What It Actually Means To Be A Shopaholic

Shopaholic is a play on the use of the "ic" suffix that we add to "alcohol" to identify someone as having an alcohol addiction. You'll quite often hear someone justify their drinking by saying "oh I like a glass of wine, but I'm not an alcoholic." In some cases those people are right, and in others, they are not. What's odd though is that a lot of people will refer to themselves as a "shopaholic" i.e someone who is addicted to shopping, when in fact, they just enjoy buying things. 

Spending and alcohol have a lot in common, and I'll use the example of a genuine alcoholic, and someone who just enjoys a glass of wine, throughout this post as I talk about my own experiences. 

Alcohol creates a temporarily positive state in the body and mind. For many people, the experience of being under the influence of alcohol, is enjoyable. People site feeling relaxed, less worried about things, able to better manage emotional and physical pain, a loss of inhibition and even sexual arousal, as positive, temporary effects of consuming alcohol. Those who drink socially also see this as an enjoyable experience. Our bodies and brains are wired to return to positive experiences, which is why certain people can become addicted, to alcohol, or indeed sugar, drugs or caffeine. The body becomes reliant on this positive experience, it seeks it, even if we also recognise that it's bad for us.

For some people, and not all, the experience of spending money has a similar, temporary, positive effect. The act of acquiring a new possession creates a happiness in the buyer, and on a scientific level, it releases endorphins, "happy hormones", in to the body, which create a state something close to euphoria. Just as with alcohol, the mind can begin to seek this positive state, this rush of endorphins, and can encourage the body to walk to the shops. 

If you enjoy shopping, even if you class shopping a hobby, it's quite possible that whilst shopping makes you happy, you're not necessarily addicted to shopping. You're not, to use the phrase coined by many, a "shopaholic". Just like those who enjoy a glass of red (myself included) aren't instantly labelled alcoholic. 

More and more people are using the phrase "alcohol dependent" now, to identify those who we'd previous recognise as genuine alcoholics. This refers to their physical dependency on alcohol. 

It is possible to become "spending dependent", and I know, because as ashamed as I am to admit it, I have been there. When you become addicted to the buzz of spending money, it stops mattering exactly what it is that you're acquiring. I find it difficult to go in to a newsagents without buying something that I would class as a "treat", even if it only sets me back 50p. If I've gone to the corner shop to buy cat litter, coming home with only cat litter is a genuine achievement. There's nothing glamorous about a spending addiction, it doesn't hinge itself on High Street or designer clothes, or having "the best" of everything, it rests instead on getting a buzz out of buying yourself "stuff". It's ugly. 

I have done horrible things in order to feed said behaviour in the past. I have spent money that wasn't mine, I have avoided paying bills, rent, or personal debts in order to buy myself things, and I've lied to countless people, friends, family, partners, about my spending in order to keep doing it. Most of us have probably come home with a dress or pair of shoes that we didn't necessarily need, and slipped it unannounced in to our wardrobe, only to declare "this old thing? oh I've had it ages!" when a partner asks where it came from. But I often couldn't go out with friends, or buy them birthday gifts, because I'd spent every available shred of money (and the unavailable money) on things. 

At one point my parents had to bail me out of thousands of pounds worth of debt that I'd accrued just through shamelessly spending money with absolutely no consideration for the consequences. Whilst they saved me, literally, it wasn't long before my addiction to purchasing spiralled out of control and I was back to squirelling away things that I'd bought by not paying for electricity or housing costs. I have, as well, purchased things on credit agreements that I have never ever paid (an entire sofa, for example) which is not only wrong but, well, illegal, and in doing so, I've arguably ruined my adult life by leaving myself with the worst imaginable credit rating (I don't even know what it is because I'm scared to look, but believe me, ain't nobody lending me anything.) Miraculously I have only managed to gain one CCJ in this nightmarish fiasco, but I've been summoned to court on more occasions that I can remember.

My worst "crime", I think, is probably my propensity for collecting parking tickets. I am very very good at this. The reason, that I don't pay to park, is that I get no joy, no buzz, no rush of serotonin, when I buy a parking ticket. To the average person, this makes zero sense, especially if the parking is £1. But I find it unimaginably difficult to see myself paying to park (I don't own a car any more by the way so this is a historic issue!). Unsurprisingly, this results in me getting tickets. The problem here is that a ticket, at first, is £30. £30 that I will not enjoy spending, £30 that I could spend on happiness. So I ignore it. Now, rational people (and me as well) know that if I don't pay in 14 days it goes up to £60, so it makes more sense to joylessly pay £30 (or indeed, the £1 to begin with) but my head is so firmly in the sand that I honestly, genuinely, 100% do not care at the time. My parking ticket debt totals thousands of pounds. It's not classy.

