Welcome to our Blessed Chats series! Each month, we will dedicate an entire week of blog posts to a topic that affects many of us. These conversations often come up in our Facebook groups and in our real life friendships. We want to share a variety of perspectives on the topic at hand, so we’ve asked women to share their stories and how the teachings of the Church have guided and comforted them. In this series, we’re talking about addiction, compulsion, and loving those who suffer this cross. We’d love for you to join the conversation!
I was the new girl in town.
I’d just finished my Army contract, moved across the country with my family, and traded intense training, 18-hour work days, and giving commands to stay-at-home-motherhood: potty training, 24-hour “work” days, and toddlers who resisted all commands.
A week into this new life, I found myself surrounded by a sea of boxes—my identity about as lost as the items I was looking for. So I fled in desperation to the only place I could think of: story time at the library.
As I squeezed into a spot at the back of the carpet, awkwardly juggling the baby carrier and two toddlers, a fellow mom flashed me a smile; my insides flooded with relief. I wasn’t alone! After story time we struck up a conversation, which led to an invitation: did I want to meet at the playground next week and join a group of other new-ish moms looking for community? I was elated.
Comparison is a Thief
Soon though, I noticed differences: their sunglasses all sported designer logos, their homes, though smaller, were nicer and newer, and they continually consulted each other on the best (read: most admirable) brands of new cars, baby gear, and electronics.
I’d always appreciated authentic beauty and had fairly good taste. And after nine arduous years in uniform, I thought I had grown to appreciate more important things: my faith, the gift of my family, and the opportunity to finally stay home with my kids—even if it meant cutting our salary in half.
Now, though, surrounded by my new friends, my eyes were opened wide to the affluence around me; suddenly I felt naïve and shabby.
The Need to Belong
Despite my deep and steady faith, the need to belong steamrolled my acceptance of God’s love as I sought the superficial approval of others (whose own superficial seeking had them starving for more). I tried to convert my friends to me rather than converting my heart to God, and I quickly lost my identity in the process.
Thus began a downward spiral of shopping compulsion—making a special detour for a sale at a store or scouring the internet for hours on end to find the “right” material thing in order to belong.
Even as my friend group grew apart and moved, even as I found intentional, faith-filled community and began to heal in identity and relationship with God, the temptation held on. It had firmly attached to my deepest ache for belonging and the enemy ensured that it evolved as I grew more aware and faithful.
I’d stop short on social media for a cleverly-curated ad, suddenly convinced I needed this thing (non-existent in my world a mere moment before). I’d admire someone’s outfit, then find myself searching online to find it. I’d get sucked into a sale, thinking if I didn’t find the perfect bargain on page one, surely it would be buried in the annals of the internet on page twenty.
Yet I began to realize that the clicking never ended. My hunger was never satisfied. The elation of a new package on my doorstep lasted only a moment before the novelty wore off. The status and acceptance I attached to new items was superficial, short-lived, and only lead to more longing and exhaustion. However picture-worthy my home, however overflowing my closet, my heart was never full. The ache only intensified.However picture-worthy my home, however overflowing my closet, my heart was never full. The ache only intensified. #BISblog #blessedchats // Click To Tweet
Confiding + Confessing
I began to take my struggle to regular confession, and with the added wisdom of my spiritual director, the Lord began to speak deeply into my heart about the kind of detachment which leads to real freedom. Detachment might feel like a scary word, but in fact it releases us from the enslavement of the world to bring about real freedom and fulfillment that only make sense in the context of the goodness of God.
We can cling to all sorts of worldly attachments—acceptance, status, material things, and can even put seemingly good desires like relationship and vocation ahead of God. Yet sooner or later the emptiness or grief catches up, and we find ourselves faced with the central question of our heart:
Is God enough?
In seeking the healing that allows God to truly be enough, I’ve experienced ever growing freedom from the trap of worldly compulsions and a deepening, immovable sense of my identity as God’s beloved.
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If You Struggle with a Shopping/Acquiring Compulsion
So, what to do if you struggle with this too?
Recognize It’s a Symptom of Something Deeper
Struggling with this doesn’t make you a bad person; it simply means you’re human—in need of healing just like everyone else! We often try to treat the visible symptoms of our wounds, but that can just lead to frustration or despair.
What pain, emptiness, or fear is buried beneath your actions? Ask God to reveal it in a way you can handle, so you can begin to address the underlying cause with the aid of the sacraments and professional help.
Just Say No
Social media ads are insidiously created to target your preferences, lure you in, and keep you clicking. When I realized these were a “gateway” for my online shopping, my spiritual director instructed me to quickly and firmly say “NO!” (even out loud if needed!), then run (click) away as fast as possible.
We can justify “just looking for a second,” and entertain or dialogue with temptation (like Eve dialoguing with Satan in the Garden of Eden) but that exponentially increases the chance that we’ll give in. Saying “NO!” slams the door on the Satan’s attempt and helps our conscious will overcome subconscious conditioning.
Practice Fasting and Gratitude
One year, I gave up online shopping for Lent—but I knew I was likely to just run to another compulsion unless I replaced the temptation with something fruitful. Many great Saints swear by gratitude as a powerful weapon against temptation. When I was tempted to quit, I whispered a prayer for God’s help and started listing things all the things I had that I took for granted.
This sincere gratitude, especially in a world filled with so much need, helped re-condition my mind and bring me to a place of peace.
Bring It to God + Seek Healthy Community
When I was at my lowest in longing for belonging, I still went to church and prayed with my family, but I didn’t have much of a personal prayer routine and definitely didn’t bring my struggle straight to God. When I finally began to invite Him in to my personal struggles, He was there waiting with healing love and grace—especially in the Sacraments, Confession, and Adoration.
I also was desperate enough at my lowest point accept any kind of community, even if it damaged my heart and pulled me away God. I wanted instantaneous rescue from my loneliness rather than investing the time and effort needed for healthy, God-centered, and mutually uplifting relationships. Through the grace of God, I eventually began working for a new ministry called Blessed is She, and the examples of other women earnestly seeking the Lord and desiring to grow in holiness inspired me to want the same.
Community might not happen for you overnight, but if you put in the effort God will honor your desire and bring it about in His perfect time! You can also connect with local Blessed is She community through your regional Facebook group, or search for or start a local group here!
Ask for Help
Finally, if the problem persists or if you feel that it might reach into the realms of addiction, don’t despair. There is so much help available for you! Counseling ( check out catholiccounselors.com) is an incredible tool to help identify underlying wounds, begin the healing process, and learn healthier behaviors.
Spiritual direction is also an incredible companion to address the spiritual side of things, and develop prayer practices and virtues to more intentionally combat specific temptations.
As Pope Emeritus Benedict so aptly stated:
The world promises you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.
Here’s to all the greatness, healing, and freedom that Lord has in store for you!
If you want more help with finding your own story, our popular Write + Pray course offers 9 topics, nearly an hour of guided video, and almost 50 Scripture verses and questions for you featuring Managing Editor Nell O’Leary. Find your story today.