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.