NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, Recovering Shopaholic.
A few days ago, I had lunch with a friend. We always eat at the same place, which is right across from the mall, and we invariably do a bit (or more) of shopping following our meal. This friend is also a shopaholic, but I don’t think she is a recovering shopaholic. She seems to love shopping several times per week, reading all the fashion magazines, saving discount cards and coupons, and amassing a wardrobe of gigantic proportions.
I’m Not So Honest in My “Real Life”
While many readers have praised me for the honesty in my posts, I haven’t told many people in my “real life” about this blog. Although I wish I could be as open and honest as I am here with those I see face to face, this is still an area of struggle for me.
I’m gradually becoming braver and recently told another friend about the blog, but I seem most afraid to tell my one remaining shopaholic friend (the others are no longer in my life for a variety of reasons). As I’ve written before, I don’t have many friends, and I fear that I might lose one of the few friends I have if I share the blog – and my journey – with her. What if she thinks I feel above her or that I’m judging her for continuing to overshop? Or what if the main reason she enjoys my company is that we share a love of clothes, fashion, and shopping?
Letting Go of a Chunk of My Identity
Although fear of rejection is my primary motivation, I am also hesitant to let go of what has been a large part of my identity. After all, I loved shopping so much that I tried to make a business out of it. I thought I was “making lemons into lemonade,” that perhaps my overshopping would somehow be okay if I could use my skills to earn some money and help other people.
My wardrobe consulting business is basically on life support at this point (I haven’t told many people about that yet, either!) and I feel a lot of uncertainty about what’s next for me in the career realm. While I did manage to help some people, being in “the business” only served to intensify my shopping addition and it was difficult to attract enough clients to make a good living in that line of work. Not only that, as I’ve progressed in my recovery from compulsive shopping, I’ve started to see how incredibly shallow the retail and fashion industries really are. I want to get off the train of overconsumption and fear of never measuring up.
The Glossy Veneer has been Removed…
In truth, I don’t love shopping as much as I used to. As its glossy veneer has been removed through my journey of self-discovery, shopping no longer holds the allure it once did for me. However, as I have yet to replace shopping with something else to better serve my needs, I continue to hang onto it. I sometimes still shop, believing it will help me feel better about myself, the way I look, and the way in which I connect with others.
I still enjoy the attention I receive from salespeople and the camaraderie I feel with my shopaholic friend. Although I know neither of these connections involves the depth I desire, I still feel reluctant to give them up. It’s what I’ve known for all too many years and it feels comfortable and safe for me.
Oprah, Brene Brown, and Vulnerability
Last night I watched an episode of Oprah’s “Super Soul Sunday” that I recorded months ago. In this show, Oprah interviewed Dr. Brene Brown, the author of the bestselling book “Daring Greatly.“ Earlier this year, several people recommended I read Dr. Brown’s book. I have yet to do so, and I even hesitated to watch her appearance with Oprah. Perhaps on some level, I knew truths would be spoken that would be difficult for me to hear.
In short, Brene Brown writes and speaks about vulnerability and its profound importance related to interpersonal relationships, self-esteem, and success. Vulnerability involves uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure, so most of us avoid it at all costs. We project an image to the world of the way we want to be viewed instead of the way we really are. While our lack of vulnerability helps us to feel safe, it also keeps those around us at arm’s length and has us feeling disconnected and unfulfilled.
The 20-Ton Shield of Perfectionism
Dr. Brown also spoke to Oprah about perfectionism being a “20-ton shield.” Those of us who are perfectionists (that’s me in spades) think it will protect us from being hurt, yet it really protects us from being seen. We’re deeply afraid the world will see us for who we really are and that we won’t measure up. I recognized myself completely in that description. I’ve struggled with an inherent sense of unworthiness for as long as I can remember, and my eating disorders and compulsive shopping have been efforts for me to look good enough (in terms of being thin and well-dressed) so I could somehow be good enough.
No amount of dieting or shopping has ever led me to feel good enough. I continued to struggle with low self-esteem no matter how much I weighed or how many clothes hung in my closet. In addition, the pressure I’ve placed on myself for far too many years has taken a toll on my health and well-being. I’m so tired of the burden of needing to “look good” and present a perfect image to the world. I long to feel free to be who I truly am and be open and honest with everyone in my life, yet I’m terrified of the repercussions.
An Oasis in the Middle of the Desert
This blog has become my oasis amidst a desert of self-imposed isolation. It is here that I am open, authentic, and honest about myself, my feelings, my struggles, and my dreams. As a result, you’ve seen me and many of you have responded positively. I feel connected to you because I’m sharing who I am instead of hiding behind a mask of perfection.
I’m brave in that I use my real name here and this blog can easily be found through a Google search (as far as I know, I’m the only Debbie Roes out there). I acknowledge and accept that anyone I know could find this site and read my words, yet I rarely just open up and share its existence.
What Am I So Afraid of?
I feel close to so few people as it is and get little satisfaction from the shallow connections I have with most people I know. I am left asking myself the following questions:
- What am I so afraid of?
- That my superficial relationships will fade away?
- Would that really be so horrible?
- So why don’t I take a risk and share my truth with those in my life?
The above are very good questions and I don’t fully know the answers at this point. What I do know is that I’ve become paralyzed by irrational fears. I used to be as open as I am here with everyone, then I became hurt, disillusioned, and disappointed by so many people that I retreated into a cocoon of inauthenticity, secrecy, and solitude. Yes, I got lonely, but at least no one was stabbing me in the heart on a regular basis.
Numbing Ourselves Out Through Shopping
Brene Brown spoke to Oprah about the way we all “numb ourselves out” so we don’t have to feel. Some people eat, some drink, some take drugs, and many of us shop. Shopping became my way of feeling connected, important, knowledgeable, attractive, and valuable. Of course, the effect was only temporary, and once my “fix” wore off, I remembered how lonely and disconnected I feel. I was reminded of how much I play it safe and hide myself from the world.
Baby Steps to Telling the Truth
As I said, I don’t have all the answers, but I think I need to start being the Debbie of “Recovering Shopaholic” not just in my writing but in my life. I like who I am on this blog. I like that I’m open, honest, and real, and I want to be that way more of the time – or even all of the time. I’m scared, but I know that something needs to change or I’ll continue to feel isolated and disconnected.
I can start with “baby steps,” but I must start. My husband (who is one person who truly does see and know me) gave me a birthday card with these wonderful words:
The world needs your voice, your good heart, your belief in what can be. The world needs you… just as you are.”
I still cry when I read and type those words, but I’m also starting to believe them. The world does need me just as I am, and the same is true for all of you. Let’s take the first step together.