Dear Lucy: I lost my job last year. I have found another one but it pays a lot less. I have downsized my life and seem to be managing OK. Except that my house is now full of stuff I buy at the dollar store or thrift shops. It's all I can afford but I just can't stop myself. It has become like an addiction. I get this urge to go buy some cheap junk and when I get home with it I already have two or three. I feel better at first and then I feel stupid. I take up a hobby and go crazy buying supplies for it that I never really use. I need to stop and I don't know how. It's like I am thirsty and can't get full.
Dear MC: No advice that I give you can substitute for professional help. If you are really worried that you have a spending addiction or some other mental health issue that compromises your well-being you might consider seeing a professional.
I am happy to hear that unlike some, you have been able to find work and make the adjustment to earning less money. You are to be commended as there are some folk who stubbornly refuse to start over by taking a lesser paying job. There is always the possibility that something better can or will show up. There is grace in not giving up or giving in to change by responding in ways that compromise your getting on with life.
The truth is that you have had to make a major adjustment in your life and there are probably some issues of fear, safety, security, frustration and sadness. And there is nothing uncommon about that.
Often when we experience what you have, its scary to dream again or get enthusiastic about life again. So when you feel scared or sad you go for the thing that you can afford that will give you a taste of pleasure. Or maybe just a moment of not feeling deprived or desperate. The problem is that the cheap pleasure doesn't last, leaves you feeling guilty and even more afraid.
The next time the urge to go and buy something comes over you, stop and take three really good deep breaths. Just that can calm you down and help you to put the pause button on your panic. Learn to pay close attention to what you are thinking about during those times that the urge to go buy something comes over you. Is it fear, sadness, frustration, anger? Whatever it is just acknowledge it and own it. Then ask yourself the really tough question: "Is there a way other than shopping to find something that brings me pleasure without feeling guilty or stupid later?"
Perhaps before you lost your previous job there was something that made you feel alive, more useful. Maybe there was something that helped you to feel as if your life meant something. What was it?
You are not your job. Your job is what you do, not who you are. There are hundreds of ways to add value to your life and others. A first step can be making and keeping a gratitude list every day of at least five things you are thankful for.
Can the hobby you bought all of those supplies for be something that you could share with others less fortunate? What if you took those things you are buying at the dollar store and made little care packages out of them to give to the needy? Just keep working it, looking for small pleasures that make you feel alive and useful again.
Find your joy again. Create a new beginning, a new story; one where you love yourself and give yourself credit for being a person of worth and strength. Stop condemning yourself. You are a fighter. You just need a new set of fighting rules.
It's safe to dream again and to have hope. Don't nickel and dime yourself into poverty after being so brave. We all have days when we get tired of being strong and just wish that someone would rescue us. The truth is that someone did rescue us already. That same one said, "These things that I do, you will do even greater."
Trust that spirit in you that keeps pushing you to do better and to be better. Things don't feed the soul. Your hunger is not for "stuff." You have a thirst for the Life that comes from on high. It's OK to drink deeply of the Spirit. That well never runs dry.
(Check out Lucy Shaw's website at http://www.heartworks4u.com. You may send your questions to her by U.S. mail to: Heartworks4U, LLC; 4646 Poplar Ave. Ste 201, Memphis, TN 38117 or by e-mail to lucy@ heartworks4u.comThis email address is being protected from spambots.)
(For help with the feelings that get in the way of prayer and peace of mind, get Lucy's new book, "BE NOT ANXIOUS." Order it directly from her at 901-907-0260 or go to her web site www.heartworks4u.com.)