This blog is called “Recovering Shopaholic.” It started out being a personal log of my progress in overcoming a decades-long compulsive shopping problem. I never dreamed that I would attract as many readers as I have and have the capacity to touch so many people’s lives. Over the close to three years that I have written this blog, it has evolved into being about more than just me and my recovery, but that is still the focus of many of my posts, including my accountability updates.
Most of the comments I receive on my posts are very positive and encouraging. I appreciate that so many of you share your own struggles and triumphs in your comments and emails, and I am frequently touched that you feel comfortable opening up to me. In addition to sharing about yourselves, many of you also comment on my growth and progress. Sometimes you challenge me with your questions and give me “tough love” about my behavior. On a number of occasions, readers’ comments and emails have inspired future posts. This is one of those times…
The Comment that Inspired this Post…
Just this morning, I received a comment that included the following sentence:
Everyone is telling you how great you are doing, that you are on the way to recovery, but buying 11 items in one month doesn’t speak of improvement or “recovery.”
There was more to the comment than just that one sentence, and the entire comment was worded in what I thought was a harsh way, but there was some truth in it and it made me think. I thought about what recovery means and about the recovery process in general. I decided I had some thoughts I wanted to share with you, as I’m sure others have thought similar things to what the commenter expressed and may have questioned my recovery or their own. It’s my hope that today’s post will shed some light on the topic and perhaps spark a lively discussion among readers.
First, I want to address the comment directly. I think that one has to consider the context before making a blanket statement like that. What if those 11 items were all that a person bought in an entire year or for a full season (e.g. fall/winter or spring/summer)? Would you think that person was exhibiting compulsive shopping behavior? And what if the person who purchased 11 items in one month used to buy three or more times that many pieces? Wouldn’t that be a vast improvement and potentially signal a significant milestone on the road to recovery?
Yes, I know that not all of the hypothetical scenarios I mentioned above apply to me, but I wanted to make a point. I don’t think it’s fair to make such a sweeping judgment without knowing the context, but I know that people do this all the time. I am not above reproach in this respect, either, as I have been known to judge people’s behavior without knowing much about them. Until we have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, we can’t really make judgments about them. We just don’t have enough information…
On My July Purchases and How Recovery Unfolds
But having said all that, let’s get back to me and my eleven July purchases. If you’ve been reading for a while, you may also recall that I bought about the same number of items back in April. Do I think it’s okay to buy that many items every month? No, I don’t. Do I think I’m still buying too many new things? Probably… But does it mean that I’m not improving or recovering from my compulsive shopping problem? In my opinion, it does not mean that.
Why not, you might ask? Because recovery is almost never a linear process in which a person makes incremental improvements day by day, month by month, until she reaches a hallowed ground state whereby she can declare herself “recovered.” No, it very rarely unfolds like that… More often than not, we take two steps forward and one step back – and sometimes it’s even two steps forward and two or three steps back. Yes, sometimes we fall back beneath what had previously become our baseline. We get to a certain point and expect to keep moving forward beyond that milestone, but we encounter a setback that has us falling back to an earlier place on the path.
If this happens, should we throw our hands up in the air, declare that all is lost, and begin shopping again with reckless abandon? No, of course not. If we are dedicated to our recovery, we take some time to reflect, learn from the experience, and recommit to moving forward once again. We may feel inclined to beat ourselves up for falling back into unproductive behavior, but in my experience, that is never helpful. Self-flagellation only serves to decrease our confidence and lead us to feel depressed and demoralized, which often sparks more of the very same behavior we just flogged ourselves for. It’s far better to forgive ourselves, internalize the lesson, and move on.
My Recovery Process
If I look at my path of recovery since starting this blog, I see lots of ups and downs. I notice periods of time when I was really strong and moving forward powerfully, and I see other timeframes when I was deeply struggling not to fall headlong back into the abyss in which I found myself at the end of 2012. But if I look at the overall trajectory, I see a lot of improvement on multiple levels. I’m buying fewer items, keeping within a yearly clothing budget, spending far less time on shopping and related pursuits, have a smaller and more workable wardrobe, and feel much more satisfied with my outfits and personal style aesthetic. These are all powerful wins in my opinion and I’m happy with how my recovery has proceeded thus far.
Of course, I wish it were happening faster, but we all proceed at our own pace. Some of you may have been able to recover far more quickly than I have, while others may be moving along the journey at a slower pace. Luckily, it’s not a race and we aren’t been timed or graded by anyone else, or at least we shouldn’t be. We should really only be measuring our progress against ourselves. Doing otherwise is a recipe for dissatisfaction and misery, and it’s not really meaningful anyway. So what if someone else is faster or slower. As long as you are making progress, that’s all that should really matter. Progress, not perfection, is the motto I like to follow…
Have I Experienced a Setback?
