stories
Now it’s your turn. Have you experienced any setbacks or relapses along the way to becoming a more conscious and moderate shopper? If so, what have been the reasons behind those difficult times? And what did you do to get yourself back on track again?
This is a safe place for all of us to share our thoughts and feelings, so I invite you to chime in on this important topic. Your input will likely help more people than you know, as many people will never comment but appreciate what all of us share. Let’s do what we can to pay it forward and help other shopaholics who are struggling along the way. Many thanks!
Before You Go… A Quick Announcement
I have frequently shared some of the excellent posts from “Into Mind,” and I’m sure many of you also subscribe to that wonderful blog about minimalist personal style. Just today, Anuschka (the blog’s author) has released her first product, a workbook titled “Personal Style & the Perfect Wardrobe.”
This interactive workbook includes 17 worksheets that each tackle one specific component of the personal style and wardrobe management process, from style concept to shopping strategy. The workbook is available for the price 16 Euros (approx. $21 US) – which is a 20% discount – until 9:00 am Eastern Time tomorrow. I purchased my copy and look forward to digging in (and will likely write about the process on the blog). Click here to learn more about the workbook and get your copy (NOTE: I am not an affiliate of this product, just a fan).