Sunday, June 29, 2014

Is Shopping an Addiction?

Mark Muldoon has coined the term “ambient addiction” to speak of those things that surround us in our daily lives –that are “normal” until they become a distraction or a drug—taking us out of ourselves.

We can all name some of them: coffee, ice cream, baked goods, television, Facebook and other social media. We even talk about “bingeing” on new TV shows, and going through “withdrawal” if we do not have our morning coffee right on time. You could make the case that food –especially coffee and sugar—is a chemical addiction because there is a chemical reaction in our bodies with these food/drugs.

But what about shopping? Can shopping be an addiction?

I’m asking, of course, because I love clothes and shoes and accessories. Always have. When I had less money I shopped at Goodwill and consignment stores, when I have more money I shop at Macy’s, Nordstrom and yes, online. Online shopping has a deep intersection with Internet addiction because we both use the same technology and we are baited to shop by online ads, Facebook posts, and by emails from our favorite retailers with discount coupons. (Does anyone ever pay full price at Ann Taylor?)

So yes, shopping can take up time, it can interrupt family life or creative work, it’s a distraction and a wonderful method of procrastination. Fashion magazines are like drug dealers, “What you need this summer.” “What every stylish woman has to have.” But is it an addiction?

Some social scientists would say yes. Those who do the brain research will say that shoppers get a hit of adrenaline and that their brains light up in the same places for both cocaine and a 75% off sale at Saks. So biochemically, it’s possible.

But what about culture? How we look, and issues of style and costume are cultural. Gender approaches to clothing and the quite genuine language of clothing have been studied and dissected. I love all of that. But yes, I also love that sale at Saks—and that has little to do with a PhD in American Studies or Material Culture.

What gives me a clue that my shopping has addictive tendencies is that way that I think and my language. (Language is the tool of thought and we know that with other kinds of recovery, “We come for the drinking and stay for the thinking.”)

Want a mini test to see if your thoughts about shopping are addictive? Try this. Have you ever said to yourself any of the following?

“I don’t really need anything, but I’ll just go look.”

“Wow, that’s a huge discount, so maybe I should stock up.”

“I can stop shopping, I’m in control, I’m making a choice” (as your car swings into the mall parking lot again)

“This will be the last one. After this I won’t need anymore shoes, bags, scarves, earrings.”

“It can’t hurt to look” (and later you are in the car with bags and receipts—and regrets.)

The regrets and remorse are big clues. If you are driving home from shopping filled with joy or opening a package from UPS with delight-- that’s one thing. But if the feeling is dread or regret or shame—then maybe it’s another addiction

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

We Are All Addicts

I read a powerful article about addiction by Mark Muldoon in the summer issue of Presence Magazine—the Journal of Spiritual Direction. The opening paragraph below anchors the article about the intersection of God, surrender and addiction:

“If you could string out addictive behaviors along a continuum, with the visible victims of addiction living homeless on the street at one extreme and the middle-class suburbanite with a gnawing but persistent bad habit on the other, we would all find a point on the arch and know that the psychiatrist, and addiction expert, Gerald G. May was right when he said that “all people are addicts, and that addictions to alcohol and drugs are simply more obvious and tragic addictions than others have. To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in the need of grace.” 

Read that paragraph again and the quote by Gerald May: “To be alive is to be addicted and to be alive and addicted is to stand in the need of grace.” This is the starting point of both self-acceptance and compassion and ultimately surrender.

I’ll share more of Muldoon’s ideas later this week, but for today perhaps May gives us this mantra and powerful image: we are all standing in the need of grace.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Here is more on discernment--in fact, perhaps the most spiritual approach there is, finding God and falling in love. This beautiful poem/prayer below was written by Fr. Pedro Arupe, SJ. 

Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is,
than falling in love in a quite absolute final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekend,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in love,
stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Practice of Discernment

One friend asks, “Should she change jobs?” Another thinks about changing her whole career. A coworker describes her internal debate: “Should she buy a house or continue to rent?” Someone else talks about graduate school versus yoga teacher training.

“A choice between goods” is one definition of discernment. Not right or wrong, good or bad, but a choice between goods.

But how do you “do” discernment?

Years ago a spiritual director gave me this list of tools for discernment:
Sitting still (several times a day)
Asking God
Get quiet and listen for the subtle
Think and feel
Then use your gut, your courage and your integrity.

Another good discernment practice, if you have time, is this:
Fully describe option A to yourself: the graduate program, the classes, location, books, homework, money, and benefits, people. Declare (to yourself) that this is the choice you have made. Live as if that is the final choice—that and only that for two weeks. Pretend to yourself it’s a done deal and go about your life as if that is true. Pay attention to your body, energy, heart and head.

After two weeks again fully commit yourself, but now to option B. Again, make full mental commitment—two whole weeks. Now what do you notice or sense in your body, mind, heart, energy? Write about what you notice and sense. What messages do you get?

Talk to people who have chosen either of the options –or similar ones—and then pray for a sign.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

You Should Have Known

I have great affection for good fiction that has the plus of a theme of addiction, recovery or relationship how-to (or not to) perspective. My all time favorite summer book—I read it every other year—is “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy.

Anna K. is the best all-around summer book because it has it all: romance, intrigue, humor, family saga and even business advice. But what is surprisingly and so often overlooked is that Anna K. is a book about addiction and codependency. Yes, Anna is a drug addict. She is always tipping up those little vials and sipping her codeine and alcohol “medicines”. Add to that her crazy combination of beauty and low self esteem and yeah, you can hear the train coming.

But Anna is a classic and a must read. But what about new stuff?

