Sue has asked me to write a blog called “Retail therapy is not therapy”. As is often the case when we speak, I am yanked back to the past with fresh eyes. In the past I called shopping “retail therapy” and she reminded me that I often talked light-heartedly about loving beautiful packets with exquisite things in them. She explained that many abused co-dependents shop excessively and compulsively. I did – every day, all the time and in ways that consumed me. A shopping outing was followed by hours of mixing and matching, then re-mixing and re-matching and thoughts of when and where I could show off my new outfits. I would try on shoes and attend to bags with shoes and on it would go – for hours.
To be kind to myself I have a finely tuned sense of aesthetics and I value excellence in things (if not men). I really do appreciate anything that is beautifully crafted, balanced and executed well. But ruefully I must admit that it was more than that – much more.
On reflection my life was ugly, my thoughts painful and my fears often overwhelming. I pushed them aside by giving myself a place to go in my mind that pleased me instead of hurt me. The forlorn truth was that I didn’t feel like I was enough. I had to be ultra-glamorous and the epitome of well-groomed because I was trying to get his attention. I was trying to make myself feel more valuable than I actually felt. If other people were impressed I could “earn points” with him. I used the attention to constantly prop up an ailing self-esteem.
I was also trying to fill an emotional emptiness with beautiful things that made me happy. In the short-term I was filled up by the beauty of my purchasers but as with all “substitutes for the real need” my satisfaction was short-lived. The next day the shops beckoned and I followed.
The true picture of my life was temporarily blurred and out of focus when it looked beautiful from the outside. For a while I could borrow the eyes of the onlooker and be impressed by what it looked like – but wasn’t.
In my mother’s house everything always looked perfect. Furniture was taken out and dusted and vacuumed regularly. The table was set with silver and presentation was all. In contrast every single cupboard and closet was in a state of total disorganization and that never bothered her in the least. All that mattered was that it looked perfect from the outside.
In a society like ours “things” have a subtext and we all understand it. A Rolex is not just a superb watch. It is a loud, indisputable statement that you have arrived where few others have. You are better than them. I understood that sub-text. If I had beautiful things then surely I was worth something? Surely this proved that I wasn’t really that broken needy woman seducing my husband, who I had no respect for , with food and glamour and affirmations he didn’t deserve?
Those elegant packets were my lie to myself and the rest of the world. They said, “you have arrived!” The truth is that I had arrived nowhere except in another hauntingly terrible marriage with another power-hungry man who didn’t know the difference between strength and brutality. The truth is that I wasn’t sure why or what I had done wrong – again. Once again I felt unloved and empty. Once again I was fighting, pleading, making up and busting up. Once again I was shopping and at no point in all that time did it even occur to me to question why I needed to shop every day.
Reflections and insights do not come in exquisite packets and the contents are often not beautiful but I have come to value those far more than any designer dress in an elegant packet. Now it is easy for me to walk past a boutique boasting magnificent clothes. I am no longer a living breathing mannequin made up of empty spaces on the inside.
Finally I know that I am enough, and the shops no longer beckon to me.