Unload the Gun

Strategies to stop stealing NOW!

Before you begin this page, please review my DISCLAIMER.  This website is not intended to render clinical, legal or other professional services, and should not be considered – in any way – a substitute for legal advice, professional therapy/counseling, or group therapy.

In this section we will look at strategies to stop stealing immediately while you work on discovering the hidden reasons that drive your theft addiction. These strategies can help to prevent you from getting into more trouble as you learn to overcome your shoplifting addiction.

When a person has a stealing addiction, stealing is usually not the root problem. In other words, you probably don’t shoplift because you need what you steal, or because you are a greedy person. Perhaps you shoplift because you feel:

  • Life is unfair.
  • No one cares about your needs.
  • You are powerless over your own life.
  • Your life is not exciting.
  • You are depressed.

It can be both a difficult and time-consuming task to discover why you have been shoplifting, and how to correct the underlying issue that led you to start stealing. However, while you are searching and unraveling the real causes of your self-destructive shoplifting behavior, you must find a way to “manually” prevent yourself from stealing.

Self-Destructive Behavior
Taking the bullets out of a suicidal person’s gun will not solve the real problem that makes them want to die. However, if you don’t unload the gun you may not have the chance to understand and address why that person does not want to live. Similarly, you must find a strategy to stop shoplifting now at the beginning of your search to discover why you are stealing. Terry Shulman, in his book, Something for Nothing, says, “In early recovery, you need to not only take the bullet out of the gun, you need to take the gun out of your hand.” Let’s look at some ways to unload the gun.

Strategies for Unloading the Gun 
What follows are practical strategies for staying safe (not stealing) while you look for the real cause that is driving your addiction.

In the lines below, discuss what it means to you to “unload the gun.” (For example, tell how you are afraid that you might not be able to stop shoplifting. Talk about how long you’ve been stealing. Does part of you crave the thrill you get from shoplifting?)
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“It is a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door.
You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet,
there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
–JRR Tolkien, “Lord of the Rings”

Strategy 1: Stay out of shops.

Stay out of shops?  You may think that this step is on the extreme side, or even impossible. People from our shoplifting support group will tell you that it is not only possible – but staying away from stores can be vital to your recovery. It has been reported to me by several sources that Terry Shulman counsels all his therapy clients to stay out of shops for at least six months.

You have two choices:
1. Stay out of shops for a set time and eliminate the possibility of shoplifting.
2. Continue to shop and hope you can stand under the temptation.

I personally did not stay out of shops because it seemed ridiculous that I would ever shoplift again – and I have not. But I could have been wrong. It was a big risk. I kept the gun in my hand, and I looking back I see that there was at least one bullet left in the chamber. In other words, I gambled with my future by continuing to shop in stores in the early months of my recovery.

When you choose to continue going into shops, you are putting yourself in great danger. The key flaw in continuing to shop in the early stages of your addiction is – you can’t know what you don’t know. The point is that you don’t know how to stop shoplifting. So it is a big gamble and it puts you at great personal risk to go shopping when you don’t even know for sure that you can overcome your compulsive feelings that can overwhelm you as you shop. Therefore, the strongest consideration should be given to staying out of shops altogether for a while.

Make a wise decision. It could alter the very path of your life, relationships, and financial future.

Why should you stay out of shops?

You may be asking yourself, “Why should I have to stay out of shops for a while?”  That is a really good question, and the following are my ideas on why it might help you:

Staying out of shops is the only way to ensure you are not tempted to shoplift. People who have addictive behavior typically need to be separated from their addiction for a time to provide an opportunity to learn to live life in a healthy and balanced way. For example, one member of our C.A.S.A. group said that she did not know how to shop normally, and that she was a shopaholic. She was advised to stay out of stores for a few months. She did, and she reported that the time away from shopping gave her a chance to “reset her attitude” about how and why she should shop. Physical separation from your addiction, therefore, seems to allow your mental and emotional aspects catch up and get with the program of a new lifestyle. In the last few years I have heard several members say that they could not have stopped shoplifting if they had not refrained from entering any shops for a period of weeks, or months.

It’s your turn. Explore what good things could possible come by staying out of shops until you are more experienced in overcoming an addiction to shoplifting. (Examples: “I won’t be shoplifting for a short time as long as I’m not in a store.” “I will feel good about doing something that will help me stop shoplifting immediately.” “It will give me a chance to think about my habits and thought patters.”)

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Staying out of shops will help you to establish your new habit.

