I stand before you, a sinner. I have broken my word. I have not practiced what I preached. I have failed!
Contrition was a big thing in the 80’s. People were always apologizing for something or other and apparently it didn’t stick unless it was done publicly, tearfully and with a five-figure book deal to cushion the fall. Between the Iran-Contra Affair, the Savings & Loan scandal and countless lapsed televangelists, there was a time when you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing someone red-faced and sniffling beneath the glare of a flashbulb, or comedians lampooning it on SNL or late night TV (watch my favorite: the always brilliant Phil Hartman as Jim Bakker and the shamefully underrated Jan Hooks as Tammy Faye Bakker on Church Chat). But the 80’s didn’t have a monopoly on this enterprise. Apologizing is big business; it moves magazines, fills column space, glues butts to seats in front of the boob tubes and the laptops. I’d probably enjoy the schadenfreude if it weren’t so banal and predictable. The thing these people all have in common is the sheer hypocrisy of their actions. So Ted Haggard had gay sex while on meth, it wouldn’t be such a big deal if he hadn’t been so venemously homophobic and pious to begin with. That’s called ‘hoisting yourself with your own petard’, and it’s as uncomfortable as it sounds. I know, I’ve done it.
For a full year I suppressed my consumer instincts and quelled any cravings with wholesome activities like walking my dog, crafting and eating various artisanal cheeses. It wasn’t always easy, but I ultimately felt better when I didn’t succumb to the base shopping desires that would inevitably emerge when I was feeling disappointed or angry or simply less than. Post-challenge my first purchases were considered and the experiences enjoyable. This, I decided, was my new and improved shopping model. I was officially rewired! Then the sheen wore off. The last six weeks or so have been very complicated physically but I’ve convinced myself it’s just a slump and I’ll be back on track very soon and to just be patient, which for me is more difficult than walking a flight of steps without incident. It’s emotionally exhausting to pretend everything is okay when it’s not, to fake a good mood, to not snap at my husband – who is the most patient and supportive person in my life – when he asks me how I’m feeling. I spend a good portion of my waking hours in doctor’s offices and in treatment rooms which are notoriously unhappy places, and luckily, I usually leave feeling better. So it was no wonder after my most recent appointment with my GP when I was given less than stellar news, that I was disappointed to the point of distraction. I slipped and fell (metaphorically, for once) into a shopaholic haze.
I passed the shopping-fast finish line back in June, so why the histrionics? Because I’ve spent the last few months since the challenge ended working hard to implement some of the things I’ve learned, and trying to change my previous habits into ones I can be proud of. I’ve preached the benefit of researching products to find out about how a company implements social and environmental responsibility, I’ve bragged on the superiority of my consignment and thrift store finds, I’ve approached a local eco-fashion designer about making me some custom pieces that I will cherish and wear for years (the lovely and immensely talented Megan Duffield). I’ve written extensively in this blog about shopping with a conscience and voting with your dollar. I’ve condescendingly sighed when my BFF showed me a top she bought for fifteen dollars and then condescendingly congratulated her when she proudly showed me the expensive eco-fashions she bought while on vacation. “I’m making a difference!” I thought smugly, “the ripple effect works!” And then like so many Swaggarts and Weiners before me I jumped head-first into my own personal den of iniquity, in this case, the Joe Fresh beside my doctor’s office.
As an Atheist I have a hard time believing the whole ‘pathway to hell is paved with good intentions’ concept but I suppose I can dig the sentiment in this case. I set myself up to fail. All it took was one piss-poor justification, the kind I’d successfully circumvented for a full year, to concoct reasons why I should buy something. The demoralizing news from my doctor could be easily diminished with something new and pretty. Socks! I’ll buy socks! Based on my research, it’s almost impossible to buy socks that aren’t made in China, unless I want to buy $300 Italian-made cashmere ones, so I’m not really breaking any of my personal rules, right? And therein lies the slippery slope. The socks weren’t enough. I scooted over to Winners and couldn’t believe it when I found the exact boots I’d been researching online (produced by a Canadian company conveniently named ‘La Canadienne’)but for less than half price. LESS THAN HALF PRICE! Here’s the moment when I should have just collected my spoils, jumped in the car and driven home like a good little weekend gambler. Instead, I took it as a sign that I should further reward myself so I got in my car and drove to Marshalls. Needless to say, I didn’t check any labels or look up a brand on my phone (which I did last month at MEC despite Mum’s many eyerolls), I just piled my arms full and furtively slithered into the change room. The final ignominy was an impulse buy snatched from the narrow corridor/maze to the checkout eerily reminiscent of the Temple Grandin system that reduces stress in livestock being lead to slaughter. It was a Saturday Night Live Best Of Chris Kattan DVD for $4.99. The cancerous Red Dye Number 3 cherry on the shame-cake of my day. I had officially hit rock bottom.
As per usual when I make purchases of this kind, I got home, laid them out on the bed and felt empty. Instead of looking forward to wearing them because they had been bought with a purpose and with a conscience, all I could think about was the foundation of my house. Earlier this week Nick discovered a disturbing crack in the stonework of our 110-year-old house, which, according to the mason, should only be a minimal fix and hopefully not several tens of thousands (fingers crossed) of dollars unless we detect any more serious issues the deeper we dig. I also thought about the trip to Europe Nick and I want to take next year, the year we both celebrate our 40th birthdays. First World Problems, I know. It’s not like I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, but it’s all relative isn’t it? I didn’t spend a ridiculous amount of money on my shopping spree, but I spent more than was necessary and although those few items aren’t going to land us in the poorhouse, I should have known better. I’ll be honest, I did know better but I just didn’t care.
Like so many sinners before me, I gave in to my desires without addressing the consequences like a mature and responsible adult and now I would have to own my mistake. On the grand scheme of things, it isn’t that big a deal, really. It’s not like I had sex with Jessica Hahn in a seedy Everglades motel or sold arms to Nicaraguans, but I was guilty of giving myself no margin for error. Nick, upon learning of my indiscretion took my hand and said, “It’s okay. You’re human and you’re allowed to slip every now and again. You need to not be so hard on yourself.” It was of course, the absolute right thing for him to say at that moment. I need to accept that even though I have a year-plus worth of research and the earnest drive to be a model, 21st century shopper, sometimes I’m going to stumble and revert back to my less enlightened ways so I have to factor that into the equation. The trouble with lofty ambitions is the ‘loft’ part, it’s pretty high up there so it’s a long way to the ground when you fall. Believe me, I’m an expert on falling. But I should give myself some credit for the landings too.