Speaking Shame

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….

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.

Yeah.

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?

Nothing.

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.

30 Comments

  1. Try: Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. From the library. He addresses why habits work and how to break the pattern … also how desperately hard it is to change habits.
    My problem habit isn’t buying/spending (or substances of any sort) but a habitual thought process. It is taking a HUGE bite out of me … which is why I have been so very much hoping for a post from you ~~ to take me out of my head. Because you are a reward habit for me. You are a positive habit for me. Which is not any obligation on you … my habit, my circus, my monkey! I believe you are a gift to many people.
    So my hand is out in support and thanks and company.

    1. That book looks really interesting. I think I have a credit on Audible and I’ve been looking for a new book. That one might be just the thing.

      Thank you for your kind words and for checking in on me. It meant more than I can say.

      I’m sorry I don’t know how you can support me. I think just by reading my words and responding with such kindness and validation (like you always do) is very supportive. I really can’t ask for more.

  2. This was brave of you to share. And particularly brave to come clean to your husband. But please, everybody has bad habits. Everybody feels ashamed of some things.

    I will admit that every time you write a “stuff I like” post, I think “wow, none of this stuff is really necessary. She must really like stuff.” But you’ve been trying so hard to improve in so many areas. That’s not easy to do. Cut yourself some slack if it’s not a totally linear path.

    1. I think this felt like a really big deal to me because I was deliberately being dishonest to my husband to cover up actions that I didn’t realize I couldn’t control. And I did so systematically over a long period of time. That is why this feels like a lot more than just a bad habit (like drinking insane amounts of Diet Coke, which I also do) and more of a really serious problem.

      You’re right though that I’m doing a lot of work on myself right now, and it is hard. I’m trying to cut myself some slack, but that is also hard. I’m actually going to write a post about how tired I am of always having to work on myself, but that will have to wait for another day.

  3. Like PP said, we all feel shame about certain things – no judgement here. As you said, admitting you have a problem is the first step. You’re making all kinds of positive changes in your life, and it’s great that you’re doing it while your children are so young so that they will grow up watching you with healthier habits. Glad you’re back – missed you!

    1. Making these changes so that my kids see these values being acted out is a HUGE motivating factor for me. I REALLY want to set good examples for them. I am so grateful to have them as a reason outside myself to make positive changes (though I’m sure I’d be making these changes even if they weren’t in my life, they just provide extra motivation–but they also provide more pressure (as in I put more pressure on myself because of wanting to do better for them) so there are positives and negatives. And I’m going to stop now because I just used parentheses inside of parentheses, which is never good.)

  4. I’m going with the positive on this one. You did a very hard thing and admitted that you have a problem. A problem that by hiding was causing you to lie to hide it as well as causing it to grow. By getting it out, even though it had to be terrible hard, you no longer have to hide. That took balls. And as guilty as you may be feeling, realize too that you’ve now set an example to your kids about why honesty is important.

    The way I see it, you have no where to go but up from here. Sure, you have some work to do with rebuilding trust, but with a system you can begin tackling this problem. And you and your husband can do so as a team. May it ultimately bring you closer together.

    1. I really appreciate your words Cristy. Thank you for validating my feelings on this. You’re right that I have nowhere to go but up, but it is going to be a long road.

      1. Still, I hope that one day you are able to look back on this with some pride. Yeah, there’s guilt. But many (emphasize MANY) people are unable to find the strength for this type of self-reflection. Because by doing so, if brings up so much negative. Kinda like facing infertility. But as you’ve learned from infertility, facing this stuff allows for action and change. It allows for growth.

        So, even if you’re not feeling it, I think you have a lot to be proud of.

        1. I do think some day I’ll be proud of this work, but I’m not there yet. Still, I have learned enough over they years to have more faith that I’ll get there some day.

          I think mostly at this point I’m just sick of doing all this hard work on myself. It’s exhausting and I would love to just BE for a little bit. It’s hard not to wonder why I have so many problems that require so much slogging through the muck. Sometimes I feel like a lemon, you know? Like the car kind? Like I’m the one who always has shit breaking down and always has to go in for repairs. Like I’m just inherently defective. I know it’s not a productive way to feel, but it’s hard not to. I’ve been thinking about writing a post on that subject. Hopefully soon.

