On May 8, 2018, I resolved not to spend anymore money on my quilting hobby. On May 9th, I received a $50.00 check for my birthday and immediately began questioning my life choices. My mind started spinning, “if I could just…” or “what if I….”
Since I quit trying to use buying stuff as a way to distract myself from feeling uncomfortable, I’ve been experiencing withdrawal symptoms…in other words, MORE uncomfortable. Since I was using buying quilting stuff as a way to feel good, all those bad feelings I was distracting myself from are suddenly so much louder in my life. As those bad feelings start to get louder the urge to bend the rules and start buying stuff grows. I mean, I said was mostly giving up fabric, right? So if I buy myself a new needle holder* so that I can have threaded needles for two different English Paper Piecing projects at the same time that’s still fair game, right? Also, I have a coupon for free shipping from one of my favorite quilting websites. It’s like wasting money to not use that, isn’t it?
One of the mixed benefits of being a therapist is understanding the process of your own misery. On the one hand, it normalizes my experience. On the other hand, I can’t pretend I don’t know when I’m acting in a way that is unhealthy and blame it on something else. I know what is happening right now. It’s the extinction burst.
Extinction bust is an old idea in behavioral theory that is a fancy way of saying things get worse before they get better. Check out this graph:
The above graph is charting a child’s behavioral change after being exposed to an intervention. The first five dots represent the baseline behavior or how things were before any attempt at change was made. The vertical line is the when something was introduced to change the behavior, in my case the line would represent the day I gave up spending money on quilting stuff. Notice what happens next? It gets worse…a lot worse. When you really think about it this actually makes sense. If throwing a screaming fit gets me my way and then one day you tell me that screaming won’t work anymore, I’m going to up my screaming fit to see if you’re serious. If you give in and let me have my way, then I learned that you’re not serious and more screaming works. If you hold your ground, I learn that screaming fits don’t work any more and I need to pick a new behavior.
My sister is a special education teacher, working with kids with how struggle to control their emotions. She says all the time, “The way to guarantee an undesirable behavior lasts FOREVER is to respond to it inconsistently.”
I know all this stuff. Which really stinks because I can’t pretend that I really need the needle holder for my EPP projects. I don’t. I already have one and there are other ways I can thread multiple needles at a time that are free or use what I already have. This desire is me looking for a fix. It is a distraction from something else.
So instead of shopping or updating my Amazon wish list, I’m sitting with the discomfort and breathing through it. I’m focusing on the projects I have in progress and letting myself bounce around between them. I am reminding myself there is no connection between what I own or buy and my value as a human. Then I take another deep breath.
*I love my Clover needle holder. It’s great to thread 10 needles at once and then sew, sew, sew. If you’re not on a spending freeze because of emotional spending, I highly recommend it.