Clad in cashmere, a fresh-face cleansed with La Prairie and a Mulberry Mitzy slung over my shoulder. I looked the epitome of ‘success’. But what lurked beneath the glossy exterior was insatiably eating away at my marriage, my career and my sanity.
Addiction wasn’t supposed to look this good!
There’s a common misconception surrounding addicts: they’re greasy haired, yellow toothed and sallow skinned. But among us, an estimated 6% of the population, are shopaholics. Unlike ‘normal’ shoppers, shopping addicts aren’t motivated by value or usefulness. We shop through compulsion to relieve stress, gain social approval and improve our self-image.
Claire Clarke, a referral consultant for charity Action on Addiction, said “It all boils down to the same thing — [the addict] wanting to change the way they are feeling by taking a substance or doing some sort of behaviour to get a high. Some may dismiss [shopping addiction]. But it is a serious mental health issue. It can lead to people being in serious debt, isolating loved ones and ruining their lives.”
Shopaholism has long been trivialised on the front-covers of fuchsia-spattered novels and as the subject of whimsical rom-coms. But just because we don’t look like we’re beating on death’s door with a track-marked, skeletal fist doesn’t mean we’re not on a path to complete self-destruction.
In 2010 I’d reached breaking point and checked-in to rehab for a 5-week stay to ‘get clean’ from shopping addiction. My shopaholism didn’t creep up overnight, neither was it as glamorous as Hollywood would have you believe. When I arrived at rehab I was desperate for help. I was a blubbering wreck, riddled with depression, dosed up on anti-depressants and in a toxic marriage. I was unable to mother my two young sons as my hectic, fix-seeking mind was only able to focus on the next purchase – because, of course, that next buy will be the last and, will make me happy!
The shame, guilt and neurosis associated with substance addiction, were very real in my seemingly ‘fluffy’ addiction. I sat among alcoholics, heroin addicts and anorexics, our poisons were different but our symptoms – and fate – were the same.
It had taken a pair of Helmut Lang leather trousers with an £800 price tag to make me realise how low I’d sunk. We weren’t well-off, perhaps ‘comfortable’ for a young family who’d benefitted from high property prices in the early-mid noughties. To us, £800 was two mortgage payments/two months’ worth of food shopping/a helluva lot of wonga to spend on an ill-fitting, hotter-than-hell pair of trousers!
I’d raided every family and business bank account, pawned sentimental jewellery, maxed out the deck of credit cards I’d amassed and had more loans than pairs of knickers, to fund my addiction. What did I have to show for it? A wardrobe full of last season’s Net-a-Porter ‘must-haves’ that I could never wear for fear of being caught.
After my rehab stint it took two years, innumerable group and private therapy sessions, 12-step meetings, divorce and walking away from my business to be happy with the person I saw in the mirror. I’d broken the addictive cycle and could instead focus on being a present mum for my sons.
Now, when I spend, I spend thoughtfully and with intention. I ask myself a number of self-analysing questions about the purchase but, the best litmus test of all “will I hide this purchase from my mum?” if the answer’s “yes” then I’m acting out. I walk away, get perspective and soon realise I feel just the same, usually better, without having splurged the cash.
NOTE: Sorry if this piece may seem a bit impersonal (funny, considering how personal the subject matter is) and not my usual style of writing for my blog; it was originally written as part of my writing course with Laura Jane Williams but I’ve never had the balls to pitch it to any of the mags I admire. So, it’s the perfect reaction to a lot of questions I’ve had over the past few days about my addiction and it deserves a bit of airtime.