Before I delve into today’s post, I want to welcome all those who have found my blog via my Today Show appearance on Monday! I also want to share the link to the segment for those who weren’t able to watch it live.
Shopaholic? When compulsive shopping becomes a painful obsession
Many of us indulge in a bit of “retail therapy” now and then, but when shopping becomes a compulsion, the consequences can be painful and heartbreaking. Jenna Bush Hager kicks off a new TODAY series, Compelling Compulsions.
I’m pleased that I was able to share my story in such a high-profile place, as I know there are many people out there who are struggling with compulsive shopping and feel alone and unsure of what to do or where to turn. I hope that some of those people were able to find this community, as well as the “End Closet Chaos” private Facebook group.
Behind the Scenes…
Just for fun, I want to share a little bit about the taping of my Today Show segment. I know that I’ve always been curious about how such pieces are put together. The crew – a cameraman, soundwoman, producer, and reporter (Jenna Bush Hager) – came to my apartment two weeks ago to film. It took over an hour to set up all of the equipment. I couldn’t believe how much they kept bringing in and thought there wouldn’t be space for it all in our two-bedroom space. One of my cats hid under the bed the entire time the crew was here, while the other one explored everything and seemed to enjoy the process.
The actual taping took about an hour. First, Jenna and I talked in my living room for at least thirty minutes (as you could see, most of what we discussed was edited out), then she spoke to my husband for about ten minutes (that part ended up on the proverbial cutting room floor). Then Jenna and I spoke in front of my closet for five or ten minutes (that part appeared at the beginning of the segment) and I was filmed at my computer navigating through my blog and a few shopping sites. Finally, the cameraman filmed my husband and me walking down the street in front of our apartment. At that point, Jenna and the producer left and the other two stayed to do the tear-down. That last hour or so was fun, as we got to chat with the cameraman and soundwoman about some of the celebrities they have worked with over the years (hint – not all of them are nice).
The entire process took approximately three and a half hours from start to finish. The crew was very nice and pleasant to work with. Jenna was sweet and down to earth and you wouldn’t know that she’s an ex-President’s daughter! Here’s a picture of me with the NBC crew in my living room (of course, I had to wear my signature stripes!):
NBC Today Show crew: Hillary, Tom, Jenna, and Max (with me)
What Recovery Looks Like
In my last post, I wrote about my recovery journey over the past three-plus years since I started this blog. I thought a good follow-up to that post would be to write about what it means to be a recovering shopaholic. I dedicated a post to that topic back in March 2014 (“10 Signs That You’re a Recovering Shopaholic”) and I still stand by what I wrote then. However, at the time, I focused far more on wardrobe and shopping related signs and not enough on the psychological and “full life” parts of the equation. Only sign #10 (Shopping is no longer your default activity) highlighted an aspect of recovery beyond the closet and the stores.
I believe that recovery needs to encompass both the practical and the psychological. Not only do we need to make changes in our behavior, we also need to get to the root of why we overshop before we will truly be able to get a handle on our compulsive shopping problems. We have to do the hard work of defining what we’re really shopping for and discover new, more productive and healthy ways of meeting those needs.
While I have made some good progress in these areas, this is where the bulk of my remaining work lies. That’s why I have decided to re-read “To Buy or Not to Buy” by Dr. April Benson and do all of the exercises this time around. Reading valuable information like this is helpful, but the exercises are what really drive the concepts home and help us to internalize them.
Recovery Insights from the “End Closet Chaos” Group
Over the coming months, I will periodically write more posts in the “Behavior & Psychology” category, including sharing some of my responses and insights in relation to the exercises in Dr. Benson’s book. But for today, I’d like to offer insights from others on the topic of recovery and what it means to be a recovering shopaholic. Last week, I posed the following question to the “End Closet Chaos” closed Facebook group:
I am going to write a blog post about what it means to be a recovering shopaholic and I’d love to get your input. I use the term “recovering” because I believe I will always struggle at least to some degree with compulsive shopping, as has been the case for me with eating disorders (I consider myself 90-95% recovered on that front). But at some point, I will get to a point at which the issue of overshopping will take a definite back seat in my life. I characterize my recovery both in terms of behavior and feelings. I have lots of thoughts on this issue for myself, but I would love to read your insights, too. The post will be stronger if it’s not just my opinion. This group has wonderful collective wisdom and I’m very grateful for that! Please share…”
A Very Thoughtful and Complete Response
A number of group members responded and all of their insights are valuable, but one group member was very comprehensive in her reply. Here’s what she had to say:
I feel that being a recovering shopaholic means:
- First, KNOW myself, which means being really honest with myself (no self-lying nor excuses allowed!) and recognizing my triggers, my mood, my motivations when overshopping, and my tendency for accumulating and not purging items from my wardrobe.
- Second, ACCEPT myself, absolutely, 100%. This means forgiving myself for all of my mistakes and realizing that I’m still a great person in spite of them.
