Holiday Season Reflections: What Went Right & What Went Wrong?

The 2018 holiday season is now a memory. There's still New Year's eve to ring in, and technically Christmas doesn’t end until the Epiphany on January 6th when the Wise men arrived with their mindful gifts, but all the shopping, decorating and family celebrations have mostly already occurred. The piles of gifts have been exchanged and unwrapped and way too much food (and especially sweets) have been consumed. My husband and I also made sure to pay off the credit cards so we could enjoy our vacation with the kids upstate skiing without any stress.

Being in upstate NY, I feel completely relaxed, surrounded by the mountains and tall pine trees. I can hear the laughter and excited squeals of children playing out in the snow. From my window I can see the ski lift chairs traveling methodically up and down the mountain, and wonder how my 9 year old is fairing on his first day skiing this season. I am the only family member that does not ski nor do I have any desire to. I enjoy the peacefulness of just sitting and looking at the view with my cup of tea. There is a dreamy quietness I experience here that I do not often get when I am back home in my daily life. There is no rushing about, no places we need to get to, and we can enjoy simple things like board games, popcorn and a good movie. It is these times that I treasure and am most content.

As I reflect now on the past month, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this holiday season and felt deeper joy and less stress than previous years. However, I still experienced more shopping urges than I expected and must admit that at times it became overwhelming. I can't be afraid to admit that I had a holiday shopping meltdown!
I entered the season strong and determined, but as the weeks went by I found myself weakening.

After Thanksgiving, I felt confident that I had a plan in place to manage the shopping season successfully. I had purchased my holiday outfits early and put together a mindful list of gifts I needed to buy. I set a budget for each gift and divided my list into what I would purchase online and what needed to be bought at a store. I’m happy to say that my gift shopping went according to plan and completed by mid-December. I may have experienced some mild shopping urges during this time, but I was able to push them aside (or perhaps I just suppressed them). With the bulk of my gift shopping completed, I now had time to enjoy other holiday activities.

Just when I thought I was safe from further shopping desires, my resolve started to weaken. Was it the overload of holiday emails from all my favorite retail stores? Or perhaps the Hallmark channel movies with their perfect festively dressed characters? Was I subliminally rewarding myself for a season well done? Or was I trying to make up for the fact that since my husband and I were not exchanging material gifts this year, I would not have anything exciting to open under the tree? It very well may have been a combination of all these things that caused a spike in my urges to shop for new exciting beautiful things.

I felt these triggers attacking me from all angles and yet I just wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that I was entering into the danger zone. Instead, I started opening the emails and looking at all the items I loved that were now on sale. I began to daydream, envisioning myself wearing one of those “perfect” Hallmark outfits while I entertained family and friends for the holidays. I pictured myself all dolled up and ready to venture into the city for dinner with my husband. Whenever I contemplated any upcoming event, my thoughts were centered around what I would be wearing. Would I choose the burgundy velvet dress or the black cashmere sweater trimmed in shimmering silver? What shoes would I wear…pumps or over the knee boots? Did I like my choices? What else might I need?

The shopping started. With holiday visions dancing in my head, my fingers leaped across my laptop keyboard purchasing coats, sweaters, hats, gloves, and other accessories. This shopping storm happened so fast, and then I was left with a mound of boxes on my porch to “deal with”. It’s funny how quickly we can stumble and fall. There I was with all these packages…I felt excitement, guilt and shame. What next?

I examined everything I bought and tried to determine what made sense to keep and what did not. The coats I kept since I could use more outerwear variety, but most of the clothing I returned. Buying and returning seemed to be a pattern that I’d been practicing much too frequently. Even though returning results in ultimately NOT spending the money and acquiring more of what I don’t need, it is still a huge waste of my time. In fact, there are occasions when I actually know I’m going to return something before it even arrives. It’s like I just need to scratch the itch and then can move on. I must work on this and learn how to avoid “scratching the shopping itch” altogether and let it subside on its own.

Even if I didn’t end up purchasing everything I thought about, I still spent way too much time obsessing over clothing inside my head. It was if my brain was stuck in this holiday daze and I couldn’t escape until the clock struck midnight on December 25th. I certainly also need to work on finding better ways to manage an onslaught of urges such as I experienced the last few weeks. Clearly suppressing them, ignoring the signs, and then allowing myself to get run over by them was not my best strategy.

The holiday season can be difficult for overshoppers to navigate through even with the best intentions to avoid all excessive and compulsive shopping. There are bound to be mishaps, “uh-oh” moments, and some disappointments. I was initially surprised at how well things started for me in late November and then how quickly it started to unravel as the month of December unfolded! I may have been too confident and let my guard down too easily. I am not discouraged though, I just have to reset and refocus and spend some time with my therapist to determine why I didn’t handle the urges better. By taking an honest look at what hasn’t gone so well lately, I can recognize what I need to focus on.

If something is not feeling right then It’s important to stop and look closely at what is going on…good and bad. I know how far I’ve come in my recovery journey and therefore I am confident that I will continue even stronger as I move forward. There are always new things we learn about ourselves along the way and I find that exciting. I am so much better than I was a year ago, but no doubt there is more work on myself I need to do in 2019.

Time to start my list of New Year resolutions!

I'd love to hear how you faired with your holiday shopping and what areas you are looking to improve on as you enter 2019. Please comment here, send me an email or join my Facebook group to discuss!

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