Confessions of a Compulsive Shopper

credit card.hand.biggerI don’t know about you, but shopping is in my blood.

I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia that had all the earmarks of a classic village. I would wander up and down Germantown Avenue, the main street, for hours, seeing what was for sale and visiting all the shopkeepers. As soon as I was old enough to work, I got jobs selling needlework and housewares.

Though I seldom had more than a few dollars to spend, I learned early on that shopping was a means of satisfying the aching, empty place within. If I had a small treasure, life could be good again. Even if that treasure was just another set of jacks or a few yards of pretty ribbon from the sewing shop.

With a purchase in my hand I felt powerful and free. I knew this by the time I was ten years old.

I was, of course, compensating. Shopping had become self-medication for the pain of being the child of an erratic, abusive alcoholic. With my new set of jacks and my Superball, I could successfully while away an afternoon in the small park near my house.

I didn’t have to go home for a few hours – and that was the point.

But I also didn’t have to think about the fact that I felt unlovable, uncertain and unsafe; a pain I carried with me every day.

47 years later the desire to shop has finally been lifted … but Lord, it has taken a lot of work. Turns out credit cards make that slippery slope from ‘a little shopping’ to accumulating serious debt fast indeed. Over time my focus shifted from accumulating pretty shoes to overspending on my business. There was always another coaching program or software bundle that was going to really take me big.

Three different times in my adult life I racked up five-figure debt. To get out of it, I read book after book and resorted to storing up little jars of cash. I tried envelopes when the little jars didn’t work. I also wiggled my way through an endless supply of zero percent credit cards, but still the problem persisted.

With plastic in my hand, it was too easy to feed the aching maw … and to feel ‘loved’ while doing it.

Debtor’s Anonymous, a 12 Step program that addresses these issues. talks about “A different feeling when buying things on credit than when paying cash, a feeling of being in the club, of being accepted, of being grown up.”

So it is with Wounded Shopping – especially in the season of gift giving. When we’re wounded, we shop to compensate … yet this time of year we do it for other people. So that doesn’t really count, right? Either way, we get to have our hit of shopping ecstasy.

When I couldn’t afford my purchases, I would just lie to myself: ‘Oh, I probably have that money tucked away somewhere. Not sure where … but it must there.” Except that it never was. Which felt really good until the first credit card bill came due in January, and so the perpetual circle of grief continued.

For me, recovery has come in many forms. I finally admitted I needed help, and began to accept support, which was key. Then I started writing down everything I spent, and clarity began to take hold. Over time I stopped living in fantasy and got real about what I could and could not afford. I had to, as my circumstances at the time had radically been reduced, which turned out to be the best gift of all.

Now I shifted from being a Wounded Shopping to becoming a Conscious Spender. I found I had an intense desire to keep it all very clean. Lo and behold, I gradually developed the urge to save money, as well.

With the support of friends, groups, and a really good therapist, I also began to address the real root of the problem: the old aching maw that drove me to overspend and debt in the first place.

Today, I am debt free and have been for several years. I no longer use credit cards. Instead, I have plenty of money and the need to rush out and spend it all has been lifted. My finances are drama-free and I even enjoying funding my retirement – which, alone, is some kind of miracle.

More importantly, I now find satisfaction in the little life pleasures money can’t buy: the perfect sunset, the laughter of my lover, the dear softness of the dog’s head as she nudges in for one more stroke.

We are all blessed in countless ways. But when our minds are muddled with worry and self doubt, we cannot see them. And so it is our path to walk towards clarity, towards the simple joy of reality, one precious step at a time.

In this holiday season, may you live well and consciously, knowing that love is the greatest gift of all.

Are You Also a Terrorist?

Dear World,

Please do not blame the entire Muslim community for the heinous acts of an extremely small group of radical extremists among them.

12243480_1053041724708568_7139937225840659859_nIn Europe, there are Muslims and there are radical Muslims. Then there are violent Muslim extremists who commit acts of terror, like murdering 129 people out enjoying a Friday night in Paris.

These are the people who get on a plane to Syria and join one of the more than 1000 armed opposition groups on the ground.

Angel Rabasa, a Senior Political Scientist at RAND and author of Eurojihad, estimates roughly 325,000 Muslims in Europe are at risk of becoming radicalized. But of this group, only 2,000 in Europe have actually gone to Syria for training. (In the U.S., the number is 12.)

How many would actually come back and do harm on the ground? Norwegian extremist expert Thomas Hegghammer says roughly 1% would be likely to return.

That means only 20 Muslims among more than 58 million who are living in Europe would be considered ‘very dangerous’.

So please don’t rant and rail at ‘all Muslims’ for the acts of so very few.

And don’t blame Muslims for ‘not doing something about it’.

When you spout hate rhetoric, you simply become a terrorist of a different kind.

If there is anything we can take from the attacks on Paris, let it be this: there are seriously sick people among us. So we need to do everything we can to protect each other.

Don’t blame and point fingers. Instead, stand up for love and support in the face of evil and destruction.

For in the end, this will be the only way out.


PS. Hate rhetoric left on my blog or my social media pages will be promptly removed.

A Prayer of Thanks for My Friends

galeta--vanilla-corporate-thank-you-cake1-A114A3B0AFToday is my 57th birthday and I have a lot to be grateful for. Three and a half years ago everything I knew to be my life fell away, and I was left with a whole lot of time, a bit of money in the bank and little else.

Now, however, it’s a different story. That is because somehow – for the first time in my life – I knew where to look in a crisis.

Instead of being my steely, independent, “I’ll handle it” self, I completely fell apart. And so I was forced to look to the people around me.

Miraculously they pulled me through it

There were my old friends Bruce and Joan, who gave me their guest room and infinite comfort when my relationship and the brand new home that came with it suddenly ended.