  5. I agree with Cristy’s sage words- it took a lot of guts to not only be truthful to yourself about your problem, but also to your husband and on your blog. I wish you the best of luck combating your problem- maybe it’s an addiction to make up for something else you think you lack in your life? Have you or will you be addressing it to a counselor?

    1. I’ve read that people who buy a lot are trying to fill a hole left by a lack of something. For me it might be meaningful connections with people, because I’m still struggling with not having a lot of near-by friends and this problem really got bad when a really important friendship ended and there was a huge hole in my life where that person had been. So yeah, it’s definitely related to other things in my life. And I will DEFINITELY be talking about this with my therapist. I already gave her the low down so she is ready for me at our next appointment (in a couple of weeks).

  6. Bravo for coming clean with your husband – that had to be hard. I know because I had to come clean years ago to Hottie when we were getting our pre-nup in order, and we had to include our debt. I worked furiously to pay it off, but it made me sick every moment of every day that I’d think about it, which was often. I got it paid off before the pre-nup, but cracked under the pressure of it all and told him all about it once the documents were signed. I was so ashamed, but also relieved. Turns out, he’d done the exact same thing for the exact same reasons – and had the exact same amount to pay off. We were both sick with worry for far too long, not wanting the other one to be ashamed of us.

    Sometimes, I think it’s easier to share the shame. I mean that. But oh, sharing it initially is so, so hard.

    I have a spending problem, or a compulsive buying problem, in phases. I’ll go months without buying much of anything, then I buy heaps of clothes for the boys, or I buy 3 of the same sweater for me but in different colors, or I go buy Hottie clothes because I can’t keep buying clothes for the boys and me. So just writing that, I guess I have a problem with buying clothes – for everyone. I look in the boys’ closets and I’m overwhelmed with how many sweaters and shirts and jeans they have – and it’s embarrassing. I don’t know how it got to be that way, but then I remember the sales I hit at Gap 4 months earlier when “I bought all the things he needs for his next size on super duper sale!” but then forgot so did the same thing 3 months later in the same damn size. It’s ridiculous. And Hottie just goes with it because I think he feels sorry for me that I get so bored being home sometimes that I have to buy clothes to keep myself happy. Good lord.

    I am ashamed of my closet, and the boys’ closets, and Hottie’s closet. We all have too many damned sweaters, and jeans, and just CLOTHES IN GENERAL. And I have 4 sweaters packed away for Hottie for Christmas.

    Thank you for making me admit it. I don’t know if it will change anything (I have $100 in Gap cash to spend, afterall, before the 9th, I believe), but I feel better just saying it here.

    Don’t feel like a worthless human being. You’re not. I think you’ll learn from this post, and the others before it, that you’re not alone. We all have our issues. Some issues are bigger than others, but we all have them. I hate to think of how much extra cash we’d have if I’d stop buying clothes for everyone like it’s a damn hobby (which I guess it is a hobby for me).

    I am going to admit this to Hottie tonight.

    1. Clothes is one of my biggest problems. I but WAY too many clothes, both for me and for my kids. When we went through all the 0-12 months clothes we had saved (from me daughter) to find the ones my son could wear I was totally embarrassed. There was just SO MUCH MORE than a baby could ever wear. What was I thinking?! I’m MUCH better about this now, because my daughter is at a place where she can tell me if she wants something I get for her (90% of the time, she doesn’t) and she wears a uniform to preschool so we just don’t need many different outfits for her (and she usually just wants to wear a princess nightgown dress on the weekends anyway). And friends gave us a lot of boys clothes for my son (and don’t really like most of the boy clothes “themes” (ie sports) so I’m not as drawn to buying them). All that to say I’ve gotten a lot better with my kids. As far as me, since I lost weight and my friend from work gave me all those cute clothes, I’ve just wanted to buy more and more stuff. It’s out of control. I’m going to block a couple sites that I do a lot of damage on and show my husband the receipts of stores where I can sneak clothes into a more general purchase (*cough* Target). Now that I know I need to tell my husband everything I buy (I suggested this to hold myself accountable) I’m doing a LOT better about buying stuff I don’t need. But it’s still hard.