“Sow a thought and you will reap a word;
sow a word and you will reap an action;
sow and action and you will reap a habit;
sow a habit and you will reap a character;
sow a character and you will reap a destiny.”
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

You have a compulsion to shoplift. You now need to establish a pattern in your mind of staying safe, and for you, that may mean staying out of all stores for a while. Your brain counts your safe (shoplifting free) days for you. Every day that you do not steal creates neural pathways in your brain making it easier to overcome your compulsion to shoplift. Your brain physically changes and forms new and strengthened pathways of thought for every day you live honestly and without theft. That should give you hope!  It is a scientifically proven fact that your brain and the way you think can be changed – moving toward sanity, peace, and balance in your life. Put science on your side by staying out of shops for while. (Later we will have a whole lesson on the brain.)

In the lines below, talk about some of the compulsions you have been able to overcome. How did your addictions get rooted in your way of life, and how long did it take to overcome them? Do you think that staying out of shops will help you get started on your road to a safe shoplifting-free life? Be creative and talk about how staying out of stores can work for you, if that is what you choose to do.
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You cannot trust yourself in the beginning stages of recovery from an addiction. Your brain is a wonderfully complex thinking machine, but it also has the ability to deceive you subconsciously. In other words, you can fool yourself without even knowing it. There are many ways that we deceive ourselves, and the following are just a few of those ways:

Your brain is a master at helping you deny reality. For example, you might convince yourself that it is impossible for you to stay out of stores for a set amount of time, despite the fact that many people from all walks of life stay out of stores every day. Your brain would reason that if it is impossible for you to stay out of stores, then why even consider it? That same type of denial that helped convince you that you would never get caught shoplifting, and yet here you are. Denial is your brain’s refusal to see the truth that is right in front of you. Consider below what would happen if a judge gave you a choice: stay out of stores, or go to jail for six months. Would that affect your thinking process?

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You might imagine that your addiction to shoplifting can be overcome without the “extreme” measure of staying out of stores. Your mind may not want to believe that you are out of control, so it may minimalize the problem. You may tell yourself that you are strong enough to overcome your urges to steal with a simple change of mind. In other words, you tell yourself that you are stronger than you actually are rather than admit to yourself that you are addicted to stealing. You may  minimalize the severity of your addiction in order to keep yourself from taking the action required to stop stealing. You may attempt to deal with your problem in half measures, but this is a serous problem that must be faced with all of your energy and commitment. Staying out of stores protects you from the mental error of minimalization.

”Half measures availed us nothing.”
—Alcoholics Anonymous

Accepting yourself for who you are, with all of your flaws, is admitting that you are human. You are not “more than human” or “less than human.” [Concepts from John Bradshaw’s book, “Healing the Shame that Binds You.”] “You are perfectly imperfect.” It is OK to admit that you are human, and that you have problems that you need help solving. It is OK to admit that you may not be strong enough to go shopping without shoplifting – for a time.

Have you ever caught yourself minimalizing your stealing problem? Write out how serious you think your stealing problem is, what might be at risk, and what you are willing to do to stop. Do you feel that you will bring shame upon yourself if you admit that your theft problem is a serious threat to your life? Write your answers below.

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Next, your brain might create reasons (rational-lies) why you don’t have to stay out of stores for a specific period of time. You may say things like, “I need to make myself strong by shopping and building up my willpower,” or “I have to learn to live in the real world.” There will be just enough truth in your self deception to make you believe your own lies. For example, one of the participants in our phone support group was new to addiction recovery and shared with the group that she was going to continue to shop despite Terry’s advice. A few weeks went by and she remained safe. On about the third week she was in a shop and was overcome with a strong urge to shoplift. She came on the call and told the group that she had changed her mind, and that she had decided to stay out of shops for a time. She finally understood the reason for Terry’s counsel. She did not shoplift that night, but she came close.

Do you really know how strong you are in overcoming your theft addiction? Can you think of any “logical reasons” why you should not consider staying out of stores? Are you willing to consider staying out of shops, or have you determined that you will continue shopping no matter what you read in this workbook? (Note that I am not saying that you cannot stop shoplifting without banning yourself from all stores. I am saying that there is good reason to consider it, and your decision should not be made without first listening with an open mind.)

