After all my recent shopping, I was left swirling in a myriad of emotions that fluctuated from moment to moment. I felt happy owning new beautiful items and could envision myself wearing them as I embraced the incoming Fall season. I felt guilty because I had thrown caution to the wind, veered off the mindful shopping path that I was cruising down, and was now limping on the wrong side of the shopping road! I felt worried that my husband would notice everything I purchased, or that he would be angry once he saw the credit card bills (I no longer possess any secret credit cards). I felt sad knowing that I couldn’t purchase anything else this month since I already spent a little over my budget. I felt ashamed that I once again was feeling all these post shopping emotions and wondered if I would ever truly be a “recovered” shopaholic?
So many feelings! After a few days of these emotions (and a timely email from my therapist), I realized I could not bury my head in the sand and pretend it all did not happen. I needed to understand more fully what REALLY occurred, and set a plan in motion to redirect myself. So I asked myself this simple yet not simple question:
“Why did I shop so much?”
My quick answer was easy…I shopped because I love clothing. I enjoy looking put together. I have fun assembling an outfit and getting compliments on it. I like looking nice. Ok fine…that all is plausible, but certainly I should be able to do all that without overspending, overshopping, and overstuffing my closet? Why is it I don’t feel as if I already have enough? What about what I already own isn’t good enough? Why am I always buying more?
My simple answer of “I shop because I like buying new clothing” isn’t the whole truth. When we overshop we are usually shopping for another reason. Purchases are emotional and we often use shopping to escape from difficult issues in our lives. Shopping is the quick fix..the instant pleasure...an easy route to feeling happiness..even if its short-lived, we can keep buying to maintain the happy feelings. If we take the time to explore our emotions we will uncover the true void, since shopping itself is the result of another need we are trying to fulfill. So let me re-word and re-answer the question to myself:
“What was I feeling last week which led to my shopping? What was going on in my life?”
In my first shopping trip, I was with my daughter. It was a planned trip to the mall to take care of some back to school shopping she needed. What was I feeling? With four kids, I don’t often get one-on-one time with each of them, especially the three older ones, so I treasured the time I could spend with just my daughter. I wanted it to be a happy time together. I knew in just a couple of days I would be moving my daughter back into her dorm. She wasn’t my little girl anymore. She is a grown, young woman, beautiful inside and out. I felt sad as I would miss her everyday presence in the house as she brings such a positive and fun energy. That very same morning my son had packed up his car and driven himself back to school. He didn’t even want my husband or I going with him to lend a hand! I felt unneeded. My two oldest babies were no longer babies. Where had the years gone? They were older and therefore so am I. I was feeling old.
There was one more emotion bubbling inside me that I didn’t recognize right away. My shopping venture that day with my daughter reminded me of many joyful past mother-daughter excursions when I was the daughter! I miss those back to school shopping trips when we were fussing over what I needed and I miss my mom's advice about all the things going on in my life. Simply put… I missed my mother. I was feeling the painful void of not having my mother with me anymore…I missed her and I missed being the child. I missed having her taking care of me. When I bought the handbag and shoes it felt like old times…I was taking care of myself…getting myself some back to school stuff.
Over the next few days, my house became quieter and I began feeling the physical repercussions of helping my daughter move into her dorm as my lower back started to ache. I also began reminiscing about my own life when I was 20 years old. I was also discouraged that I had so easily injured my lower back again! I was feeling fragile, old, empty and sad. Of course, my natural reaction to all these feelings would be to head back to the mall and shop for some more happiness! So when I returned to the mall again, and I stood in the dressing room trying on sweaters, it wasn’t sweaters that I was shopping for! I wasn’t really buying the sweaters..I was buying how the sweaters made me feel..and on a 90 degree day I wasn’t looking for them to make me feel warm.
The striking rose pink sweater (a color I never really choose) made me feel “new”, “fresh”, “trendy” and “young”. I envisioned myself wearing it with my rolled up distressed jeans and converse sneakers as I hung out with the other neighborhood moms (who were mostly a decade younger than me) at my 9 year old's baseball and basketball games. The super soft white sweater? It provided me a sense of comfort and ease. I imagined myself curled on the sofa with a cup of tea absorbed in a great novel! And the blue sweater that the sales girl chose? I didn’t just buy a blue sweater - I bought the happy image of a winter evening out to dinner with close friends, being social and all grownup, drinking my favorite wine by a cozy fire while the snow fell outside.
