I’m currently reading Russell Brand’s Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions. An incredibly insightful book which follows Russell’s quirky interpretation of the Alcoholics Anonymous 12 Step Programme. As a multi faithed nation, he is quick to dampen down the references to God, mostly replacing them with his favoured four-letter profanity. He approaches all the 12 steps from a spiritual standpoint, which makes the plan much more palatable and up-to-date.
Having already ditched both the booze and fags from my life, I don’t feel the need to follow the 12 steps myself, although it has made me consider addiction and my personal experiences of it a little more deeply. I was interested to read his references towards consumerism and our almost constant need to feed our desires through buying, well, stuff. I wonder how many of us think we’ve got our lives in order, having ditched our bad habits and embraced a healthy lifestyle, only to have reshaped our addictions into an online shopping habit that ensures we continue to get our fix in some shape or form. And for those of you struggling to see how something as relatively harmless as online shopping can be compared to alcoholism, as with all addictions, they follow the same pattern.
First up we have the TRIGGER; you’ve had a tough day at work, a row with your partner, the kids are driving you mad, you’re bored. This then leads to a CRAVING. Historically, this would have been that well-earned glass of wine at the end of your stressful day at work/with the kids/after the row/to relieve the boredom. But now you’re craving a little retail relief from that trigger. Next up comes the RITUAL. Out comes the iPhone or laptop and you fire up your favourite shopping apps and websites. As you start trawling the sites you are now in the process of USING, with your drug being the hit you get as you drop items into your shopping cart and proceed to checkout. The amount of self-harm that is done depends on how long you are in this zone and how much money you have in your bank account. Most at this point will be in the “sod it” zone and freely be flexing the plastic, adding more debt to their credit cards. It’s no surprise that as a nation we have racked up £72.1 billion worth of credit card debt here in the UK (as of January 2020). What lies the other side of USING? GUILT, of course. Just as an alcoholic may experience remorse after a night on the booze, our online shopping frenzy can take us to roughly the same place. Of course, there is the option to return your online purchases, up to 30% are, but that won’t stop you repeating the same cycle again next time you experience a trigger.
I can totally relate to this cycle. I slowly became aware that the thrill I got from searching out that cute little top, or slinky pair of jeans, rarely matched up to the experience I felt when the goods arrived. In fact, the excitement stayed with me from purchase through to dispatch, right up until that sexy little packaged arrival with a “bing bong” via the courier. And then it was gone. The more conscious I became of this, the more aware I became of the emotional cycle it was following. It was almost like a switch being flicked. And of course, the only way to take myself back into the thrill and excitement zone was to do it all over again.
So, how am I feeling now I’m 3 weeks into my shopping free year? I can sense a growing awareness. It’s starting to spread to other areas of my life; the sweet little primrose I picked up with the intention of bringing home to brighten the outside table? Well, as I stood there gazing at it, admiring its beauty, I realised whether it stayed on the shelf outside Waitrose, or came home with me, it wasn’t going to make a damn difference to my happiness levels or the world at large. So, I returned this botanical sign of spring being just around the corner to the shelf and popped inside to stock up on my essential supply of organic decaff.