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You may be deciding to shoplift long before you arrive at the store, and you may not no even know that you have made that decision until you are reaching for the item to slip into your pocket. The truth is that until you have dealt with the underlying issues that helped you start shoplifting to begin with, you will probably continue to give in to your urges. In fact, you may not know the actual moment that you decided to steal again, says Dr. Lance Dodes, MD, in his book, “Breaking Addiction: A 7-Step Handbook for Ending Any Addiction.” The general idea behind this concept is called “The moment of addiction,” and it is a reference to the very moment you decide to give in to your compulsion – which sometimes happens subconsciously. The moment of addiction usually takes place long before you actually arrive at a store. The basic idea is that you become triggered to steal through a situation in your life that makes you feel helpless or powerless, and your mind creates a legitimate reason as to why you really need to go to the store. Then while you are at the store you give in to your temptation to shoplift, but your actual decision was made long before you arrived at the shop. In other words, your subconscious deceives your conscious mind. For example, imagine you are trying to stop stealing batteries. You decide that you do not want to steal anymore, so you are going to stay out of the store to avoid bateries. Then you have a conflict at work and you feel overwhelmed and you get triggered emotionally. Your brain at this point decides that you really need some electrical tape for a project that you’ve been wanting to complete. Subconsciously you know that the battery rack “just happens to be” on the way to the electrical tape section of the store, and that you will steal some batteries while in the store. You have just tricked yourself into shoplifting again by subconsciously planning to pass by the battery rack. The point is, if you are committed to not going into stores for a specified amount of time, you will be less likely to fool yourself as described above. (I highly recommend Dr. Dodes’s book for a fresh perspective on addiction.)

Have you ever caught your brain giving your all sorts of reasons as to Why it is a great idea to participate in self-destructive activities? Have you ever looked back after shoplifting and realized that you did not “slip,” but rather you were the victim of your own subconscious dark plan? Have you made any discoveries in this area? How do you think it can help you to analyze your thinking process? (I know I am smartest when I am trying to talk myself into doing something stupid. I have looked back trying to figure out what went wrong, only to realize that I was playing tricks on myself the whole time I was stealing. For me it was like turning on a light in a dark room in my mind.)

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Another obstacle to thinking clearly is our human desire to be right. In his book, “Breathing Under Water,” Richard Rohr talks about our tendency as humans to desire certitude. We erroneously believe we know the answers to life’s questions, and we have and overwhelming desire to be right. The better way is to keep an open mind knowing that our knowledge and wisdom is limited. I remember reading this book, and how Rohr’s words broke me down and opened my eyes to my self-destructive delusions. I finally admitted to myself that I did not know how to work everything out, and I would need to rely on those who walked before me in order to get back to sanity in my. (I highly recommend “Breathing Under Water” for everyone addicted to shoplifting.) I do not know it all, and you don’t either. It is a wonderful thing to let go and say, “I don’t know, and I am open to ideas for help in this addiction.” It is a relief to look for help in written material without continuously trying to label it as wrong, or constructing arguements as to how the material does not apply to you.

“Experience is the best teacher, but the tuition sure is high.”

Write down some times you can remember when you thought you knew something, but you turned out to be wrong. Are you open minded, or do you Have the tendency to label ideas write or wrong as soon and you hear them? Can you think of a time where your logical thinking turned out to be illogical?

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How can you stay out of shops?

Obviously, it will not be easy to stay out of stores. You have to buy food and other items to take care of yourself in everyday life. You must overcome the following obstacles:

  1. My stealing is a secret so I cannot avoid stores without revealing my problem. Answer: It is unhealthy to live a double life with secrets. It’s time for you to come clean and own up to your “dark side.” A secret and deceptive inner life is what fuels the burning compulsion to steal. You are going to have to come out of the darkness or you will never be able to see your own problem clearly. The choice is yours to make, and I highly recommend that you seek professional counseling/therapy before revealing your secret to loved ones. But this is a step that cannot be skipped. Clinical studies show that people with a stealing problem recover faster and more effectively with the help of their immediate family and/or close friends.

NOTE: Telling others about your shoplifting problem can do more harm than good if you tell the wrong person. Listen to your inner voice for guidance on who to share your secret with and ask for help.

  1. How will I get my groceries and other needed items? Answer:
  • Request help from friends and family.
  • Request a delivery service for groceries and other needed items. You may have to pay for this service, but it is cheaper than jail, court fines, and lawyer fees.
  • You can get Wal-Mart to put all your shopping item together for you, and you can pick them up outside the store. Click Here to check it out.
  • Attend a local support group of any type. Ask someone for help in shopping. Offer to pay them if you feel that is appropriate.