Well, this summer we have a great supply of wonderful relationship novels. The one I am loving right now is called “You Should Have Known” by Jean Hanff Korelitz. This book is so good: A marriage, an affair, a murder, the Upper East Side in New York City, and a therapist who is an expert on dating and marriage and  she is about to have some serious surprises about her own. I assure you—it’s a page-turner.

But, there is another reason I love, “You Should Have Known”—and that is because the hidden bonus is the great advice this marriage guru gives in the first three chapters. Yes, she’s a fictional character and the author, Jean Hanff Korelitz, is presumably not a couples counselor but you will want your friends to read this book too so you can talk about her advice to single women and to wives.

In long-term recovery many of us get to have another relationship, maybe a new marriage. So it makes sense that we gobble up relationship advice and how-to, self-help for couples. Now, this summer, you can take that reading to the beach, disguised as a terrific novel.

Do check out, “You Should Have Known.” Let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Getting Your Needs Met in a Relationship

I come back to this helpful book again and again. It’s called, “Daring to Trust” by David Richo, and it was published in 2010. Whenever I dip into it I get a gem or a jolt --and always what I need.

Today I read this:

“Parents are expected to fulfill 100 percent of our needs in our early life, including safety and security. As adults, we learn to find need fulfillment in ourselves, in our friends, in our family, in our career, in our spiritual program, in nature and in other resources that we discover. We then do not rely on a partner, or on any person, for more than 25 percent of our need fulfillment.  This includes our need for safety and security.”

Holy Cow! “ No more than 25%”.  I definitely did not get the instruction book. But it is “progress not perfection.” Years ago I could not have read that sentence without fear. Today, reading it feels like a mid-course correction. It’s also a powerful reminder that I have to have friends, family, time in nature, work that I love, and a spiritual program so that I do not suffocate my relationship or paralyze myself.

It may be that the hardest time to grasp this 25% concept and to implement this is when a loved one is ill or disabled…but it’s still true then. Gail Sheehy writes about the need for spouses who are caregivers. At the VERY time is feels impossible it’s crucial to go toward the self.

Yes, I know. Easier said than done. But that is why I love Richo’s book. I can dip in, read a bit and self-correct. Or I can call a friend and say, “Really?”

Monday, June 09, 2014

I Can Fly

I have a favorite cartoon from the New Yorker Magazine. It was created by Farley Katz.

The illustration shows a man on an island—one of those stereotypical cartoon islands with the little circle of land and a single palm tree surrounded by water. On the island there is a man. He is dressed in a super hero ensemble; wearing a cape and a shirt with a lightening bolt and boots and he is sitting under the lone palm tree hugging his knees, but he has an excited, wide-eyed expression on his face.

The caption says, “Oh my God—I just remembered I can fly.”

Funny yes, but this cartoon brings tears to my eyes. This is an illustration of recovery. All these years feeling stranded on my tiny remote island of fear, addiction and abandonment, with inner voices that have held me captive, and then it comes to me; Oh yeah, I’m recovering, I have resources, I have new beliefs, and “Oh my God—I just remembered I can fly.”

Thursday, June 05, 2014

What Would You Be Thinking About?


I had a great idea today about getting underneath the thinking and worrying that I am always doing. Try this:

When you find yourself obsessing about that next skirt, bag, meal, trip, man, job…ask yourself: "What would I be thinking about if I wasn't thinking about this?"

Ten bucks (toward that new bag) says that under your  worry thinking is either an old pain that would resolve if you just let it out, or a big creative idea that is just waiting to spin you into joy--but you are scared.

I'm going to try this interrupter, "What would I be thinking about if I wasn't thinking about this?"

You try it too.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Thinking Dreams

Well, if I had any doubt that the disease of addiction is in the mind that doubt was eliminated last night. I had a series of dreams that are like no dreams I have ever had before.

Over about five hours, and waking between each dream, I visited a series of scenes—all very realistic—in which I was being shown, told, informed, notified that I am: unworthy, not liked, unloved, not talented and on and on. One of the strange features of these dreams is that they were not ghoulish or scary—no monsters, no mean people, no rushing rivers or falling airplanes. Just real—incredibly real scenes with people who were known to me in which they were sadly and carefully needing to tell me that, “Diane you just are not liked”, “You need to know this; we don’t love you”, “Your work is so poor” “You really are not a very good writer or teacher." "You'll never be able to dance or do yoga".

Because of the quality of these dreams—the realness of them—I did not wake shaking but rather—and here is a clue: I woke feeling ashamed.

It was a shame dream. Yes, a full-bodied and embodied shame dream. It was not a drinking dream, but rather it was a thinking dream.

The texture of the dreams stayed with me all this day. It felt like a coating of pollen on my skin.

But here’s the thing—while I have not fully “unpacked” this dream, as my friend and former sponsor Brigid taught me—I also knew I had to begin moving it around. I emailed my sponsor in the morning. I texted another women with long recovery, and this evening I raised my hand and talked about it in a meeting.

The risk of course was there. Some people didn’t know what I meant and assumed it was a drinking dream, others assumed I wanted reassurance and offered compliments, but a few people did know this place and made helpful suggestions about how to ask my subconscious why it brought this to me now, and maybe even to try lucid dreaming to reenter these scenes and see if I can work them from the inside. I got good advice on writing out the dreams, labeling them, digging deeper rather than ignoring or chasing these powerful—and they were very powerful—messages away. Oh, and yes, to pray—to ask in prayer to see through these scenes.

I have no doubt this evening of how powerful thinking is and how deep it goes and maybe even how long it waits to remind me: this is why I drank.