Confessions of a Kleptomaniac
Continued from previous page
I wish I could say I stopped. But my drug habit only grew. I managed to control my stealing temporarily, by taking a part-time job at the local supermarket and dealing on the side. At university, things got worse still.
I became a total booze and coke fiend as a student. I worked two part-time jobs, where I was noted for my extreme unreliability. I was fired from one job as a kitchen porter four times, but always begged my way back in. I took every student loan and credit card going, and gleefully ran up huge debts. I lied to the university hardship fund—a lot. I told them my parents were getting divorced and I had no money for food. Then I lied to my parents and told them I had no money for rent and my books were too expensive.
After university heroin largely took over from booze and cocaine, and my house of cards tumbled. My parents could no longer deny to themselves how much trouble I was in: I mean, I was homeless and just could not stop taking smack. So they packed me off to rehab. I came out and stayed clean for a few months, refrained from stealing and lived within my tiny means in a small town in northern England. But there were no jobs up there, so I decided to move in with my grandmother in London, in the hope of finding work and a new life.
I certainly found a dealer pretty quick. And as using gripped me again, I found it harder and harder not notice my grandmother’s PIN, which she entered with trembling hands at the ATM whenever I took her shopping. Tiredness can make it much harder to make the right choices, I tell myself. I was certainly tired the day I "let myself" learn her PIN—late-night crack binges will do that to you. From then on, my grandmother’s money might as well have been in my dealer’s hands already.
She kept asking me, “Why are you always tired?” and “Why are you not doing anything?” I gave in to the temptation of her bank account on the day of the Royal Wedding. I watched on TV as Kate walked up the aisle 10 miles away, gritting my teeth and telling myself I wasn't going to steal, wasn't going to use. William kissed Kate. I got up, took my grandmother's bank card, called out, “I’m just going to meet a friend,” and shut the door behind me.
A few days later I rang my mother and told her what I'd done. I felt full of poison. She arrived the next day to take me back to my parents' new home in Wales. The courage it took me to call up my mum and confess gave me a little piece of much-needed evidence that I wasn’t a bad person. Even so, I found, as I left my grandmother in tears, that I couldn’t feel ashamed any more. Some things are too horrible for guilt. I retreated inside myself and wondered if I'd finally broken everything.
But that little piece of honesty was the start of a healing process. In those months living back at home, I was honest with my mum about my problems for the first time. And the more honest I was, the less ashamed I felt. I stayed clean from drugs and stealing during this time, through a combination of 12-step meetings and the much-maligned "geographic" cure.
So is kleptomania a "real" addiction? No, says the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which classifies it only as an "impulse control disorder." Experts answer the question in different ways. "Kleptomania is classified as an impulse control disorder and is a relatively rare condition," notes Shulman. "But I do believe stealing can become addictive for many people, as it mimics addiction to other negative behaviors such as gambling. I think it can be labeled as an addiction in certain but not all cases." Gardere says, "Stealing can be an addiction in that it can be very compulsive and is a self-medication for either reducing anxiety or combating depression. But he cautions, "Stealing by itself should not be seen as an addiction; rather the feelings that cause one to act out and steal are usually diagnosable, such as the anxiety, depression, or even compulsions/OCD."