This is a guest post from my friend Mrs. Picky Pincher. It couldn’t be more timely for me, and I appreciate her willingness to open up and share this part of her story with us. <3
My mom was never one for jewelry. But, on one chilly November morning, I remember clutching to her necklace until my knuckles were white. It was Black Friday and we’d just celebrated Thanksgiving with our family the day before. But there we were, in the ER of the hospital, getting the worst news you could imagine. A very sympathetic doctor explained that my mom died, and there wasn’t anything else they could do.
Everyone asks how it feels to go through something like that. Crying isn’t always the first reaction, either. My initial reaction was to vomit. For a good 30 minutes, all I wanted to do was hurl. I was in shock, and I remember I couldn’t even cry until the next day, when I sorted through my mom’s things.
That’s when we discovered she had a prescription painkiller addiction, which ended up killing her.
I’ll be honest: I didn’t have a fantastic relationship with my mom. She had an untreated mental illness that made her impossible to be around. She was the antagonist of our lives and was a source of near-constant abuse. I could write a book of all the terrible things we went through with her.
But she was still my mom. I mourned the loss of any salvageable relationship with the person who put me on Earth. I mourned that she didn’t get help. I mourned that my children would never know her.
The one piece of comfort I got was from holding her jewelry. It was gaudy stuff made in the 90s, but it didn’t matter. I held onto the bedazzled pearl earrings and a chunky Arabian gold necklace and, for a moment, it felt like I was holding my mom’s hand. Physical objects soothed me; I could touch them and briefly numb the tornado of thoughts and sadness and questions.
Time really is the only thing that soothes grief. It teaches you that life does go on, and that everything is okay.
Unless, of course, something skips along and rips your healing heart to pieces, and that’s what happened to me.
A few months after my mom died, I lost my amazing grandma to a very long, hard battle with breast cancer (but I like to remember her for her Oklahoma drawl and how she cussed when she lost at a game of dominoes). My aunt died from kidney disease two months after that, and my great-grandma died from old age a few weeks later. Oh, and our dogs died after that, too.
Daily life looks different when you’re grieving and everyone grieves in a different way. My dad would take hour-long showers and blare sad country music before disappearing for a week. My sister was 8 months pregnant at the time and tended to my four-year-old niece who didn’t understand what was happening. I retreated into my love of video games and just wanted to sit all day. We lost interest in food and were scared of people and the world. We didn’t even celebrate Christmas that year.
I gained an appreciation for silence. After so much loss, you’re grateful for any second that you’re not on the phone with a preacher planning a funeral.
I wasn’t ticked off when people cut me off in traffic. I didn’t care when I stepped in a giant wad of gum in the parking lot. I jammed my finger in a door and shrugged it off. Grief gives you an amazing numbness and resilience to daily annoyances. And to be honest, I kind of miss that.
Unfortunately, my grief led me into the bright, shiny world of shopping. I latched onto my mom’s jewelry after her passing. After a while, the comfort I got from these objects waned, but I thirsted for the feelings of comfort again.
The world was a scary place that could rip anyone away from you – but it couldn’t take away my new stuff.
The $1,000 Amazon Bill
I was in college at the time and that meant I had a cheap Amazon Prime membership. It started out innocently enough: I bought a shiny piece of costume jewelry that I really loved. Boom! It was on my dorm doorstep in two days. I felt amazing. For a few hours, I felt a rush of comfort and excitement that I so craved.
So, I kept shopping.
I got an instant high each time I received a package. I loved the anticipation of knowing I had an item on the way; it was like knowing someone was sending me a big, juicy birthday present. I mostly bought jewelry, but I also bought random crap like hair extensions (that didn’t match my hair), dresses (that didn’t fit me), and self-tanning lotion (that turned me Oompa Loompa orange).
This habit continued for several years. I would try to cut back, but Amazon’s deal emails reeled me in each time. By the time I graduated from college, I spent over $1,000 just on Amazon trinkets that engorged my closet. I now had my “big girl” job out of college and no longer had access to daddy’s money. I could barely afford to buy groceries, let alone buy $50-worth of earrings!
I had a problem.
Getting Whipped Into Shape
To cure my shopping habit, I had to look inside myself. I realized that I was really shopping for a sense of comfort, confidence, and stability. It cost me $1,000 to learn that these things didn’t come from Amazon Two-Day Shipping: it was something I had to create for myself and with the people around me.
I couldn’t buy good feelings. That realization was scary and so, so upsetting. I was adjusting to the adult world and sobbed the first time I filed taxes. I wanted to clutch to my shopping habit like a flimsy life jacket, but I knew it wouldn’t save me against the tsunami of the real world.
I made a few changes in my life, and that’s ultimately what saved me.
1. I made barriers to convenience.
This included removing all of my online payment information from Amazon, as well as my browser. I even put my debt and credit cards in a safe and locked ’em up. I switched to a cash-only envelope system for a year to quit my shopping habit cold turkey. It’s hard to buy non-essentials when all of your money is locked up!
2. I got help.
There are times in life when you need to ask for help. I saw a grief counselor who helped me work through my tumultuous emotions. We worked through my anxiety and depression issues and I learned how to cope with my feelings in a healthy way.
3. I trusted people.
Impulse shopping was just as much about money as it was about working through my grief.
With so much loss in a short amount of time, I realized I had never processed what happened. I let the sadness form into a heavy ball and chain around my ankles. It followed me everywhere for years. I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone and I was so afraid to make friends and then lose them. It seemed better to not live life and avoid loss than to live and risk losing something.
Meeting my husband really was a game changer for me. I learned how to relate to others again and to trust. I got the sense of comfort that I was looking for all along, thanks to taking a chance on living again.
Big life events change people. Grief and loss are probably the most earth-shattering things that can happen in our lives, and everyone deals with them differently. Too often I think grief makes us develop unhealthy habits or thoughts. Your brain just doesn’t function the same way. It’s a journey of learning how to both come to terms with your life and emotions, as well as healing the side effects of grief (like shopping).
It’s been a long road, and I still have a long way to go. It’s been six years since I lost everyone. Time makes the sadness easier, but it will never be easy.
Mrs. Picky Pincher is the blogger and money-saving maven behind Picky Pinchers. She writes about living the good life while paying off $225,000 of debt.