I’m sorry I left for two weeks without a word.
I never intended to be gone for so long. I faced a perfect storm of deadlines (my final Creative Nonfiction assignment, first trimester final grades and sale expirations for photo gifts) and family obligations (Turkey Day and Turkey Day Part Deux) and there was just never any time to write here.
Oh, and I was admitting to myself, and more painfully my husband, that I have a compulsive buying problem.
So yeah, there was that.
I have been trying to figure out how to say it. Or better said, I’ve been trying to avoid having to say it, let alone figuring out how. It’s a weird thing because on the one hand it seems kind of silly, and trite, like hey, I buy too much shit (but don’t we all, right?) And on the other hand it’s completely devastating and it sent me into a pit of shame so dark and so deep I’ve spent the last two weeks clawing my way out.
I think I’m finally at the surface, but I’m still mired in the muck of it. I will be for a long time.
I’ve always known that I bought too much stuff, but I never really thought of it as a true problem. Or I guess, I never considered the impulses uncontrollable. I guess I always just figured that if I really wanted to stop, I would find a way.
But as I’ve attempted to embrace minimalism, and drastically overhaul the way we consume, I’m finding it incredibly hard to curb my purchasing. Even when I really truly don’t want to be buying stuff, I still do.
So I started reading some books and checking off indicators, and while there were definitely statements that provoked a “holy shit, at least I’m not that bad” there were just as many that provoked an intensely shaming realization that I have a problem.
I walked around with it for a few days, mentioning it to no one. It was eating away at me, making me absolutely miserable. I felt small and unworthy and truly fucked up.
Then I read a book about overcoming compulsive buying and the very first step was to admit to others that you have a problem so that they can help you hold yourself accountable.
And that is when I totally lost my shit. I had convinced myself that I could manage this without confronting my husband, or anyone else. I felt so much shame that I couldn’t control my spending; I just wanted to make it all go away without him ever knowing about it.
And I knew that if I had to tell my husband about my problem, I’d also have to tell him that I had lied about my finances.
Yes. I have been lying to my husband about how quickly I’ve been paying off my credit card debt to help hide my compulsive shopping problem. My husband was actually taking over the payment to my parents every month so I could put that money toward my debt. And instead I was spending a portion (sometimes all of it) on frivolous, unnecessary purchases. And then I was lying to him about it. Eventually to the tune of a few thousand dollars.
I did that.
And I had to tell him. All of it.
Did I mention it’s been a hard week?
I have to admit, writing this is making my skin crawl. I don’t want to do it. It makes me feel vulnerable in ways I can’t articulate. I worry what you all must think of me. I imagine the collective gasp as you read it. I imagine your pity and your disdain. I imagine you judging me, harshly.
I imagine you doing to me what I’ve done to myself for the past two weeks.
But the truth is, you can’t possible think less of me than I have already thought of myself. I’ve already gasped and pitied and judged, so, so harshly. I’ve already determined that I’m a worthless excuse for a human being. Anything you’re thinking about me, I’ve thought worse. So really, what do I have to lose?
And by telling you, I have everything to gain.
Keeping this problem secret doesn’t help me. It only makes it worse. I’ve tried to control it by myself and I’ve failed–to varying degrees–since I started earning real money at 14. I can’t make it better until I admit it. All of it. Even the parts that make me hate myself. Even the parts that steep me in shame.
Oh the shame. It’s overwhelming.
I’ve been listening to Brené Brown’s “The Power of Vulnerability” again. This is my third time hearing it, but my first time listening to it with shame. I mean, I always have shame in my life, but it’s never before been a constant companion. Engaging with the talk this time has been truly life changing. I’m so thankful for her work and the incredible way she shares it. I shudder to think where I’d be right now if I didn’t have her to guide me through shame, to help me understand what it is and why it’s so hurtful. To remind me that secrecy and judgement make it grow exponentially, and to assure me that speaking shame–and responding to it with empathy–are the first steps in overcoming it.
So here I am, speaking my shame. I’ve already told my husband–I had to sit with him and try to explain, through my tears, why I lied to him–and now I’m telling you. I’m working hard on my compulsive buying problem, and I’m making small gains. It’s going to take a lot of work, but for the first time in my life I have a sliver of hope that I might get ultimately overcome this issue.
Again, I apologize for falling silent for two weeks and then returning with this.
And I thank you for being gentle as you share your thoughts.