“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I built my life.” – JK Rowling
I was arrested for shoplifting.
On this particular day in September of 2010, I went to the store for a couple of things and for no real reason began shoplifting. As I left I was stopped by security and arrested. I knew I was in trouble. I had a record and had been warned by the courts that one more time, I was going to prison.
I was a compulsive shoplifter. I would go to the store and say to myself, okay just one more time. That’s it. Then I won’t do this anymore.
But one more time kept coming. I didn’t know how to quit.
Describe your feelings.
I was scared when I was arrested. Really scared. This was not the first time and each time the penalty got worse. I was habitual.
I sat in jail, on the cold, concrete floor with no windows, chairs, beds or anything reminding me of my life as it had been only hours before, free. Outside of the jail I had left my mother, my family, my children, and my business. A life that appeared normal to most.
I cried and cried and cried.
Then I felt self-loathing. I hated who I was and life in general.
I felt embarrassed for putting myself in this position and angry at being caught. I had spent years rationalizing my behavior. I lied to myself about my behavior to justify doing what I knew was wrong.
Shoplifting, taking Adderall and throwing up daily provided a secret life. I spent my days being someone else.
I felt like a total failure.
I felt Not Enough.
Not enough money, not enough love, not enough courage, not enough trust, not enough caring, not enough of anything.
I lived trying to get more! I looked in all the wrong places for more. Nothing was ever enough and more was not better.
How did the experience affect me?
I hit my bottom. I knew there was nowhere left to run to fix my aching insides. I had to face who and what I was and where I was going.
I didn’t have answers, but I was willing to look in new places for them. I was now open, teachable. And desperate.
What was my part?
I was originally motivated to steal by wanting what others had. I had small children and couldn’t afford to buy them clothes, food, or other things. I believed that the reason I was stealing was for my kids.
As my shoplifting progressed I began stealing for the rush. The feeling I had gotten away with something felt empowering. I was showing myself that I was worth something. I thought if I had enough fancy things I would be likable.
I used stealing, Adderall, and bulimia to feel complete. When I couldn’t control life I ate at it or stole or frantically worked. I wanted the emptiness inside of me to end.
I believed I could change the way I felt about myself if I looked skinny, had nice clothes, or pretty stuff. I believed anything was possible if I only did enough.
But enough was never enough.
I couldn’t believe I was hurting me. I saw life from outside in. I was driven to fix what I couldn’t fix and that created a feeling of loss, confusion, and self-hate. I was creating my own hell and I didn’t see it.
How did you choose to respond to your experience?
I was released on bond. I stopped shoplifting.
I chose to get help to figure out what inside of me made me shoplift.
I began recovery.
I found an online shoplifters anonymous group and called. I couldn’t believe there were others like me. Phone in meetings were all that were available so I called in for every meeting.
I sat in on other 12 step meetings. At meetings, I said I was there because I couldn’t breathe and that life was too much for me. I have been in recovery since 2010 and change has been slow. I was gifted with a sponsor who loved the unlovable in me. I felt unconditionally loved. I worked and continue to work the steps of the program and I go to 12 step meetings.
Today I choose to believe in myself and trust life.
I am open to learning how to change myself. I do this by looking at my beliefs and what I tell myself. I question my perceptions. I stop and look at what I am saying to myself about life and about me. I believe in the good of the universe.
I take time to believe I have a special place in the world and a reason for being here. I am contributing something uplifting and positive to life.
I choose hope. I hope that I can be an example of change to others. My life shows there is another way out of what feels hopeless. My life shows there is meaning beyond the material.
I choose to live a spiritual life. My spiritual experiences are these milliseconds when I am aware I am part of something so much greater than I am and all I can do is become aware of that connection. I do nothing. I just am. My life matters.
I focus on believing that others they will find their own path.
I choose to remember that my addictive behaviors brought physically painful consequences and that those choices left me without my freedom, without a feeling of self-love or self-respect and did not heal the hurt inside.
What am I learning about myself, the experience or others?
I learned that my addictions were about control. I couldn’t control others so I used my addictions to give me the illusion of control. My feelings dictated my life. Scared, nervous, angry, sad, frustrated—anything that brought a lot of feeling—resulted in stealing or eating or uncontrollably working.
I couldn’t stop the feelings. I needed to learn how to let myself feel so the feelings would pass.
I was dealing with my life by running from the fear, anger and stress of being a parent, a businesswoman, daughter, and friend. Acting out gave me a way to stay emotionally alive. I didn’t know how to do life differently and I felt in control acting out. I knew how to be afraid, to run from myself and to hide using these deviant behaviors. I didn’t know how to be there for anyone else. Running was what I did to provide relief from my feelings.
How does my response affect my life?
Today I look at myself with awe. I am amazed to see the person I am.
I can physically feel the changes. My face is relaxed.
I try to meditate every morning. Sometimes no more than five minutes. But I focus on my breath—the part of me that keeps me alive and sustains me with no effort on my part. My breath is my connection to the universe.
I don’t run away when I feel nervous, anxious, fearful, angry, or alone. Sometimes I sit with the feeling but more often I reach out to someone else to talk about what is going on or I consciously choose to do something else until I can be with the feeling. The change is being aware of what I am doing. I try not to hurt myself, or anyone else.
I reacted to people and situations. I can listen to other people without having a panic attack. Hearing anything emotional happening to anyone I cared about brought a feeling of guilt, shame, or a feeling that I need to fix their lives. Not believing in myself and having no hope affected my relationships with others. I didn’t believe life was safe for anyone. I don’t believe this anymore. Therefore, I know that just listening to others when they’re struggling and believing in their strengths brings comfort to them and me. Being heard, accepted and loved is the greatest gift to give and receive.
I exercise regularly, eat more consciously, and practice loving myself so I can love others.
I had seen life only as what was done to me not my part in it.
I didn’t really understand I had any choices. Today, I get to choose how I respond to what happens.
I am an active participant in my own life.
There is even the occasional pause between what I think and what I do. Not every thought requires action. I can even look at my thoughts and see them as unrealistic or irrational.
I am slow but steady. I am taking responsibility for my life.
I have learned from my time in jail how precious it is to be free. Taking baths, sleeping with a pillow, walking outside, even looking out a window means more to me than ever before. I enjoy the sunrise and sunsets. I know what it is to live without these freedoms.
I am not the same person – and yet I am the one who has lived all of these experiences.
I was the one who long ago gave up on myself and I am also the one who didn’t give up. Talking, writing, working through feelings helps me change habitual responses to difficult situations. I still find myself reacting and know that more is going on than what appears. I get the choice to look a little deeper and heal a little more. It is work! And at times it still sucks. But coming out the other side is a FREEDOM I live for.
I am grateful. Yesterday I was riding my horse in the field. Sitting on top of a magnificent animal with the sun on my face, I felt a deep peace.
Paula. The United States.