Now that I have said all that, let’s get back to my July purchases. In all honesty, I don’t consider my having bought eleven items last month to be a setback. Most of the items were purchased at the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale and I had actually planned to do a fair amount of shopping at that sale. What was a mistake, however, was my not having allocated a larger proportion of my yearly budget for that purpose so I wouldn’t end up behind the 8-ball with my spending. While I feel good about the items I purchased at NAS, I wasn’t happy with being so close to the edge of my third quarter budget just one month into that term. But I have learned from this mistake and will plan better for NAS in 2016.
I didn’t feel bad about my July shopping when all was said and done, but I do have to come clean here about my continued shopping during August. If I had just stopped shopping after NAS, it wouldn’t have been a setback, but I have persisted in buying more new items. Thus, I feel like I have taken a few steps back in my recovery. Although I can state valid reasons for buying everything I acquired and I believe it will all get worn, I have exceeded my budget and bought too many things. I shopped for emotional reasons, which is something I’m trying to get away from. The fact that I did it just underscores my need to devote more attention to developing new coping mechanisms and focusing on improving the rest of my life as much as my wardrobe.
Shopping and Avoidance
Those of us who shop compulsively are often trying to avoid painful things in our lives that we don’t want to look at or just don’t know how to fix. I feel sick, stuck, scared, overwhelmed, anxious, lonely, and a whole host of other unpleasant feelings. Turning 49 and being on the cusp of 50 has not been easy for me. I have actually been avoiding writing the birthday reflection post that I have been promising, as I know it will bring up a lot of difficult emotions. However, I also believe it will be cathartic and important for me to write that post, and I sense that many of you will resonate with what I have to say. I know I am not alone in the things I have been thinking and feeling.
There may be explanations for my overshopping behavior, but I’m not trying to absolve myself of responsibility by stating my reasons for doing what I did. I know full well that shopping won’t solve my problems. It often only creates new problems such as debt, closet excess, and guilt, while the original problems remain. Yet old habits die hard… If we don’t have positive ways of coping with our life difficulties, we will fall back on our old, maladaptive behaviors like shopping. Such habits usually don’t serve us, but they are what we know and we collapse into them like a soft, comfortable easy chair.
Why Come Clean About Overshopping Behavior
So I wasn’t necessarily relapsing in July with my eleven acquisitions, but I admit to backsliding in August. I could have waited until September to spill the beans, but I’m coming clean here today for several reasons. One, the truth almost always sets us free. If we can be accountable for our compulsive behavior instead of hiding in the shadows, it loses some of its power over us. Second, I know I’m not the only one who is struggling right now. If my honesty touches even just one of you, I’m happy to out myself here today. If even one of you sees yourself in my words, then I’m glad I decided to write this post.
Recovery is often a long process with many twists and turns. Sometimes it may feel like we are running backwards instead of walking forwards, but that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. It doesn’t mean that we are not on the path of recovery. Backsliding and setbacks are part of the journey and are instrumental to our learning process.
Dealing with Setbacks
If you find yourself in a setback today, here’s what I recommend:
- Acknowledge where you are, right here, right now. Tell the truth to yourself and at least one other person. There is power in honesty and opening up to someone who loves you and won’t judge you harshly.
- Forgive yourself for your mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up for what you have done. Show yourself the same type of compassion you would offer to your child or a best friend.
- Internalize the lessons. Ask yourself what you can learn from the setback you have encountered. What can you do to avoid a recurrence in the future? What new coping mechanisms can you implement that will better serve you instead of overshopping? How can you better deal with the stressors and emotional challenges in your life?
- Make amends if you can. If you have spent too much money, can you possibly return some of what you bought? If you have lied about your expenditures or hid your purchases from your spouse or other loved ones, would it help you to come clean? Would telling the truth help to improve your relationships? I know it’s hard to do, but I encourage you to do it.
- Recommit to your recovery. We can’t change the past. We can only move forward. Don’t dwell on what you’ve done wrong. Look ahead and start doing the right thing again today.
I forgive myself and I hope you will do the same if you have faltered. I realize that I do not have enough positive coping mechanisms for my life. I acknowledge that I don’t have the type of support network that I need. I need to place a greater focus on improving my life than I have been. I don’t really know what I’m going to do, but I have to make some changes. I need to place a much higher focus on my life at large than I have been. I have been giving too much time and attention to things that don’t serve me and that has to shift. I need to practice better self-care and nurture my soul more. I will write more about this in future posts, but I’m setting the intention today.
Recovery isn’t a linear process. It can be messy and uncomfortable. It can look like a jagged mountain range rather than a gentle slope moving up a single hill. My recovery has been far from perfect, but I am recovering. I may never be fully recovered. I may always be a recovering shopaholic at risk of a relapse, but I know I will continue to improve because it’s important to me. And as long as I have this blog, I will always be honest with you, even if it opens me up to harsh criticism from time to time.
Compulsive shopping can often be the source of a lot of hiding and shame, but I want those who struggle to feel like they’re not alone and to have a place where they can feel understood and be heard. No matter where you are in the recovery process, there is hope for you. There is hope for all of us to trade our full closets for fuller and happier lives – no matter how long it takes.