You will have to find a way. Make your plan in the lines below. Your plan must include a commitment to do what you must to stay safe. Search on the internet for your area and see what services might be available. Perhaps a neighborhood teen could do your shopping for you to make some pocket cash. Make a list of everyone that might be able to get you over this hurdle. Think! Be creative! Share this challenge with your group.

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Strategy 2: Shop with a “toolbox.”

Before you even think about going into a shop, you need a plan and strategy for how you will deal with shopping without giving in to your addictive compulsion to shoplift. We call your shopping strategies your “toolbox.”  The following are some helpful tips given by those who have overcome a shoplifting addiction.

Limit your shopping time.

To be wise and optimize your chances of successfully resisting any urge to steal – it is best to limit the amount of time you spend in any store. You can limit the amount of time you spend in a shop by doing the following:

  • Make a list of the items that you NEED and commit to never stray from your list. Some even order their list according to the layout of the store in which they will be shopping.
    NOTE: Commit to yourself before you enter the store that you will leave at the moment you start to stray from your list.
  • Shop at one “superstore” where you can get everything you need. (Some of the superstores like Wal-Mart will match coupons from any competitor to help you save money too.)
  • When possible, shop on the internet. It is hard to get stuff in your pockets through high-speed cable.
    Caution: If you have a problem with overspending, shopping on the Internet may not be a good part of your personal strategy for staying out of shops.

What will you do to limit your time in the store when you go? Are you committed to refrain from browsing in stored without having a specific list and plan of attack?

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Note that this is a plan of attack because you are in a battle for your life. Don’t go into the battle front (a store) without your bullet-proof vest and riffle (A list and a plan.).

Take a trusted friend with you who knows about your stealing problem.

  • Take someone with you to shop with you and watch you like a hawk. This is best to do for the first few weeks until you being to gain confidence and strength to resist and analyze any urges you experience while in the shop with your shopping buddy. This person can be family, friend or group member.
  • Make a list of people you can call who know about your stealing problem and can stay on the phone with you the whole time you are in the store. If you are unable to find someone to go with you and you really need to go into a shop, get out your list and call someone. If you can’t reach anyone on your list – DON’T GO SHOPPING.

NOTE: Find a way to have someone with you, or at a minimum have someone on the phone with you BEFORE YOU WALK INTO THE SHOP. It is our tendency to trick ourselves into believing that we don’t need help, or to “forget” that we can go into the shop alone, or to think of some other reason why we can go alone. This is a battle that takes advanced planning and personal self-awareness of the many ways we deceive ourselves.

Take no loose clothing or other items that can be used to conceal merchandise.

I used to love winter so I could wear a coat that would conceal merchandise I wanted to steal. There are many tricks that those addicted to stealing use to hide items from security. You will have to make up your own list of tricks to avoid, but the following are some common helpful rules for reducing your temptation to steal while in a store:

  • Don’t wear baggy clothing that is easy to conceal merchandise in.
  • Don’t take your coat in with you. It is better to be cold than to steal and be arrested.
  • Don’t take a purse or any type of bag that may be used to hide merchandise in.
  • Don’t take a baby stroller or other type of cart, as this also can be used by those addicted to stealing as a way to obscure items you want to steal.
  • Don’t take extra items of clothing that can be used to place over merchandise when you are checking out or leaving the store.
  • NOTE: One lady in our support group actually sowed up the pocket of her coat to remove the temptation! That is the kind of innovative thinking you need to employ.

Only wear tight clothing and only take in a pocketbook or a wallet instead of a purse. Your mind will come up with all sorts of reasons why you just can’t go shopping without the above items – but they will be just lame excuses to make it easier for you to “slip” and steal something. Remember, to rationalize is to tell yourself “rational lies.” (Stephen Covey)

Don’t go shopping if you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

You should never go shopping if you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. The acronym “H.A.L.T.” stands for hungry, angry, lonely or tired. All people who have a stealing problem should halt and not go shopping when they are:

  • Hungry: When you are hungry your body and mind feel a craving that wants to be satisfied. That is why most dieticians tell you to not shop when you are hungry as you will select the wrong food, and even buy more food than you need. Being full when you go shopping will assist you in sticking to your commitment to stay safe and shoplifting-free.
  • Angry: When you are angry you will typically make decisions from the wrong part of your brain. That is why the state of being angry is often called “mad.”  To be “mad” is to be crazy and incapable of seeing things clearly, and incapable of making logical decisions.
  • Lonely: When you are lonely you naturally look for ways to fill the void you feel inside. Stealing is a false attempt to fill the void of loneliness. We all experience loneliness, but some people like me feel chronically lonely. You may be tempted to “fix” your loneliness by shoplifting. I have been learning to find peace in loneliness. Or as Patrick Carnes puts it in “A Gentle Path through the Twelve Steps,” I am slowly working toward converting my loneliness into solitude.
  • Tired: When you are tired you are generally weak both physically and emotionally. Your resistance to urges is less than sharp. Get some sleep before you shop so you can be fully prepared to do battle with your shadow self.

