Q: You'd always loved fashion as a girl growing up in Brooklyn, but when did shopping become an obsession?
A: I was in my mid-20s, just feeling like I was going out into the world as a woman, when my mom died. Her death just put me into a tailspin. Shopping seemed to come to the rescue. It was something I could do that felt normal and safe, and it reminded me of my mother in a lot of ways. We'd always loved to shop together in the city.
Q: What did you buy to try to fill the void?
A: Silly things, impulse buys — lots of hosiery from Macy's, accessories, gloves, sunglasses, skirts, sweaters, a wacky denim dress from Lord & Taylor that I never wore. I was really shopping in a trancelike state.
Q: Eventually, nothing made you feel as good — or as bad — as shopping ...
A: Yes. Shopping for me became like a drug. Very often it wasn't even about what I was buying — it was the act of purchasing it. It was like getting high, but then I'd hate myself afterward. I'd get sweaty palms and feel anxious; I knew something was wrong.
Q: How did you fund your habit?
A: I was working as a writer, and also living with a man who took good care of me.
Q: Do you think you would've shopped so obsessively if you hadn't lost your mom?
A: It's a fascinating question. Some therapists say the desire to buy things goes back to your infancy; others disagree. I do know that compulsive shopping has deep roots. It's not about frivolous people who run around with their shopping bags because they're selfish. It has to do with your soul — with something missing inside you.
Q: After 15 years, you began to get a grip.
A: Everything came to a head around the time I was 40. I was single, trying to figure out my life. I could see that I shopped to avoid uncomfortable emotions. Debt collectors were calling. I finally went to a credit counselor and formed a payment plan.
Q: That was in 2004. Are you debt-free?
A: I am. I'm married and living in Paris; I feel healthier about my shopping and about myself. I gave away lots of clothes. Sometimes I worry that I'm going to go into a store and want everything. I worry that it's still a part of me, but it doesn't seem to be.
Q: Any advice for shopping addicts?
A: Deal with the psychological roots, the emotions that drive you.