Recovering From Shopping Addiction: Relapse and Forgiveness

This is a follow-up post to How I Treated My Shopping Compulsion.

Complete recovery — both emotionally and financially — from my compulsive shopping disorder took many years. Recognizing the problem was the first of many steps on the road to recovery, but one I didn’t anticipate was relapse. Every time I relapsed and made a compulsive purchase, I felt like I failed. I was afraid I wasn’t getting any better and that I never would.

Recently, one of my favorite yoga and Dharma teachers told me an analogy about metta and mindfulness practices that reminded me of my recovery process and would have helped me to hear when I was in the thick of it.

This practice is like walking in fog. You don’t notice the moisture at first, but if you stick with it, you’ll start to feel your clothes getting soaked through.

Ashley Sharp

The idea is that you have to practice (gratitude, metta, mindfulness, pretty much everything) for a while before you start feeling the benefits. The same is true for recovery. I had to stick with it and repeat the process many, many times before I absorbed all these lessons and felt healed.

I didn’t figure this out for a while, but relapse is part of the recovery process. Once I realized that, I didn’t have to feel disappointed in myself or feel like I failed. Relapse was just the next step, and it meant I was trying and that I was on the way to getting better. So throughout this process, I needed to forgive myself.

But I wasn’t used to forgiving myself — I was more used to giving myself a hard time — so I used metta practice throughout the process to help me forgive myself.

An evolving process

Even though I don’t compulsively shop anymore, the shopping compulsion isn’t exactly gone. After my father passed away unexpectedly in March 2021, I had (among many other emotions) a strong desire to buy a lot of stuff. Nothing in particular. I just wanted to shop and buy and recklessly spend a bunch of money. But I noticed two major changes in my shopping compulsion process that were different from before and are crucial for preventing relapse.

1. Notice urges early

The urge to shop that’s associated with my shopping compulsion has a specific feeling, and I’m able to identify it much sooner than when I first started on the road to recovery. Previously, I would only notice the pattern and compulsive feelings after many purchases. I would order a bunch of things online, and only when they arrived would I step back and realize what happened. Now I can spot those feelings before buying, and recognizing them helps me with the next important step (below).

2. Sit with the feelings

Rather than focusing on the urge to make a purchase and then feeling like I have to fight or deny myself, I’m able to simply sit with those feelings. I say “simply,” but I was only able to accomplish this part after lots of practice with this process and after realizing that: 1) Those feelings don’t necessarily go away even if I act on them, and 2) I don’t need to act on those feelings for them to resolve. The urge may return, but each time it does, I acknowledge it without acting on it. This response helps me move on instead of becoming obsessed and making multiple purchases in attempt to make the feeling go away.

Coupled with my minimalist tendencies and the knowledge that I didn’t actually need anything, these two steps gave me just enough pause to stop the shopping cycle before buying anything, even when I was under extreme stress.


Resources

If you suspect that you or someone you know might have an addiction, please seek professional help.

Below is an affiliate link for Marie Kondo’s book which I have read and found helpful. If you make a purchase after clicking the link below, I’ll earn some money at no extra cost to you. Thank you for the support!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Photo by Dusan Adamovic on Unsplash

Teena Merlan