Use other tools to help you stay safe when you enter a shop.

Everyone is different, and there is no way to know what will best help you to stay safe while in a store. The following are a few things that have helped me and others to be honest while shopping.

  • Use imagery:  It may help you to use visualization to help you focus on recovery while in a store. One one of out support group members said that she visualized a stop sign at the moment she thought about stealing in order to giving herself time to exit the store. Another group member remembered seeing repeat shoplifters taken away from the courthouse in handcuffs to start their sentence in county jail. It is good to use imagery that you feel would be effective for you. Do any of the following visualizations sound effective to you: picturing the disappointment in a family member’s face when you tell them about your theft; picturing a family family member driving away leaving you to live alone; imagining a night in jail or a 30-day stay at in jail; etc. Also, visualize the positives of staying safe: a happy family, an example for your children, an open honest relationship with your spouse; etc. What ideas do you have to visualize while shopping?

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  • Use objects: Some find help in carrying meaningful objects with them while shopping. For example, carry your wedding ring in your hand rather than wearing it as normal. Or, carry a photo of a family member or another respected person in your life that motivates you to stay theft free. One man in our group painted a couple of small rocks with faces and held one in each hand while shopping. Any object that motivates or challenges you to stay safe while shopping will help tilt toward scales in the honest way of living.What will you take with you when you shop?

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  • Use words: when I see something that I am going to be tempted to steal, I look at it and say, “That’s not mine.”  Others say, “That is not who I am. I am an honest trustworthy.”  Self-talk reinforces our new habit of being honest and shoplifting free.What words or phrases will you use?

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  • Be empathetic: Empathy is the ability to feel what others are feeling. If you try you can feel some of the damage that you do when you steal from others. (This topic will be discussed in detail within future a later modual on this site titled, The Voice of the Victims.) You can feel the distress of the shop owners or investors as many go out of business due to theft; feel the worry of the person who just lost his job because shoplifting cut into their profits; feel the anguish of all the other shoppers who pay higher prices as a result of others getting their stuff free by stealing it; feel the pain of your family member when your secret is discovered and you have to be bailed out making your financial hardship even worse. In other words, try to feel the damage that you are inflicting on others in your world by stealing. Shoplifting is not a victimless crime – “even in big box” stores.

SHADOW BOXING

Richard Rohr, the author of “Breathing Under Water,” speaks of what he calls “shadow boxing.” This means you must face your shadow side head-on in a fierce struggle to find sanity in your mind.

“You cannot get rid of your shadow,
but you can control how big it gets
by where you stand in the light.”

Take time to think about what you have just read. It is time to listen to your inner voice and try to discover how you are going to deceive yourself into believing that this material does not apply to you. You may have to wrestle with yourself as you struggle inside to allow your ears to hear what actions are right for you. Write out a personal plan for:

  • How long you will stay out of shops. (4-6 months is recommended.)
  • List some practical ways to get your shopping done without setting foot in one store. Include who you believe you can trust to enlist for help, and specifically how and when you will ask them.
    NOTE: Most people with addictive personalities struggle greatly when they need to ask for help. It may be a major breakthrough for you when you reach out and say, “I cannot do this alone.”
  • How you will dress, and what you will take into the store. Most advise to wear tight clothing and take in only a wallet or pocketbook.
  • At what point you will examine yourself to see if you are hungry, angry, lonely or tired. (HALT)
  • Who will shop with you when your set time of store-free life is ending?
  • Make a list of “tools” you will put in your “toolbox” that will help keep you safe, e.g. take a friend, use imagery, use a specific shopping list, go to only one store to get everything.
  • Overcoming the most common ways you deceive yourself. (Denial, idealization and rationalization)

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Review all of the above material and make sure you have a plan.

“When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
–Benjamin Franklin

You are not serious about recovery until you have your plans in writing, ready to be implemented into your daily routine. If you just read this and go on about your way – you are definitely going to have a hard time in your struggle with addiction. You do not participate in a program to overcome a shoplifting addiction; you WORK through a program.

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Unload the Gun: Strategies to stop stealing NOW!