12/15/2010 09:20 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Confessions of a Recovering Holiday Shopper

Only 10 more shopping days until Christmas. That is, unless you're a recovering holiday shopper, like me. In which case, there are only 10 more non-shopping days til Christmas, then this whole shopping ordeal will be over. Until next year.

I'm celebrating my third Christmas in recovery and I've never enjoyed the holidays more than I have these past three years. After denying my addiction to holiday shopping for decades, two years ago, with the economy crashing all around, and Black Friday shoppers crashing down the doors at a Walmart in Long Island killing an employee, I knew the jig was up and my shopping gig was over.

Pondering that incident, I saw a reflection of my own out of control shopping behavior and I must admit, I didn't like what I saw. I might not have been among the crowd of crazed consumers that day, but I knew my own hands were not spotless. The day of reckoning was at hand. It was time to face the music and acknowledge I was powerless over my need to acquire stuff for stockings.

What was this crazy behavior really about? Was it a secret "Santa Syndrome" from which I suffered? Did I long to be the heroic and mysterious night visitor who brought brightly wrapped packages to all the good little boys and girls? Or did I think my worth as a human being was measured by the number of packages I presented at Christmas? Or was it something else?

I can't exactly explain what would come over me as I shopped for Christmas presents. Perhaps you can relate. With shopping list firmly in hand, knowing exactly what I wanted to buy for each person, the moment I entered a store, all my careful planning would go out the window and I would fall prey to a pent up urge to buy "stuff." I literally would lose my mind and all control in a store.

So many pretty things! Why not buy one of each in every color? Did it matter that the person on my list could have cared less about the object in my crosshairs? Nyet! I obviously had my priorities seriously twisted. And so the Christmas stockings would be filled to overflowing with stuff nobody really wanted, but I somehow felt fulfilled. I know, it sounds pathetic to admit it now, but at the time, what can I say? I was afflicted.

Full disclosure: my out of control shopping was not entirely limited to the holidays. Shopping, and it's accompanying rituals: thinking about shopping, planning what to buy, driving to the stores, finding a parking space, scoping out the goods, making discernments about size, color, price, quality, beauty, texture, etc. was a kind of "retail therapy" that filled a void in my life, and at the same time allowed me to avoid addressing the void itself.

As long as I could keep on buying stuff, I could avoid the void. But then the economy crashed, people went crazy at Walmart, and I woke up to confront my own reality. The void was staring me in the face and more "therapy" was not the answer. The recession actually did me a favor by forcing me to get real about what I was avoiding. At the core of my obsession was a deep longing for authentic connection with myself. I was attempting to fill a spiritual void with "stuff" and "things". I was the stocking I was seeking to stuff. It was my love for myself I was seeking.

We know that all addictions are an attempt to fill a spiritual void. In truth it was authentic presence I was seeking, not presents. A person could be forgiven for misinterpreting the two terms. But I'm clear about the difference and I know it can't be found in "things".

After that fateful Black Friday at Walmart, I decided to consume less, but give more. Last year, I referred to my conversion as going gift-free, but I now see that isn't entirely true. I do give gifts, just not the kind that can be wrapped. They can only be experienced. This is deeply satisfying to me because it actually addresses the source of my addiction. In creating alternative ways to share in the spirit of the holidays I am much more present to and for myself, and others. This was the true void wanting to be filled.

If any of this resonates with you, you might consider adopting an alternative approach to your own holiday gifting. Last year, one reader suggested:

I've been toying with the idea of giving my children 'coupons' for special mommy-and-me activities instead of the normal round of toys. Think like an hour of playing X-Box with mommy, a manicure/ pedicure, an ice-cream date, a swimming date at the YMCA, 5 Red-box movie rentals of their choice, etc. These would be redeemable at any time by the kids. I floated the idea by my 6 and 4 year old and they loved it, though they insisted there would have to be "real" coupons that they could hand me. I was surprised they were so receptive and I've been trying to come up with other activities they might enjoy.

And from another reader :

Ironing cotton pillowcases before bed on a winter's eve.

Here are some additional alternatives to traditional gifting you might consider:

  1. Adopt a needy family. Prepare a holiday meal and deliver it. Involve your children in the grocery shopping and food preparation activities.
  2. As a family, build a gingerbread house together, then donate it to a charity or take it to a children's hospital.
  3. Organize a coat drive or a canned-food drive and donate them to your local food bank.
  4. Go caroling at a local senior center or convalescent home.
  5. Teach your children to make hand-made gifts. Both boys and girls enjoy this activity and feel a sense of accomplishment in the finished product.
  6. Give an authentic acknowledgment to someone you love.
  7. Look them in the eyes and tell them who they are for you.
  8. Open up communication with someone with whom you've had a misunderstanding.
  9. Apologize to someone you've unfairly judged.
  10. Extend kindness to a stranger or offer support to someone and expect nothing in return.

We all have a choice about how we want to spend our resources; time, energy and money, and the experience we want to create at the end of the day. It's also a choice about how you see yourself contributing to the sustainability of the planet.

This, I believe is the true spirit of not only this time, but of these times. As never before, we are called to reconnect with what matters. Let this holiday season be a beckoning for you to come forward with the gift of your authentic presence and offer yourself as the priceless gift you are. No credit cards or cash required.

Are you a recovering holiday shopper? Have you already gone gift-free or are you contemplating it? Please stop by the comment section and share your ideas about gifting alternatives for the holidays. We're all searching for how to bring more joy and less stress to this time of year. Please share the wealth!

Another way to share the wealth is by posting this article to your Facebook page, and/or Twitter! And if you're not already a Fan, why not become one? Please also feel free to stop by my personal blog and website: Rx For The Soul. For personal contact I can be reached at: judith(at)judithrich(dot)com.

Blessings on the path.