Confessions of Former Shopaholics

How two people’s shopping addiction jeopardized their relationships and finances.

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Talking about my addiction at first was hard—very hard. It was difficult for me to admit it, then it was rewarding to be able to help others, but now that I've done it, I feel talking about it has helped me the most.

Avis Cardella, author of Spent: Memoirs of a Shopping Addict :

I think it started when I was in my mid-twenties, after my mother's untimely death in 1989. The store became a comfortable place for me. It reminded me of my mother, because I had gone shopping with her since I was a child. I also found I could displace my depression and transfer it to the product. I could get excited about seeing something, think it would make me happy or change my life, so I'd buy it. If a situation was difficult for me emotionally—say, I was having a bad day or work wasn't going well or I was feeling lonely, I would end up running to a store.

[Read: A Prepaid Card for Recovering Addicts.]

I'd go into shops and fall into a trance—into this kind of heightened shopping experience. I often felt excited, agitated, and even my palms got sweaty. I was somebody who loved to be in a retail environment. The whole idea of being around things and seeing them and touching them, it was a whole sensory experience.

I was always looking for shopping to be replenishing. When I felt empty inside, shopping was a temporary way to feel full again. I was a solitary shopper. I didn't want my friends to see me in that kind of environment. I was not somebody who enjoyed shopping with girlfriends. I saw shopping as an emotional, private moment for me.

I don't think I was able to carry on a romantic relationship during that time. I wasn't being honest about how I was spending my time or my money or what was really bothering me. I had a relationship where I had a boyfriend who started buying me things, and I ended it rather quickly because I saw it facilitating my shopping addiction and I didn't want that in my life.

It was extremely difficult to come to terms with the fact that my shopping addiction was basically a means of running away from something I had to face. I had to get at this from the root. One of the first things I did was acknowledge the connection between my shopping addiction and my grief over my mother's death.

I went to a credit-counseling program and eventually cleared up all my credit card debt. After that, my goal wasn't to just say, "Ok, I'm never going to shop again." Some people say they're going to cut up all their credit cards. I think it's easy to do that at first, but in the long term, you're not really getting at what it's all about.

I needed to relearn how to shop in a more mindful way, because I wanted to take back control and learn how to like shopping again. I had to realize it had gotten to the point where I actually hated shopping because I knew it was the source of a lot of anxiety and problems in my life.

[Quiz: Are You Spending Too Much on Your Children?]

Recovery wasn't easy. When I wanted to go shopping, I'd try to occupy my mind and my body in other ways. I would go outside and take long walks; I like to be around nature. The outdoors are a much healthier place for me than the mall. Being more "present" in the shopping environment took a lot of practice, patience, and time, but eventually I managed.

I can say honestly in the last 10 years I don't have a shopping problem. I've reclaimed my power over shopping and my self-esteem.

*Quotes have been edited for clarity and brevity.