      1. I agree that weight loss spurs my problem. I didn’t have any clothes small enough (I haven’t been this small since the first say if my freshman year of high school) and I truly NEEDED them. Hottie encouraged it too because he knew I had literally nothing. But now it’s like,an addiction. The first lot was necessary, but damn it was fun fitting into everything. Hottie has said, “you look good in truly everything now, so you don’t have to buy everything that looks good anymore.”. So true.

        I bought Hottie 6 sweaters today. It was buy 2, get one free which brought down my total spend making it hard to use the gap cash I’d earned. It came out to $19.20 a sweater which is great, but after admitting what I did on this post, I felt ashamed. I did walk out, though, saying that we’re both good until spring. Besides smaller jeans as I lose more weight, I don’t need anything else.

        (PS I despise sports themed boy clothes and avoid them like the plague (unless it’s basketball because Matthew loves bball) and have no problems finding heaps of cute boy stuff at gap. Never go there. Worse thing I ever started.)

        1. I have an Old Navy VISA so I get all the Gap Card sale deals too and I am a HUGS sucker for a good sale. Gap is definitely where I do the most damage. Luckily I haven’t been as drawn to their stuff recently for either of my kids. Especially for my daughter. I’m way less interested in their actual kids clothing (she wears a 6 now even though she’s only 4.5) and while I like their boy clothes WAY better than anything I find elsewhere (*cough* Babies R Us and Target) it’s so expensive I usually don’t buy it (it has to be on sale twice for me to get it for my son–he just grows out of everything so fast). As for me, well I could keep buying myself stuff there (always on sale) until forever and never feel sated. It’s totally an addiction.

      2. I did it at dinner – I told Hottie that I’m addicted to buying clothes for everyone. He said he knew already, and that he appreciates how the boys are dressed even if they have too many clothes. He joked about me buying one of every color sweater and seriously asked me to buy more for him. I told him to wait until Christmas. He also took the blame for sending me off to buy new clothes now that I’m smaller. So my confession was just me telling him what he already knew. Hmmm. I told him no more sweaters this winter, and he agrees.

  7. No judgment from me, either. I choose to look at the positive and love that you are facing this head on. With your partner. And all of us.

    xoxo

  8. I’m proud of you- this took SO much courage. Admitting it to your husband was absolutely the right and most healthy thing to do- I don’t know if I told you before but a little over a year ago I found out (accidentally) a HUGE financial secret my husband was hiding from me and it greatly affects our life still today. And if I’m honest, I’m still so angry about it- mostly about the deception. You are making such positive steps and I kjnow you will look back on conquering this with pride.

  9. That was so brave. So brave. I don’t know it seems to me once you’ve admitted it you’ve overcome the biggest hurdle. And you did it! So now you start to deal. Here as a sounding board when it goes pear shape x

  10. I’m sorry about the spending addiction, truly. And I’m glad that your wonderful readers have been supportive and encouraging. But I can’t seem to repress the urge to cyber-shake some sense into you! This kind of unhealthy spending is the foundation for our entire economy. The fact that there is a multibillion dollar advertising industry built entirely on the fact that you can sell things to people not because they need them but because their acquisition can be attached to our deepest needs and desires says it all.

    You say that you are feeling fatigued by the need to work on yourself constantly. But can’t you see that these two issues are one and the same? We ALL do this but you are insanely hard on yourself. You are always pushing with all your might to get to somewhere that you are not. To move beyond your flaws to someplace that you are not right now. To overcome this or that and finally be great. THIS is the only issue. The only thing you really need to work on is seeing that you are already great, even if you have a boatload of flaws just like all of the rest of us. There is no perfection. The only real change you need is the one that allows you to love and accept yourself.

    1. As always you have some very, very wise words for me, and I will be responding to them in full in a later post. Thank you.

