I'm stranded in a parking lot in Anaheim, in front of a Spanish language health care clinic. I can smell Little Ceasars pizza, and there's a woman singing opera in the apartment next to me. She sounds like Snow White when she sings to the birds. I ran out of gas so Linsey's bringing me the gas can. Oops.
I am grateful for:
-My (mostly) sweet pre-teen daughter Ashley, who's braces-filled smile lights up my day. And that she still IM's me “I love u” on Facebook.
-That James still begs me to play light-saber fights with him.
-That Linsey and I filled Valentine's Day with love and patience, not hurt and alcohol.
-That every night I have chihuahuas nestled up against my head and my ankles.
-That I got to sing and play the piano for a living this morning. And I'm thankful for the song “Our God.”
-I have pink eye. I'm not grateful for that(!), but I'm thankful it's getting better. Man, it itches.
-For thirty days of sanity.
-That people I've never met bother to read my site and leave comments that have helped me through some awful times.
-For my rabbit Max, who's dug a cave system under my patio. Now that the rain has stopped, he's sunning himself outside my window.
-That I have bro's I can call – like my cousin who came and helped me patch my tire this week. For some reason that flat tire had me feeling helpless and depressed, but I didn't have to deal with it alone.
-For parents who live down the street and will loan me $ to buy antibiotic eye-drops when my bank account's totally empty.
I had to ask the Starbucks girl for chocolate-covered graham crackers – they were behind the counter. She said an “old lady” steals them so the staff hide them. Ooh, that hurts. Did they talk about me that way? Back when I stole their CDs?
Starbucks was one of the main stops in Eli's little theft ring back in my kleptomaniac days. What do they expect? They display all their merchandise out in the open and the employees are frantically distracted making drinks. If you don't frequent Starbucks (first of all, why?) they feature about four CDs at a time in a little display in front of the register. These change throughout the year. I think there's a section of my massive CD collection that's almost exclusively Starbucks CDs, and not one of them was paid for. Probably a couple of year's worth.
I didn't steal like a drug-addict, to fund my habit. I stole for the thrill of it. CDs and DVDs, electronics, office supplies, jewelry, music equipment, sex toys, and of course, that cornerstone of my addictive behaviors, over-the-counter cough syrup. I guess in a sense, I did steal to fund my drug habit. I was just lucky enough (?) to be able to steal my actual drug. None of this stealing-and-hawking that Linsey's older brother had to do. (When she was a teenager, nothing my wife hid was safe. Her brother hawked all of her jewelry for PCP.)
A guy in my SAA group told me he had been a shoplifter as well, and he understood. He understood what happens in my brain when I steal. He said that studies had shown it was similar to a heroin rush, on a smaller scale. I don't know what “studies” he was referring to, I just know that I kept going back for more.
I kept track. I had a spreadsheet that summed the total estimated value of what I had stolen. When it reached $5,000 I stopped recording it. I stole from family and friends, schools, libraries, mom-and-pop joints, corporate giants, and every drug-store I could find. I delighted in getting around preventative measures. Cameras and alarm systems were just a challenge.
I don't know how I will make amends for all of this. I'm not trying to figure that out just yet. I'm just trying to root out the buried memories of all those offenses and make my fourth step as accurate as possible. I'm guessing I'll have to wade through some combination of written apologies and financial retributions. I don't know how I'll pay for these - it gives me a stomach ache.
A counselor once told me that stealing-as-an-addiction betrays buried anger. It does. I felt the world owed me. Cleptomaniacs and Shoplifters Anonymous asks “How much would you have to steal to finally feel satisfied or to make life fair?” Like any other addiction, there's never enough. Never.
So if you work in a Southern California drug store, and you've ever found three empty cough syrup boxes and the empty packaging for a Durex vibrating cock ring stashed behind the dog food, I'm sorry. Shame isn't a strong enough word. I was trying to get away from real life, to my “bubble”, pleasantly high and having sex with a computer. And I didn't want to leave a purchase trail that my wife could find.
I just need to make sure this habit stays in the past.
I wish I only had to introduce you to ME: dad, husband, songwriter, pastor. That’s the guy I see in the mirror. I love my kids, I’m good at fixing things, I love to read or chase my dogs around the house. But I lose track of myself sometimes when I’m hurting. That’s when my addict comes around, the bastard who would throw it all away for a moment alone with his drugs and his porn. He cuts me with a razor and he steals things just for the rush. He’s even tried to kill me. But there’s a huge difference between us, and I’ll tell you what it is: He’s a coward. And I’m not. I won’t let him have my kids, my beautiful wife, my job or my home. And since he hates exposure, I’m going to tell you all about him. I’m Eli, and I’m an addict.