Happy almost Halloween! The end of October has a few meanings for me. Along with cooler weather, October brings my birthday to celebrate (on which I host a Halloween party each year for my youngest son). I am also celebrating six months of working on this blog and I thought it would be a nice idea to reflect on what I’ve learned as I've progressed in my recovery this past half year. I wanted to share these reflections as I feel it may be helpful to everyone who is on a similar journey.
1. Have Patience. It takes time to break habits. There are many reasons for overshopping. We may be sad, lonely, angry, bored, insecure, and the list goes on. Those triggers are not going to disappear. We need to learn to live with them and react differently to them. LEARN is the key word. Learning can take time, and likely there is not just one trigger that we need to adjust our reactions to. There are many triggers. Understand that it is going to take awhile to identify them all, and also time to retrain ourselves to think differently. This takes practice and repetition. Consider yourself like an athlete in training….we must work hard at this and keep practicing. If we can stick to our plans and goals we will see results, even if our progress may be slow.
2. Leave the past behind and keep moving forward. I like to think of Dory the fish from the movie “Finding Nemo”. On her quest to find her friend, Dory met with many obstacles, but she kept reminding herself to move forward in her journey by repeating the words
“Just Keep Swimming”
We can’t change the mistakes we have already made because we can’t go backwards in time. But we can learn from them. I try not to beat myself up when I don’t follow my shopping rules or on days when I might veer off course. Instead, I try to be kind to myself and realize I am not perfect. I’m still going to have shopping urges and there are times I may still buy too much. However, there are more days now than a year ago where I do not have any strong shopping urges. There are more times where I am careful with what I am buying and avoid falling into old compulsive purchasing habits. Focus on all the positive and keep going!
3. Recognize, accept, and don’t ignore emotions. It is important not to run away from our problems or sadness or whatever it is we may be feeling. For overshoppers we tend to run away to the mall, or to online retail sites. We use shopping as a distraction, or to fix an emotion. In the long run shopping is never the answer…never the fix. If we can learn to accept our emotions then we can react to them more productively. Sometimes we just need to understand that we are simply having a bad day (or week). Accept it as a part of life…know that it will pass….think of real ways you can help to change the situation (not glossing over it with a shopping splurge). Perhaps, a mood requires no action…just simply acceptance of the mood. There is nothing to be done but wait…and that is okay. Doing this is not easy at first, especially when you are accustomed to using shopping as a crutch or pacifier. But with time and practice we can start living without that crutch and can learn to soothe ourselves without our shopping pacifier.
4. Remain positive and be thankful. It is so important to take the time everyday to remember all the good in our lives. Write it down. Tape it to your mirror if you must (or your wallet). On a happy day, make a list of all the things that bring you joy and all the things you are grateful for. Then make copies of that list and keep it handy to have as a reminder to yourself for those days when it feels like the clouds will never leave you.
5. Be accountable. Take responsibility for your actions. It is one thing to set a goal for yourself, but you must be held accountable to that goal. Even if you don’t reach the goal it’s important to be able to say “hey, I made a mistake and I’m going to reset and try again”. Find someone in your life who you can talk to and who can help you be accountable. For me I have several ways to stay accountable. First, this blog. I lay out my goals here and that motivates me to achieve them. Secondly, my husband always provides truth and will let me know when he thinks I may be veering off course. There are times when I may start shopping too much and am in denial about it, but he will step in and point it out to me. I may feel angry at first, but then I realize he is right and I can take a step back and re-evaluate what’s going on. I can correct myself before things really get out of control. Lastly, I have my therapist. I can discuss what is going on in my life that may be causing shopping urges. She offers insights and challenges me as well.
6. Support really helps. I remember feeling very alone in my struggles. I did not think people would understand, and I was afraid of being judged. I did not know anyone else who shopped like me, and this only made me feel more insecure. It wasn’t until I began work with my therapist that I realized I am not alone….many many many people share overshopping and compulsive shopping issues. It’s so important to have others to talk to, share experiences with, laugh together, and support each other. I started this blog to be able to connect with others so we can help each other. I no longer feel alone and I am no longer afraid to discuss my shopping issues with others. Now that I am so open about it, I meet many people who share with me that they also shop too much. Keeping a journal is also a helpful way to support yourself. It allows you a mechanism to get your feelings out and can also help you to track your progress or recognize your triggers. Just expressing ourselves (through writing or talking to someone) can really help alleviate some of the emotions we are feeling and can even motivate us.
I know I have so much more to learn in this process, and I look forward to continuing to work hard and improve day by day…step by step. In fact, I’ve even come to appreciate this aspect of myself. This recovery journey has taught me new things about myself, increased my confidence, pushed me to fulfill my dream of writing, and proven to me that you really can teach an old dog new tricks.