It was the job I thought I’d always wanted. I’d spent my whole childhood pretending to teach in a classroom and 4 years of college learning how to do it.
When I got the phone call for my first teaching job, I had been battling months of rejection and felt like this was it. Those months of waiting were all for this moment.
As the summer went on and I prepared my classroom, all I could feel was excitement- excitement to start the school year and excitement to meet all of my kids.
Excitement Turns to Anxiety
Little did I know all of these feelings would change in a matter of hours on the first day of school. I stood at the door greeting all of my kids as they walked in, and I remember feeling so hopeful, like we were gonna change the world together.
We spent the first couple of hours getting to know each other and it was as we all stood in a circle introducing ourselves that I quickly realized how hard it was going to be to manage this room of twenty 10-year olds and how completely ill-equipped I was.
I truly felt like I had been thrown into the deep end with no life jacket. How was I going to manage these kids when I still felt like one myself?
The days went on and things continuously felt harder. You know how people say “Oh just give it time, it’ll get easier”? Well that was definitely not the case. Soon I felt like I was in over my head and I had no idea how to deal with all the feelings- and this is where my coping skills come into play.
Shopping Just to Cope
Shopping had regularly been used as a coping mechanism when I was a growing up. Bad day? Let’s go shopping. Broken heart? Let’s go shopping. Retail therapy was one of the most commonly used terms around our house and it seemed like it worked, until it didn’t.
It seemed like there was no problem that a little shopping couldn’t fix, but that first year of teaching I found out differently. I can vividly remember leaving school on the first day, sobbing.
I had no idea what I had signed up for and I was willing to do just about anything to not have to go back. I legitimately thought to myself “What’s the worst that could happen if I just never show up again and turn off my phone?” Of course that wasn’t a real option, but when I knew I couldn’t just run away from it, the only other way I knew how to cope was to cry and shop. So, I did.
Then, when Tuesday at school was even worse than Monday, I shopped again. And by the time the first week of school was over I had four new shirts that I just knew were going to fix all my problems.
Every other day I had a new package waiting at my apartment door and this soon became what I looked forward to. I continued to numb my feelings with new purchases.
Lunch time became my “golden half-hour”. I would shop and check my email for shipping confirmations.
Things Are Not Soul Food
I can remember feeling this rush as I shopped and saw packages had been delivered. I would feel the same rush the first time I wore something, but it was such a fleeting feeling. Sure I’d feel great in my new shirt or new pair of pants but in no way were they fixing anything.
It wasn’t making my days at school any easier, it wasn’t fixing the behavior problems in my classroom, and it certainly wasn’t fixing the anxiety and emptiness I was feeling.
This cycle of buying and buying went on for months and wasn’t until after I left the school that I was forced to change my habits. I simply didn’t have the means to continue shopping in such an excessive way, but slowing down gave me a chance to finally look back at my behavior and reflect.
The whole time I was shopping, the “things” were giving me a false sense of joy. They were filling a void that no tangible thing can ever really fill.
I had been using shopping as a way of self-medicating. It was much easier to cover up the feelings than to actually deal with them. It was easier to buy a new shirt for the temporary rush than it was to sit down and really feel what I was feeling.
Not only was I feeling completely overwhelmed but I also felt like I had failed. I had spent most of my life hoping and working for this opportunity and it was nothing that I thought it would be. I was failing as a teacher, I was failing as a partner, and I was failing as a human.
Shopping Addiction Is Very Real
I had become so entrenched in everything that I was no longer able to show up for anyone or anything. It took a long time to sort through all of these feelings and a long time to really change my habits.
I didn’t have the means to actually purchase things anymore, but that didn’t stop me from spending 80% of my day putting things in shopping carts and looking for the best new things.
I thought that since I simply wasn’t buying things anymore, it was different- but it wasn’t. It had become a true addiction and in order to change all of these habits I had to take a real hard look at what I was doing and why.
This time of reflection brought on big changes but they didn’t happen overnight and it’s something I still work on. I still battle the urge to shop when things are hard or I’m not feeling my best.
Through a lot of therapy, I now know that when I can feel content in myself and the things I’m doing I don’t have to look towards outside things to bring me joy. It wasn’t until I really started practicing this that I felt REAL joy.
As I mentioned before, I thought all the purchases were bringing me joy but it felt so fleeting and it’s because it wasn’t real.
The real kind of lasting joy can’t come from things.
The connections and relationships I form with other people are so much more meaningful and life-giving.