  11. I read this yesterday but wanted to give it some thought before I responded. I think I relate to you so well because I tend to have the same “flaw,” which is that we both trend towards perfectionism. I spend a ton of time reflecting on how to improve my life too, and making small mistakes throughout my day drives me insane. I’m currently struggling with yelling too much at Piglet. Every time I snap at him, a little bit of me dies inside. So I understand the feeling of shame you have about a behavior you don’t like about yourself.

    However, like you, I’m also harder on myself than anyone else could ever be to me. I’m guessing that the conversation with your husband involved a reaction that was far less upsetting than what you had imagined, simply because you had already done the “beating up” yourself. So, without sounding too mushy and stalky :), I read you because I think of you as a cyber-friend, and I think that you’re always so brave. As one of my IRL friends told me just last week, cut yourself some slack. You are amazing. We all have flaws, we all fail at some point, but your strength lies in how you pick yourself back up. And you always manage to do that brilliantly. Keep the faith, friend. I know that good things are going to happen in your life.

  12. Zero judgment. This actually opened my eyes to my own behaviour. Thank you so much. I’m so glad you’ve gotten to many wonderful responses. Thanks for the reminder to revisit Brené Brown’s work. We all have shame but we don’t all have the courage to speak it and share it like you do. I’m interested in the resources you are using; I’ll email you. In the meantime, serious kudos, and know that you are helping a lot of people, myself included.

  13. I am proud of you for facing this and then being so brave to write about it here. I spend far too much time on the internet. It’s probably an addiction, to be honest. And one of the ways I’ve worked on combatting it is by setting a stop sign image as my home page. Maybe you can use a visual cue like that (in your wallet?) to help with your spending? I dunno. Just throwing ideas out there 🙂

  14. I too admire your honesty, with us as well as your dh. I do believe that clutter & overspending often tend to go hand in hand. I don’t know if you get any of Gail Vaz-Oxlade’s shows on TV there? She’s a Canadian personal finance guru, and she has a no-nonsense approach to tackling debt and budgeting — she’s appeared on TV shows like “Till Debt Do Us Part,” “Money Morons” and “Princess.” (Similar approach to Larry Winget on A&E a few years back.) One of the first things she’ll do with a new couple is take a walk around their house & check things out, and she often comments on the amount of clothes & “toys” they have.

    I tend to overspend at times as well, & I’ll admit I have way too many clothes. (Not as many as some people — I have three pairs of jeans & I hear all the time about people who have 20 or 30…! — but more than enough.) I keep taking bags & bags to Goodwill, but it seems like the closet & drawers just fill up again. If it wasn’t obvious that I had a lot of clothes before, it is now that I’m not working, because most of my beautiful sweaters & blouses, etc., are just sitting there, unworn, while I go about the house in yoga pants & a T-shirt. Yet I hate to get rid of them, just in case… I have always been a sucker for a good deal, & if I find something I like (e.g., Gap sweater or T-shirt — a big weakness for me), I will often buy two or three in different colours. This also goes for shoes. I have very wide, hard to fit feet, so when I find something that I like AND that fits, I tend to buy it, whether I really need another pair of black loafers or not.

    The good thing about not working is that (a) while we are living comfortably, we are now on a fixed income, and I can’t just spend money mindlessly in the same way I once I did. Also, (b) I really have to find a good reason to spend money on things like clothes, when I am just not getting as much use out of them as I did when I was working. Also, since I’ve been off work, dh has started tracking our expenses. We are together most of the time now, so he knows what I’ve spent, and if I’ve been out by myself, I give him my receipts to tally up. Sharing that information keeps me honest — and seeing how much (or how little) we’ve been spending & where has been highly instructive! I also set him up on online banking for our accounts, and while I always showed him the state of our accounts & our credit card balances when I was doing the banking, he can now go on & see for himself at any time.

  15. You are brave in sharing this! I hope that the guilt/shame feelings can turn into motivations for you rather than dragging you down or sapping your energy. This truly is the first step towards figuring out what that emptiness is you’re trying to fill, and finding a way to wholeness.

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