- Third, from this knowledge and acceptance (both are equally important, I think), to BE IN CHARGE of my behavior instead of letting myself go. I cannot control my feelings, but I can choose who rules and leads the ship (is it my feelings or is it me?). If I let my feelings rule every single time, I’ll be at the mercy of the wind that blows every day. If my real will is in charge, this will happen less often. Then, even if I purchase many things, I won’t feel like “what has just happened?” as if awakening from a dream where I was not completely me. Instead, I will be completely CONSCIOUS of what I do, and will DECIDE what to do in every situation.
- For me, it’s very important that this is a change FROM INSIDE, an inner remodeling of sorts. In my case, external rules and self-imposed limits alone won’t work if I’m not also working on the foundations of what I’m building.
- Finally, for me, being a recovering shopaholic means being recovering the CONTROL OF MY LIFE in many other areas. The more I learn and practice this, the more fulfilled I feel overall.
- I feel that I’ve learned all of this since I joined this group!
What a powerful response and a ringing endorsement for the “End Closet Chaos” group! If you’re on the fence about joining the group, perhaps this will spur you to give it a try. You can participate as much or as little as you want. The group is a great sounding board for your ideas and a supportive community where you can receive feedback about whatever shopping or wardrobe woes you’re experiencing.
Other Valuable Insights
Here are some other great insights from group members about what recovery means to them:
- The most important thing is find out why you are a shopaholic. Psychotherapy helped me with issues like low self-esteem. Self-esteem is learned in childhood from certain negative experiences. Feelings of low self-esteem are perpetuated by constantly comparing yourself to others and criticizing yourself. Mindfulness training helped me with having more self-acceptance and to recognize the negative emotions that trigger buying in order to feel “good.”
- Being a recovering shopaholic means becoming mindful of everything, from thoughts to actions. This includes becoming aware of why you shop, when you shop, and how you shop. But it goes beyond that to the past and future: cleaning out your past and becoming mindful of how you got to where you are now, creating new patterns in the present, and having a clear path for the future.
- Recovering means you struggle with the thoughts and feelings that got you there in the first place. But it’s an active struggle, and you have confidence that you will win!
- Recovering means mindfulness and vigilance, ruthless honesty, knowing your triggers, having a prevention plan, having a relapse plan in case the prevention plan fails, and knowing that support is necessary, along with kindness, self-compassion, and willingn Recovering means that it’s a process, not a one-time project. It also means being open to learning other ways to fill those emotional holes that lead to the desire or “need” to shop.
- Saying no to overspending is saying yes to the rest of your life. Recovery means shopping with a list, a plan, a budget, and with intention. Recovery is being willing to sit with your obsessions/feelings and not acting them out. It means talking about your impulses instead of acting on them, and being honest about what your triggers are.
- It’s a journey of awareness, learning, and action. We become aware of unhealthy shopping habits, those soothing activities that divert us from honesty and facing our demons. We learn to recognize the signs of trouble, explore personal firewalls to unhealthy behaviors, and find ways to meet our emotional distress head-on. We take action by seeking support, practicing good habits, and forgiving ourselves when we falter – and keep moving through the changes.
- Being a recovering shopaholic is the willingness to look at and deal with the issues that made me want to overbuy in the first place. The problem was never that I didn’t have the right sweater; it was that I thought the sweater could deliver things that are not possible to get from an article of clothing. Having a budget, an item limit, and a plan have all helped me to recognize what healthier shopping is and stay on course. This group, your blog, and going to therapy have helped me deal with the thoughts and behavior that led to overshopping and to not replace it with something else.
- For me, recovering is life-long. I spent a lifetime getting to this point, and changing it is a lifetime in a different direction.Recovering is accepting a different way of buying clothes, but knowing that I have to consciously choose to shop diffe Recovering includes realizing that I’ll always be one step away from returning to the pattern of behavior that led me to have too much clothing. Recovering is a choice. It is healthy – and it will be work.
- Recovery is about being authentic and accountable. It’s about letting go of the “whys” and avoiding extremes.
As you can see, the group had a lot of thoughts on this matter! I hope you got some value out of the above and perhaps gained new perspectives about what it means to be a recovering shopaholic. I agree with so much of what was written, but the main thing I want to point out in closing is that recovery takes time. While there are always outliers who can just decide to change something and that’s all it takes, most of us will experience ups and downs along the path toward recovery. Sometimes it may feel like two steps forward and one step (or even two steps) back, but if we forgive ourselves for our setbacks, keep trying, and take things day by day, we will make progress.
This isn’t a race and we shouldn’t compare our journey to that of others. There are so many factors that influence recovery, and how fast we get there is not what’s of paramount importance. As I’ve often said, we are aiming for progress, not perfection. When I started this blog, I thought I would just do it for a year, as that’s how long I thought it would take for me to recover. It has now been three years, but I’m not giving up. I’m proud to have made the progress I’ve made and I still have more changes I’d like to make. I believe I can and will make those changes and I will continue to share my journey with all of you.