When booze and drugs are off the table, it’s not uncommon for recovering alcoholics and addicts to want to self-destruct in other areas: sugar, food, sex, gaming, binge-watching TV—and my personal favorite—shopping. But if you are anything like me, just because you get sober doesn’t mean you get wealthy. Though it might seem like we should have more cash flow—on account of all the money we aren’t spending on drinking and drugging—the fact is, many of us drilled ourselves into a financial hole during our partying days. Many are also not great in terms of moderation even in sobriety. Alas, with sobriety comes a sense of responsibility to start to undue the damage we have done, not make it worse (at least that is what our sponsors tell us).
Easier said than done. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone to the mall to pick up, let’s say, a computer cord and six hours later come to in a Macy’s dressing room buried in designer jeans. Why? Because my alcoholic brain was probably chattering on about how the only thing that will improve my life is the right pair of high-waisted jeggings.
But all that changed when I discovered Amazon.
In case you’re not familiar, Amazon started in 1994, made its mark as an online bookstore, and by 2000 had graduated into a full-scale e-commerce site for almost anything you can imagine (and some things you can’t). While I don’t remember when I first discovered Amazon, I can assure you it wasn’t in my peripheral view when I got sober in 2003. If it had been, I would have spent the first eight months of my sobriety working on my wish list (like I did from 2009 through 2014). Instead, I just made a word document list of all the material possessions I wanted and when my natal birthday rolled around, I emailed it to all my friends and told them I was having a party and the theme was “gifts” (yes, I was a total douche).
Since then, I have gone though some phases with online shopping that could best be described as strange. With the trouble of finding parking and carving out time in my day to navigate a mall, the desire to check out of my brain via online shopping has only grown stronger. I have spent entire weekends creating Amazon wish lists, obsessing over things I want—sometimes going as far as to tell myself they are things I need. This is when I start to spiral downward and I find myself maxing out my Discover card on milk frothers and trouser socks.
At one point during the summer of 2013, my apartment was covered in so many boxes you would have thought I was getting ready to move. From juicers to headphones to obscure perfume samples, I wanted for nothing with Amazon at my fingertips. If I thought of it, I added it to my cart and with just a couple of clicks, it was at my doorstep in two days flat. It was Christmas twice a week at my place for months. It got so out of control, I would get packages with items I had no recollection of buying. I had become a blackout shopper.
Then reality hit when I got my first whopping credit card statement. Apparently $50.83 here and $109.77 there really start to add up. I knew I had to face my addiction head on so I taped up those boxes and shipped everything back (minus my beloved milk frother). It seemed like an easy fix at first—until a few weeks later when I repeated the cycle: order, arrive, open, return. A month after that: order, arrive, open, return. I told myself that since I wasn’t actually spending money, I wasn’t doing any real damage.
Except that I felt crazy. And I looked crazy—getting packages delivered daily, sometimes multiples times a day. My neighbors began making comments, the UPS guy started calling me by my first name, I even think I might have fallen under investigation by Greenpeace for using so many cardboard boxes. It was bad. And so I had revert to what I had learned through the 12 steps: I had to turn it over to a power greater than myself.
And like with everything I practice Step One on, it eventually resolved itself—I stopped going to Amazon four to 17 times a day, I resumed buying my toilet paper at CVS and I turned my cart items into a wish list of things I would buy only after careful consideration and without the option of returning it (as a personal rule). And then a funny thing happened; I was restored to sanity.
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