Now it’s clear to see that I wasn’t really shopping because I love clothing. Clothing wasn’t what I was searching for. I was shopping to feel young…I shopped to change my mood…I shopped to avoid the thoughts of longing for my mom and perhaps to even “re-live the old days”. I experienced a whirlwind of emotions in the course of a few days and all the while I kept a happy face on for my family! My brain was saying “I can’t let the kids know how much I hurt inside when they are gone…No..I want them to thrive, be happy and live their lives! I don’t want the people around me to see me sad, longing for my mom..after all, it’s been 11 years since she died…I am a grown woman and must accept my backaches and heartaches and life aches!”.
Yes, it was one of those tough weeks and what I really should be feeling is kindness and compassion towards myself! I’m not justifying overshopping, but I need to give myself an inner hug instead of beating myself up! Now, coming from a place of strength, not weakness, I can use this experience to improve. I can still learn from my mistakes so that I can finally recognize my emotions and deal with them before looking to blur them or fix them with shopping. The real question now is:
“How can I recognize my emotions beforehand? And what can I do to soothe my emotions instead of shop?”
These are the answers I am still searching for. After my therapist read my post last week, she emailed me right away and suggested that I do a “motivational interview”, with my goal being to use the “urge strikes self-help tool” before every purchase for the next three months. It was true that I had not stopped to use the “urge strikes” app that was on my phone, or even paused to ask myself the vital 6 questions which might have alerted me that I was about to embark in emotional shopping. These 6 questions are:
Why am I here?
How do I feel?
Do I need this?
What if I wait?
How will I pay for it?
Where will I put it?
Here is my completed motivational interview:
What is my goal?
My goal is to use the Urge strikes app on my phone every time I have the urge to shop this month.
On a scale of 0 to10 how important is this goal?
Why am I at this number and not a 0?
First, because I see some of my old shopping patterns and thinking returning, and if I don’t set myself straight I will end up further down a familiar road that I do not want to go down. I believe by consistently using the urge strikes tool I will help myself to see what is really bothering me, and causing me to want to shop. It will help me access whether shopping is a good idea to do at that moment or not. It will provide me with necessary introspection to what I am feeling.
What would it take to go to from this number to a higher number?
To be more convinced that using this app will help me beyond just providing me “a shopping pause”.
How might I go about making this change?
I will trust Dr. Benson and her experience in treating many people with shopping addictions. I will trust her when she says that consistently using this tool will help me.
I need to practice discipline and just do it and stop being lazy.
What would be a good first step?
Download the app on my other devices (like my computer and iPad, if possible), so it is always accessible.
What obstacles do I see and how might I deal with them?
I will not want to take the time to get my phone and use the app. OR I just may not want to stop shopping.
On a scale of 0 to10, how confident am I that I will reach my goal and why?
5. I have wanted to use the app before and somehow keep forgetting to use it. I think if I load it on my computer I will be more successful as most of my online shopping is done from my computer. I am usually on my computer, or will go on my computer, if the urge to shop strikes. I also believe my confidence for the remaining weeks will get higher if I can follow through and meet this goal for the first week.
For more information and an explanation of the motivational interview and how it can help recovering shopaholics, read this post by Dr. April Benson:
I have always treated shopping as my security blanket…a place I felt safe or at least gave me a false sense of safety. Reality has taught me that in the end shopping actually makes me feel less secure…it’s time to shed the shopping blanket. The road to “recovery” is certainly not a straight smooth run. It has many twists, turns, and bumps along the way. I’ve stumbled, but now I’ve picked myself up, and am recommitted to get back on track. I have an upcoming session with my therapist where I am certain to gain more insight to how I can approach better handling the next bad week that may come along. I will be certain to share any new ideas with you in future posts.
Have you emotionally shopped? Have you thought about what you were feeling before your last shopping binge? What are your thoughts about ways to recognize the emotions before heading to the checkout line?