Instant Gratification and Prolonged Disatisfaction

I’m familiar with instant gratification.

It’s what binging and bulimia thrive on. Strong desire; fast food; instant gratification.

Food is one form; according to the media, consumerism is another.

I agree. The parallels don’t surprise me. Having spent much of 2003 to 2005 in supermarkets, I’m familiar with the lure.

When you’re in the middle of a great gaping emotional void, shops are quite appealing. They’re a preoccupation and then a full time occupation. When nothing feels particularly great, they’re a haven of soft lighting and soothing music and promises. When you want, they provide – with the drip drip drip of addiction: the gratification may be instant, but the satisfaction doesn’t last much longer.

It wears off pretty quick – and just leaves you wanting more.

In 2004, I cottoned on to what was happening pretty quickly and wrote the following bit. I’m a little more eloquent (hopefully!) now, but this says it how it was:

I know that the people in the supermarket recognise me now. I have trawled the shelves for so many hours, over so many days, that I am almost part of the fixtures. Sometimes they look at me curiously or the checkout girls comment that I must be cooking something nice, or, oh, haven’t I got some good bargains. I joke to myself that I must be the queen of bargains, or that I would be the perfect shop assistant, or even create elaborate stories to explain away my obscene purchases, but inside, I imagine them laughing at me and I want to hide.

A pubescent, spotty-faced boy determines my feelings, holds the key to my mood. If he has been round, cockily, with his red pen that promises relief, then I will be elated, relieved. If he is running late, or is chatting away or idly, or decides that he isn’t going to knock the price down that much, he renders me a nervous and agitated wreck. When I realised how much power he wielded, I was terrified and ashamed. Is this what I have become?

Once you have caught the reduction disease, it is hard to give it up. The better the reduction, the harder the cure. The trap is set: justifying paying treble the price for something that you’ve paid virtually nothing for in the past becomes increasingly harder. With every good bargain, the highs and the lows intensify. You get used to it, you see, come to expect it, and when it is not there, the disappointment is crushing. Therefore, the elation is always bittersweet, it is always tinged with the inevitable frustration that a new standard has been created, an unsustainable standard and one that you have no control over.

I have noticed that I am not alone in this pursuit. I have come to recognise my competitors, to anticipate their presence and avoid their eyes. In some ways, I do not want to associate myself with the woman, always in killer red lipstick and equally lethal stilettos, who actually climbs up onto the shelving to grab her goodies, or the pushy, expensively dressed housewives that congregate around the Waitrose reductions, as they emphasise the embarrassment that my behaviour provokes. At other times, they are my comfort and my excuse: I am not the only person who spends hours in supermarkets and refuses to pay the full price for anything. It is not me though. I am not this person. The addict is this person.

I sometimes think that this is one of the situations where ignorance is bliss. If I didn’t know that Sainsbury’s reduced their food at approximately 4.15, or that Waitrose slashed their prices 20 minutes before closing time, or that around bank holidays, everything was a lot cheaper, I would never have got into this habit. My days would not be determined by the supermarket’s timetable; the guilt and panic that missing a potential reduction provoked would be gone; the driving necessity would not be so painful. I would not be left with a freezer bursting with food that is contributing to my destruction.

It was the physical consequences that struck me at the time. I was overwhelmed by the volume. With other things, the dependency isn’t so visible. Even if it’s just as soul destroying.

Cracking the food shop habit wasn’t the end of my journey. It was replaced by Sunday afternoons in clothes shops and guilt tainted plastic bags; with pointless wanderings and the same question – what’s the point; with indecision (which one) and price comparison (how much) and mental negotiations….

The breakthrough was twofold. It happened when the frustration and the indecision and the guilt and the futility became too much – and when life kicked in.

It came from a simple little question: “but do you really need anything?” and a a painfully honest answer: “yes, but nothing that I can buy”.

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