Sunday was errand day. Every day feels like errand day, when you’re moving, but Sunday is the big one. I drive to the big box store part of town to pick up all the things I will need in my new home: dish soap, hand soap, cleaning products and laundry detergent. My shower curtain has to be replaced, so I grab something white to brighten up my new-to-me bathroom with the dark tile floors. Into the basket it goes, along with a new plastic liner. I forgot my shopping list at home, which feels like the biggest mistake I could make on a day like this. But I know I wrote down that I also need aluminum foil, so I grab a roll of that too.
As I walk toward the numbered rows of blue cash registers, I pass the seasonal goods. Easter is coming. There is a lot of chocolate on the shelves. Chocolate definitely wasn’t on my list, but I gravitate towards it anyway. My eyes scan dozens of products and eventually settle on the Cadbury section. Creme Eggs and Mini Eggs are dangerous substances, in my world. I can’t help but notice that buying four Creme Eggs is cheaper than buying two. I could eat four Creme Eggs right now, I think. Oh, but the big bag of Mini Eggs looks even better. I nearly salivate at the thought of smelling the sweet vanilla scent that releases from the bag when you open it.
I spend the next three minutes running numbers and making justifications for why I should buy one of these two items. It’s not surprising that the more you buy, the better the deal is. But I know I don’t need a 2 lb. bag of Mini Eggs any more than I need the four Creme Eggs. Still, I imagine buying one, opening it in the car and stuffing my face full, then feeling the temporary high that comes with giving into a craving. The sugar would hit my bloodstream and, with a few beats of the heart, run through my entire body. I realize my eyes are closed, as I’ve been visualizing the experience. When I open them, I see the bag of Mini Eggs is in my hand. I return it to its place on the shelf and walk away.
I wish I could say this was an unusual experience for me. I wish I could say that all the experiments I’ve done have cured me from ever walking towards something I don’t need and thinking about buying, eating, drinking, or consuming it in some other way. I wish I could say the little voice has disappeared: the one who tries to talk me into doing things I know I shouldn’t do. But that would be a lie. The voice is still there. She still lives inside me. She still craves things. And she still puts those things in my hands. I may have quit shopping for two years, and quit binging on alcohol and junk food, but I’m not immune to craving things or finding myself in situations where it’s readily available.
I’ve been craving a lot of things lately. New furniture. New bedding. New dishes and glassware and knives. (And chocolate.) At first, I blamed the move and the feelings of wanting to finally “settle down” it has filled me with. Also, much of what I own is 8+ years old and no longer aligns with my values – that’s not an excuse, it’s a truth I face when I look at it. I know I don’t need all of these things, but I still think about them – and find myself getting dangerously close to making impulse purchases on an almost daily basis again. This doesn’t mean the shopping ban wasn’t a success. In fact, the cause for my wanting all of these things is so much simpler than that, it almost hurts to say…
I’m sad right now. Things are hard again. My life is unsettled. It probably looks fine from the outside, but it doesn’t feel good on the inside. My life is unsettled, things are hard and I am sad. Any one of those things could be a good enough excuse to treat yourself. “Everything else is bad, I just want one thing to be good.” (A classic excuse to go shopping for something new.) “I cried today, so I’m going to put my feet up and eat chocolate now.” (I said this last week.) “F@$% THIS.” (One of many reasons to drink.) And when you group all of those things together, it’s not just an excuse to treat yourself – it’s a recipe to do serious damage to your wallet, waistline, health and good habits.
Binging has always been my go-to cure for times like this. Notice I didn’t just crave chocolate – I wanted to eat four Creme Eggs, and even considered having a 2 lb. bag of Mini Eggs in my possession. It’s the same way I used to go on shopping sprees and spent weekends getting blackout drunk. When things were hard, I knew there was an easy way out. I knew there could be some immediate relief: a buzz brought to you by sugar, alcohol or new stuff. But doing the shopping ban and quitting drinking taught me those escapes were always short-lived, before I was dragged back to reality kicking and screaming. “Treating myself” was not the answer. The only way out was to feel my way through it.
That’s not to say it’s ever easy. I talk about this more in my book (out in January 2018) but I went through a lot of tough times in the first year of the shopping ban, and I couldn’t buy, drink, or eat anything that would make it better. I had to feel everything and it hurt. But it wasn’t all bad. Because I couldn’t “treat myself”, I couldn’t hide from or put band-aids over my problems. I had to look at them. I had to analyze and understand them. Then I had to look at, analyze and understand myself. I discovered the good and the bad and the depth and the shallows that live within my 5’7″ frame. I had to accept myself and accept my problems, and find new solutions that did not involve “treating myself”.
The solutions were always different. Sometimes, a simple phone call with a friend would do the trick. Other times, I needed to push myself up a mountain and see the view from the summit to remind myself I could do anything I set my mind to. Going down to the store and buying chocolate or pizza or wine or something new for my home would’ve been too easy – a habitual fix. Sure, I would’ve been hit with a temporary high and potentially gotten through the day with a smile on my face. But by not being able to mask the pain or the problems, I had to challenge myself, learn and grow from the experiences. And perhaps the greatest lesson I am still learning is that when things get tough, I need to take care of myself.
In between all the talks with friends and the hikes up mountains, I developed a self-care practice tailored to me. It includes audiobooks with my morning coffee. Fresh air. Solo walks with podcasts playing through my earbuds. New trails. Green smoothies in the afternoon. Music. Doing all of the dishes after dinner. Clean socks. And epsom salt baths before bed. These might seem like action items that anyone can do on any day of the week. But when things are hard and you are sad and you no longer want to “treat yourself” in any of your usual ways, these things become your lifeline. They are the simple joys of your day. They don’t mask the pain, but they do help you work through it.
And you have to work through it. You have to challenge yourself, learn and grow. It’s the only way to come out healthier on the other side.
So things might look fine on the outside, but I don’t feel good on the inside right now. And I’ve been craving a lot of things lately. My life is unsettled, things are hard, I am sad and I have been craving a lot of things. But I won’t give in to those cravings. I know that giving in is just a band-aid, which can’t replace the stitches some of my problems need to be fixed up. I don’t want a band-aid. I want a resolution. Until that day comes, I’m steering clear of my cravings and moving in the direction of my self-care practice. There will be audiobooks. There will be hikes. There will be epsom salt baths. If a little water and magnesium can’t help, nothing can.