Saturday, August 9, 2014

Confessions of a Kleptomaniac

Before I start this week's post, I must apologize to all of you for once again stumbling last week. I could have made a post last Saturday, but I was so beyond busy running this fundraiser for my non-profit organization that I simply did not have the energy to sit down and write something meaningful and shocking for two hours. On the plus side, the fundraiser--which was a silent auction and dinner with live entertainment that showcased what our organization does--was incredibly successful and I'm pretty proud of myself that I actually managed to pull it off. I'm glad it's over though. You never understand how much time goes into event planning until you actually do it.

Anyway, I appreciate your patience and your continual support. It means a lot to me. Just the knowledge that there are people in my life who read this blog, know the changes and growth I've gone through, and still love me unconditionally and respect my life decisions is beyond amazing. If I didn't have that, the transitions I've been experiencing would be much harder. Still possible, because even if I don't have anyone else, I always have God. But friends and family are definitely a plus.

The blessing of good friends has been something I value very highly in my life. If it weren't for certain individuals and social groups (plug for Young Mormon Feminists and the Dance Syndicate), I wouldn't be where I am today. I wouldn't be the woman I am now. I would have never learned to let go of my past, while still embracing my weaknesses and the influence many past trials have had on my life.

I've already discussed in detail how my sexual assault has changed my life, for the worse in the past and for the better now. I've also admitted to my weaknesses pertaining to my sexuality and some negative choices I've made because of that. And now it's time to get a little uncomfortable and be really honest again, because I just love to be an open book and have everyone judge me. Yay. Let's get started!

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I remember the first time I ever took something that wasn't mine. I was probably six I think. My aunt wouldn't buy me the gum I wanted, so I opened the package and took out just one piece. I felt so incredibly guilty and I'm pretty sure my aunt caught me too. But I was a little kid and I didn't know all that much about boundaries. It didn't seem to be that big of a deal.

I started making my own money around 14, which is when I learned the importance of frugality, monetary management, and financial responsibility. I also discovered how great it feels to buy something with my own money I worked hard to earn. To know you own entirely that thing you bought is the greatest feeling in the world for practically everyone between the ages of 12 and 30. But working also taught me that being able to buy and own things comes with the added understanding that there is now a world of things you can't have.

When you're a little kid, it feels like you can get pretty much anything you want. The only time you can't is when your parents say no. But suddenly, I'm all grown up and it's not just my mom telling me no; it's an entire business and social system pushing me down with a constant stream of "no, no, no." This happens in all aspects of life, especially surrounding assumptions about success based on sex, class, and race ("You're not strong enough to do that; you're a girl." "You can't go to UCLA; you're not rich." "You can't become the president of the United States; you're black."). As a 14-year old, and even now, the biggest "no"s that affect me are the ones associated with money. It's so infuriating to know the only thing standing between you and your success and needs and wants is green paper. Money is everything in this world; yet it's literally nothing. And somehow, it's still more powerful than a living, breathing human being.

Something I've never allowed in my life is the toxic "can't"s and "impossible"s that can deteriorate a person. Whenever someone would tell me I couldn't do something, I always made a point to prove them wrong. However, I didn't always do it in a healthy way. I'm much better about it now, and I've learned how to apply respect and decorum to the same situations without mitigating basic components of my responses to negativity. Unfortunately, my 14-year old self was not nearly that smart.

I decided at this young age that money was stupid and I wasn't going to let it be a barrier between me and anything in life. What was the action applied to this thought? Why, I took things I couldn't afford, of course. Bravo, 14 year old Keli. Well done.

It started out small at first. I only took little things like 1 ounce perfume bottles and cheap earrings. It wasn't a normal thing; just a few times. Then one day I really liked a blouse I couldn't possibly afford. I stuffed it in my purse and walked out of the store like I was the most honest person in the world. I still have it hanging in my closet; I never wore it even once.


I, being the huge nerd I am, decided the most beneficial use of my new "talent" was to get all the books I had ever wanted. I love reading, and I have two bookcases full to prove it. Trips to Border's were a weekly occurrence and every now and then, I'd actually buy something. But mostly, I walked out with two or three books, never having glanced at the cashier. It was months before I did anything about it.

I started to hate myself, but I didn't want to stop because it was convenient. It was so easy. I could have anything I wanted, and no one had to know. But I would stare at my book shelves filled with books I didn't pay for and I knew it wasn't right. I finally told my mom and I let her know I wanted to pay my debt. I worked really hard for a month and did whatever my parents asked of me until I could pay it all back--all 535 dollars worth.

Returning those books in a big white bag and going up to the manager to explain what I had done was one of the most embarrassing and challenging things I've ever gone through. She was really kind about the situation; she thanked me for my honesty and said that it was good I did this now, because if I had ever gotten caught, they would have had to call the police. I paid for all the books and gave them back, too. I prayed to God for that to be the end of it.

Sadly, it wasn't. I did really good for awhile there, but it wasn't long before I slipped into the old ways. I can't even imagine what the worth is of all the makeup and clothing I took. Being a girl is so expensive! Stupid beauty care companies that make billions of dollars off of women's insecurities...

The last thing I ever stole was a $50 bottle of perfume. I thought I was going to get away with it, but an older woman grabbed me as I was walking out. She told me I had to follow her and she escorted me into a back room where I had to wait for my dad to come and get me. I was bawling my eyes out; I was so scared. I thought for sure I was going to jail. My dad arrived and of course he was angry and disappointed and frustrated. I didn't blame him. We were allowed to pay a very large fee and sign a contract stating I was not allowed on the premises for three years, and they wouldn't report me. That was one of the worst days of my life.

Well, it's been three years this month and I haven't given in to the urge. I've paid for everything I own. I try to be honest in everything I do. And if I can't afford something, I leave it on the shelf. Where it belongs.

It's hard to admit, but this is still a constant struggle for me. I stole things. I was a thief. I am a kleptomaniac. Which means, by definition, that I have an obsessive desire to take things that aren't mine. Even if I don't necessarily need it, and even when I actually can afford it. I can't really explain it to you, but it's a real weakness. It's not a matter of deciding whether I want to steal something or not like it is for other people. It's a matter of deciding, consciously, to not take anything. I walk into a store, and I can feel my body react to the obsessive behavior associated with my kleptomania. I have to talk to myself and internally say, "you will not steal anything. You will pay for everything you take out of this store."

And that's exactly what I do. I fight the urge. I choose not to give in. Kleptomania is just like alcoholism or a drug addiction or any other vice people fight against. It affects my brain the same way. It's part of who I am, but I can choose not to give in. I can make the conscious decision to not take something, which is always my automatic response in order to deal with the withdrawals and urges. It's extremely hard sometimes, but incredibly doable.
I am a Kleptomaniac and I'm three years straight. It's a part of my past, not my future. I'm not the same person I was at 16. I'm not asking for your approval. I'm not asking for your judgmental comments or your sympathy or your dis-acknowledgement of psychological disorders. I'm just telling you like it is. You can take it or leave it.