Addictions are very difficult to control because they concern the very wiring (or re-wiring) of your brain. Just as it's difficult for a non alcoholic to imagine getting blind drunk every single day, and being physically incapable of going without alcohol, and whilst it's difficult to imagine ever mugging anyone to be able to score drugs (I've never mugged anyone), so it is difficult, I understand, for people to get why on Earth I'd have got myself in to the situations that I have got myself in to in the past. I dread to think how many Ebay accounts I've had suspended because I joyfully buy up things that I like, but then don't actually have the funds available to pay for them - or, sell things in order to have money to spend - only to never send the goods (this is a bad thing to do, don't do it. Ever.)

To put it short, my spending addiction has seen me break the law, it has ruined relationships, and it means that maybe, just maybe, I'll never actually buy a house. 

I have financially crippled other people in my quest to buy things. People have bailed me out, propped me up and spent money on my behalf in a desperate attempt to either understand or save me from myself and, funnily enough, it doesn't work. Much like trying to single-handedly sort out your alcoholic brother is probably going to end in tears.

It is not all doom and gloom though. I mean, OK, it is, like I've said, the life that I've lead, probably for the past 10 years, and it's not pretty, but at 27 it's taken a serious shake up of events to pave a way for me to escape this vicious cycle of addiction and ridiculousness. 

I trace this back to when I was 17, although it probably has it's roots much earlier than this. I had my first credit card at seventeen - WHO GIVES A SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD A CREDIT CARD? I acquired said credit card after my boyfriend, who'd been largely funding my relatively pleasant lifestyle (I was still in school) went to prison. Finding myself without the means to buy stuff, but still having a variety of bills to cover that weren't paid for by my (at this time incredibly helpful and supportive) parents, I nonchalantly applied for credit, and was accepted. This is a strange moment in life, the one where you feel as though someone has just gifted you money. Paying it back didn't seem particularly daunting, it was just available funds to me, only available for a very short time mind you.  I think that's where it started. Other people suggest that it's a result of traumatic childhood experience (perhaps) or just low self esteem (unlikely) and there's the further possibility that it's an ugly symptom of bipolar disorder; whatever it is, it's there, and I think that's effectively where it began. Within 2 years, I was 19, and hiding from bailiffs on a daily basis. I hadn't paid a penny in rent for months and I had very little to show for it other than a (effectively stolen) sofa. 

Back then though, despite the difficult episode in which my parents paid off my crippling debts, moved me in to a new house and basically set me up with a brand spanking new life - everything looked good. I was popular, had tonnes of friends, a job that made me look marginally professional and afforded me a company car, I was dating, and I appeared healthy (I was actually painfully depressed), I had a cat - I mean, what else did I need?

Mainly, I needed to spend money, possibly to deal with the depression, or find some temporary relief from it at least, and possibly just to keep up the pretence of a life well lived.

Fast forward another eight years, and here we are, at 27, with a string of unpaid parking tickets and angry people in my wake. Yes I've lied to people, cheated people, and possibly given the impression that I don't give a shit about people. However, I now find myself with very little money to spend, and I've rediscovered things that are important to me. I've always been passionate about getting good, honest, wholesome food for example. Yeah I've had kebabs, but what's important to me, really, is ethical farming, organic, fresh produce, and a clean, unprocessed diet. I'm passionate about animal welfare, I feel strongly about environmental issues and green living is something I've always been eager to learn more about, but too whimsical and busy spending money to give much consideration. I've always hated the idea of food waste, but never bothered about leftovers, and I've always wanted to take more joy from nature and the outdoors. It's taken a great bit fall on my backside to make me re-evaluate my position in the world, and to recognise that I can live the life that I actually want, not one where I bury my head in the sand and refuse to face up to the reality of my existence, but one where I'm open to change, and growth, and just generally being happy. 

Paying off debt is a bitch, and I might be doing it forever (it certainly feels that way) - but I've found the genuine fulfilment that comes with thrifty, frugal, conscious living, and that is empowering enough to make me confident that I'll never go back to old ways. Just as an ex smoker will occasionally get a craving for a cigarette, or a recovering alcoholic will often have to fight the urge to turn to drink, so I'll probably always hanker after that euphoric moment of buying something, and I'm certainly not set to never buy anything ever again, but I'm buying with a conscience now, looking to pay off debt, and build a better, less spending dependent life for myself, and it feels good. I'm also taking measured steps to sort my credit rating the hell out, and a mortgage won't be out of the question if I keep at it.

I felt that this post needed to be written. It was important to write it, not just for it's own cathartic value to me, but to make people aware that blogs, even the really positive - "yay life is great" blogs - only paint a certain picture. I don't write about this stuff day in day out because it's negative, and it get's me down. I blog about the positive side to it - discovering new ways to save money, living a great frugal lifestyle on a tiny budget, how enjoyable life can be without large sums of money - it's not fake, but it's certainly one sided - I probably won't revisit this topic again in any detail, but it's important to get it out there, and encourage people to recognise the double side to every story. My blog is a place for positivity and to share ideas with people who live a similar lifestyle to me now, regardless of whether their previous lifestyle was anything like mine was then.

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