Then my daughter died suddenly a few months later, and the world of friendly support really opened up. For it seems the more severe the loss, the more expansive the love around you suddenly becomes.

My friends surrounded me in the hospital while my assistant, Darcee, handled the public interface and my brother, Jay, kept the family informed.

After Teal’s death, teams of people in San Francisco and upstate New York helped us pull of two extraordinary memorial celebrations.

Derrick and Jeffrey served as the emcees helping us create these original tributes. Out of nowhere, vans were organized to drive 200 people down the two mile dirt road to the house Teal grew up in. Somehow a potluck was even produced, while we did little more than sit there in shock.

Then it was time to just let go and grieve, which turned out to be an arduous, very long process.

Andrea, one of my oldest friends and Teal’s godmother, gave me critical business coaching as I learned to let my previous business persona dry up and blow away. As did Maya, a sister in loss.

Then Nicky, a funny, remarkable Brit who’d also lost a child tracked me down and we became friends. She gifted me a session with Joanne, a British psychic who saw good things ahead, which became beacons for me to hold on to. Included was a love relationship she described as ‘real and enduring.’

Along the way, I went into 12 Step recovery for the various rough edges in my life that needed help. I owed it to Teal’s memory, I figured, because I was damned if I was going to let this crisis just slip through my fingers. It was time to get my act together.

In these rooms I learned to become humble, trust myself, and surrender to God. People I didn’t even know sat with me and helped me piece together a new plan for my life, my business and my soul. Now I was no longer the showy speaker who apparently had it all together; I didn’t have to be any more. That Suzanne had died right along with Teal.

My dear pal Linda offered me a room in her sweet house in exchange for cooking some delicious meals. For a year and a half I lived there, while I learned to accept myself in new, far more gentle terms. Always I got reassurance and a hug.

My friends reminded me again and again: it’s okay to surrender

Don’t work, they said. Just grieve and rest. And trust … even as my funds got lower and lower. Remarkably, it didn’t seem to matter any more. I was truly learning to let go.

Now once again, I am the writer I started out to be long ago. Out of nowhere, I was asked to write a series of novels; the first will be published in a few months. I have also found that real and enduring love the psychic described; we live together happily now in a beautiful home.

Most importantly, I really have gotten my act together in the last three years — mainly because so many people believed in me … far more than I can mention here. Included are the hundreds of people who have taken the time to share their thoughts and feelings on Facebook with me, and support the essays I continue to share.

Now I am no longer interested in being impressive or even successful. What I care about most is returning the love I have been so graciously given, again and again.

My life and your life are the same. And we have that chance at any moment to look around, ask for help and then simply receive.

To those who truly care enough to help, you are appreciated. For in the end, isn’t this really the point?



The Fine Art of Celebrating Death

day-of-the-dead-skullMexico has just marked their infamous holiday, Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead). Families gather in cemeteries and sing, eat, pray and celebrate on the graves of their deceased relatives. Painted sugar sculls decorate shop windows and homes. Children build altars to the memories of other deceased children. Marigolds, specially prepared dishes and all kinds of photos and memorabilia are put on altars for grown ups as well. Even government offices and public schools have altars for the dead.

My Mexican friend Luis tells me it’s one of the best holidays of the year. It’s an honest to God party, yes, but it’s also one with feeling. Not a lot of maudlin suffering, here. Instead, Day of the Dead is a humorous, joyful, love-filled tribute to lives well-lived, and souls ascended to a much better place.

A big piece of this ritual involves cleaning and decorating the grave with altars. Children’s graves get toys; adult graves get bottles of tequila or mezcal. Much like the ancient Egyptians packed up their mummies with lots of necessities for the ride, the Mexicans often do the same, leaving pillows and blankets, as well. And the art blows me away. Everywhere, skeletons can be seen in beautiful, joy filled images that seem to laugh at the viewer.

It’s an exquisite combination of both horror and delight, for such is life.

In my experience, this is what a death really is. For even in the most tragic deaths, the joy is still lurking there, in and around the crisis at hand. I was reminded of this by an old college friend’s post on Facebook yesterday.

Fran lives in Key West, Florida, home of one of the wildest Halloween parties out there – Fran Decker.Fantasy Fest graveFantasy Fest. It was a holiday her late husband, Bob, adored and the two of them dug into it with gusto. So as a tribute, Fran and some friends decorated Bob’s grave with … well … some of the items he might have worn to Fantasy Fest this year.

For instance, Bob never missed wearing the one-of-a-kind decorated bras he bought at fundraising auctions every year. So yes, there’s a bra, right on his grave. Along with flowers, beads and all the things that make a good tribute. That’s what I’m talking about!

Grief experts say such memorializing is critical to grief recovery. For along with the necessary mourning, you have to be able to smile as well. In this same vein, my former husband, Larry Barns, recently suggested we make a tribute to Teal, our late daughter, involving pomegranates.

Teal adored pomegranates – so much so that she would take them to school in her lunch, and insist all of her friends try them. (As one friend put it, this was back before pomegranates were cool.) So Larry proposed we create an annual ‘Eat a Pomegranate for Teal’ ritual when the fruit is in season in the fall.

holding pomagranatesTo this I would suggest we share a pomegranate, because Teal loved to get everyone excited about the things she adored.

What is the celebration of death if not a comment on a life well lived? At the end, all of us will be remembered with some sorrow, yes. But hopefully, we will also be remembered for the thousands of moments of happiness we enjoyed ourselves and shared with others. Like Bob and Teal, and their ecstatic embrace of the pure zest in life.

What more could a person really ask for in this short life? Viva la Dia de Meurtos!

 P.S. Why not try a pomegranate while you’re at it? You might just like it!