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Confessions of a Kleptomaniac

I became a drug addict after years of pocketing things from friends and strangers — and even my own grandmother.

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The last time I stole was only just over a year ago. I was drunk after a gallery opening in the town center. I wouldn’t call it a relapse—you have to have a program in order to relapse, and my relationship with the 12 Steps was a bit like one you'd have with a dirty diaper: arm's length with my nose in the air. I was walking up one of the many hills in Wales and passed an all-night bar where I sometimes performed poetry. I was broke but I popped in, hoping the owner would give me a free drink, which he did. Then he told me he was short-staffed for the night shift. Was I interested?

I took complete advantage. I drank lashings of tequila, short-changed the customers and stole money from the register. Not that I really needed the cash—I was to be paid at the end of the shift—but it was that old power-rush, combined with being too drunk to stop myself. I never got another shift, and I still don’t know if it was because of the drinking, or the stealing, or whether the owner never noticed anything.

Today, I’m 27 and have a recovery based on meditation and Buddhist principles. It's not exactly what everyone recommends—"It's important that any drug addict receive specialized counseling for drug addiction and stealing addiction," says Shulman, "and that he or she ideally read books on both topics and attend support groups on both topics"—but it's what I do.

Every day I try to cultivate a calm and quiet mind and a peaceful, harmonious existence. Instead of focusing on “giving up” or “stopping” taking drugs and drink, I just practice my meditation and observe the principles. A former addict who was a meditation teacher of mine told me that if do this, my addiction will weaken and eventually fall away—and it feels that it has.

I find that if I break a universal law—what Buddhists would call Dhamma—I disturb the balance of my mind, and if that happens, I'll eventually seek a cure with a bag of dope. So I try not to lie, or take advantage of people, or steal. Hell, I even quit smoking, and turned vegetarian so I wouldn’t be responsible for killing animals. Occasionally, I have an outbreak of old behaviors, but these instances are becoming less frequent the more I practice. The shame and guilt have less of a grip.

Dr. Jeff Gardere is a psychologist and the author of two books on parenting. "We do see very young children who begin to steal and it is a sign of some emotional disturbance, a lack of permanence in their lives or a psycho-symbolic way to fill the void in their lives," he tells me. "That void may come from a lack of love from parental figures, or from emotionally unhealthy environments." He also agrees with me that stealing "may be a way of taking back power from a strictly disciplined childhood...breaking out of the very strict upbringing and rigid rules by engaging in rule-breaking and sometimes chaotic behavior."

My shame and guilt grew. I found myself barely able to look at the things I stole, but I couldn’t stop. In the end, I just hid that side of me away—the side that stole and lied—until it felt like my personality had split: I was both my parents’ shiny-shoed boy and a hidden, Gollum-like creature. But the years 11-15 became a relatively stable and happy time for me. My family moved to a small town and my father left the church to pursue a business career. I got a paper round and a brand new bike, and the strict discipline relaxed. I had more freedom to be myself, and I stopped stealing—until, that is, I started on the drugs.

 
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