Someone I love is hurting right now. Hurting badly. Someone very close to her is coming close to the end of their life. This is very confrontational territory for anyone, and my friend is feeling the pain of that loss, both in terms of her current feelings of loss and her anticipated feelings of further loss, as her loved one slips away and the end is in sight.
In addition, there are money stressors right now. Her work situation has just changed in what feels like a “for the worse” way.
In short, my friend is not in a sunny place right now. If this were a weather pattern, it would definitely be grey cloud cover right now. With the chance of heavy rain. I feel for my friend – my heart hurts for her hurting heart.
I saw her recently and she brought along ‘show and tell’ – a pair of cheap, eye-catching but completely unwearable pair of shoes, that looked a bit like this:
She doesn’t wear heels
To fully appreciate these shoes in the context of my friend, it’s important to note that she doesn’t wear high heels, ever. She occasionally will wear a small heel of around one inch, but it’s a sturdy wedge-style heel shoe. Nothing like the spine mangler pictured above.
But even focusing on the practicality of the issue misses the point.
Once she showed these shoes to me, my friend started entreating me to tell her how much I loved these shoes, too. Weren’t they gorgeous? Weren’t they amazing?
When I murmured a few comments about their wearability, my friend acknowledged that “Well, yes, I’ll never wear them. I’ll probably give them away. But they were only $50.”
I suggested that instead of giving them away, an alternative was to make them an unusual centrepiece for a unique floral arrangement. It seemed at least a use, however quirky, of such a stunning (in the literal sense of being stunned by such a) purchase.
“I had to buy them!”
The conversation continued about the relative merits of these shoes, with more exhortations for me to sanction their acquisition, for some minutes until finally my friend struck upon something of importance about the purchase of these shoes.
“I had to buy them – and you know why? Because I had just come from the hospice and I was feeling absolutely shitty and I needed to buy them! They made me feel better!”
I gently inquired how long this better-feeling state lasted for. She had the answer, right there –
“About half an hour.”
My friend is in pain. That pain is real and palable, and if I could take it away from her I would. It’s like she has met the Gods of Pain and Loss deep in some impenetrable jungle territory and they require offerings of sacrifice on a regular basis.
She keeps bringing these Gods of Pain and Loss items like these shoes.
Please take this sacrificial offering of these ridiculous unwearable plastic and cardboard shoes in service to you, oh gods of pain. Please.
The gods are insatiable
But those gods of pain and loss are insatiable.
There are not enough shoes in the world to satisfy them.
They will take hundreds of pairs of shoes if you want to continue to offer them.
The Gods of Pain and Loss will take all those offerings of material goods, and the other sacrificial offerings we make, like overdosing on alcohol or food or whatever else we use to try to numb the existing pain and cut off the anticipation of future great pain.
The Gods of Pain and Loss will take all that.
And it still won’t be enough.
There are not enough shoes in the world to satisfy them
On one level, my friend knows these sacrificial offerings of ridiculous unwearable cheap shoes will not soothe her pain, or prevent her from feeling anticipated future pain.
And on that same level, she knows she’s even adding to her pain quotient because each dollar she spends on unusable items is one less dollar she has, that she really needs right now.
I’m reminded of what the contemporary Jesuit master, Anthony de Mello said,
“People don’t really want to be cured. What they want is relief.”
The thing about using shopping as a relief mechanism is it doesn’t last, and as a result it doesn’t work.
Once the ‘buy high’ wears off, which can be within seconds, you’re left with the feelings of pain, loss, grief, anger or whatever it is. The shopping hasn’t relieved you of those feelings at all.
Oftentimes, it exacerbates the problem, as you’re left with a financial outlay that may be adding to your overall stress levels. Even if it is only $50 at a time.
Feelings are important!
It is vital to acknowledge and honour those feeling states – those feelings are valid and deserve to be seen for what they are and they need to be felt and expressed. It’s not the feelings that need revision. It’s the shopping in response to them that does.
Shopping in response to painful or negative emotional states is not the answer. The better way, the more effective way, lies in acknowledge those feelings, allowing them to be (without trying to fend them off, fight them or make them wrong), and expressing them in a way that offers a real working-through process.
On the surface, this looks like the harder way, but in the long run it’s actually the short cut.
The emotional territory of over-, compulsive and unconscious shopping can be some of the most tricky to navigate through, I can personally attest to that.
But the journey is worth it – more than worth it.
Just look in the mirror.