My Shopping Addiction Nearly Destroyed My Life

I’ve always really loved things.

It’s never mattered much what kind of things, as long as they were new to me. From the time I was small, I would turn to my mother while watching commercials and say, “Mom, I need that.” It was never a want; it was always a need.

shopping addiction
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I was incapable of going into a store without buying something — I always found a reason for needing whatever thing it was, even if I couldn’t really afford it. When I was bored, I’d go to the mall. I’d wander the long concourses lined with shops, see something I wanted in a store window, and tell myself, “If I’m still thinking about it in three days, I’ll go back and get it.” And I was always thinking about that thing three days later, because once I saw something I wanted, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It became an obsession.

When I was a teenager, I’d beg my parents to buy me things and, eventually, they’d give in. They spoiled me rotten and I took advantage of it. If I couldn’t get my mom to buy me what I wanted, I’d bat my eyes at my father. I became an expert at manipulation. And because I’d always been able to have almost anything I wanted, I never really learned the value of money.

When I went away to college, I realized quickly that if I wanted to keep buying things, I’d need a strategy. So I opened several credit cards — the perfect solution to my problem. I figured I’d pay my monthly minimums and I could continue to spend the way I wanted to.

At first, I was in heaven. I spent most of my money on clothes and shoes. I was sure that these things would make me happier and cooler. I thought they’d get me the attention and validation I craved. I thought I wouldn’t be okay without them.

I maxed out every single one of my credit cards in a matter of months. I couldn’t even pay my minimums, and I panicked. Ashamed, I didn’t tell anyone about my financial situation. I began throwing away the unopened bills. Then the debt companies started calling, sometimes up to 20 times a day.

I changed my number.

Despite my lack of cash, I didn’t stop acquiring things. I couldn’t just stop when I ran out of money. My bank account was always overdrawn, and more than one bank closed my account when I couldn’t pay my hefty overdraft fees. I didn’t tell anyone how empty I felt inside.

Eventually, I ended up in rehab for another one of my addictions — alcohol. It was there that I was forced to recognize my shopping addiction for what it was. Both addictions came from the same place: the feeling of emptiness.

Coming clean was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Not only did I have to stop drinking and using drugs, but I had to stop spending money in destructive ways. I had to learn to live within my means and confront the damage I’d done to my life.

"Trying desperately to medicate my self-loathing with stuff left me financially and spiritually bankrupt."  

The first step was opening all the bills that had piled up at my house while I was in treatment. It was the only way to know what I owed and to make a plan to deal with my debt. I had a combination of credit card bills and medical bills, some of which I’d been ignoring for years. One by one, I opened each and every envelope. Simply doing that was incredibly freeing.

The next thing I had to do was figure out what I could afford to pay. Because I had to make so many different payments, I couldn’t afford to pay more than $10 per month on any one bill. So I called the creditors up and explained my situation. I told them I wanted to start to pay them back, but I couldn’t afford to make my minimum payments. I started small, and eventually, when I began to make more money, I increased my payments.

It’s been four years, and my life is drastically different today. I’ve paid off most of my debt, and I was lucky enough to have some help from my parents. My grandparents helped with some of the payments, too, and I’ve paid them back over a couple of years. But that doesn’t mean that my shopping addiction is a thing of the past — I still struggle with spending money and buying things I don’t need.

That’s why I now adhere to a very strict budget to make sure that I stay within my means: My husband and I sit down every week and go over our budget and note how much money was spent and on what.

I’m still living with the repercussions of my disease: I don’t have a single credit card — my credit is terrible, and I’m working to rebuild it. I’ve tried to get a single credit card so that I can begin to build back the credit I destroyed, but I can’t get approved for any of them. I’ve also been denied bank loans for home improvements.

My shopping addiction nearly destroyed my life. Trying desperately to medicate my self-loathing with stuff left me financially and spiritually bankrupt. But hitting rock bottom taught me a crucial lesson: No gorgeous pair of shoes or one-of-a-kind dress will ever be a substitute for the self-love I’ve found through recovery.

Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, feminist mama, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.

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