Shopaholic Describes Childhood Trauma, Need to Buy

ShopaholicABC News
As part of Ginger Logan-Cannon's therapy for shopaholism, Dr. Charles Sophy accompanied her on a shopping outing in which she picked out items she really wanted -- and then bought nothing.

St. John, the upscale clothing boutique, is Ginger Logan-Cannon's heaven... and her hell.

She paces the store, grabbing clothing off the racks like a kid in a candy shop. She grins and laughs and hoots and hollers. She is in heaven.

Ginger wants to buy everything she touches. But on this day, her psychiatrist has laid down the law. She can look, but she cannot purchase anything. Nothing. She is in hell.

It is like taking an alcoholic to a bar. But, believe it or not, this is a pivotal point in Logan-Cannon's therapy for what she herself describes as an addiction -- to shopping.

Logan-Cannon has made a habit of breaking, in spirit at least, the 10th commandment, which forbids coveting a neighbor's property.

She covets not just what her neighbor has, but even what her neighbors don't have. She covets most everything on display at the mall -- clothing, shoes, bags, boots -- all often priced far beyond her means.

"I probably would rather shop than eat," Logan-Cannon said. And her balance sheet confirms it. By her own count, Logan-Cannon is "about $280,000" in debt. That number did not include her mortgage or car payments.

That's a lot of money for a woman who spent 30 years as a parole officer in Orange County, Calif., making about $100,000 a year. Her husband, Jerome Cannon, is a telecommunications project manager.

And this is the debt she built up after getting a clean slate. Logan-Cannon says she has filed for bankruptcy twice and wiped out her retirement funds. Her financial problems put such a strain on her marriage that she and her husband once divorced and later remarried.

"If I look at all the money, the thousands of dollars I've spent over the years to where I am now, I think, what I could have done with that money," said Logan-Cannon. "Or what it could have done, or what I could have invested. That's kind of sad to me."

Saint or Sinner? Take the Quiz to Find Out Which Commandment You're Breaking Today

When we first met Logan-Cannon last spring, she was eager to change her ways.

To explore the nature of her addiction, and possible ways she might break her habit, ABC News arranged for Logan-Cannon to meet with Dr. Charles Sophy, a therapist who specializes in breaking addictions.

"What do you think you're addicted to? Do you think you're addicted to the furs, and to the diamonds and all that?" Sophy asked his patient.

"That's what I can't figure out," Logan-Cannon said. "Because it's not just shopping for me, I shop for everybody."

"Do you see it as a problem now, or no?" the doctor pressed.

"I see that it can be a problem, because I'm very impulsive with it."

"See -- that's the word I wanted to talk about," Sophy said.

Sophy said "shopping addiction," a phrase perhaps batted around as a joke among friends who like to spend, is no laughing matter.

"What's the big deal?" said Sophy. "You buy a dress or two, but the issue is the impact and the meaning it has globally in your life."

ABC News followed Logan-Cannon through four months of therapy. On an early visit to Sophy's offices, Logan-Cannon's reaction did not bode well for her breaking her addiction. "Oh God, he's in Beverly Hills, what a great place to have an office!" she said, laughing manically.

But Logan-Cannon's nervous laugh eventually gave way to tears.

She told Sophy she hated not being able to control her shopping. And on top of that she hated crying.

"It messes up your makeup, you look horrible," she said.

The Deep Secret at Source of Addiction

A few things became clear early on. Logan-Cannon was not happy in her job. During the course of her treatment she eventually decided to take early retirement and is now jobless. Her marriage was still struggling. And her shopping addiction?

It's not really about shopping at all.

"It's one of the few times you may feel," Sophy said, explaining to Logan-Cannon the allure of shopping. "And that's not a good thing."

For Logan-Cannon, Sophy says, shopping triggers a pleasurable chemical rush in the brain, just like any drug.

"When I am shopping, I am just, it's me and I am just... floating," Logan-Cannon said.

But like a binge eater, after Logan-Cannon indulges, spending more than she has, she feels remorse.

"I am feeling really good," she said. "Then I start driving home. ... And then you start to feel like, was that really necessary which you just did?"

To break the cycle, Sophy had to dig deeper, into Logan-Cannon's past.

Appreciating fine clothing runs in Logan-Cannon's family. She was a model for a time, as was her grandmother. Her father was an impeccably dressed ladies' man, she said.

"My dad would take his credit card out and he would sit with his newspapers and say go," said Logan-Cannon. "I mean, for about two hours, I would just be going for it. That's where it started, too." But Logan-Cannon confessed that her father was also an alcoholic. The family vulnerability to addiction may be genetic.

"My dad was a narcissistic, self-absorbed individual who always put himself first and if you fit in for that day, it was great," Logan-Cannon told Sophy. "I was a typical little girl who worshipped her dad, but I have made excuses for him my entire life."

And as Sophy digs, another, deeper secret emerges. Logan-Cannon grew up in Berkeley, Calif., in the 1960s. Schools were being integrated. She was sent to a predominantly white school. One day at a bus stop, a group of white boys pushed her in front of a speeding bus, she said.

"And the bus just screeches and I think I weigh like 90 pounds," Logan-Cannon said. "I got on the bus, I was sitting there and what he had done was go and put on brass knuckles and he just beat my face to a pulp. I went blind, I couldn't really see. "Well that incident, I removed it. ... I just ... like it never happened. And it took me years to remember it."

Logan-Cannon and her family never spoke of the beating. Sophy said her tendency to disconnect from emotion is a big part of the reason she shops.

"After years of stopping the bleeding with the Band-Aid of shopping, you create a good feeling in your brain because you feel good and it releases chemicals and that becomes an ingrained mind frame," said Sophy. "I am bleeding, I buy, I stop bleeding, I feel good, I now can go on until I bleed again then I buy and then I feel good. It's a cycle that you have created. ... It's your Band-Aid, and you are going to have to find other more appropriate and less expensive Band-Aids, like talking about how you feel and dealing with yourself on a day-to-day basis."

Some of the most difficult pressure, it turns out, comes from Logan-Cannon's personal shoppers, and the friends who shop with her. She compares them to drinking buddies.

"They will buy it knowing that I will buy it from them," she said. "They get it and I really like, I almost feel obligated to buy it because they bought [it] because they know I like it plus, I wanted it anyways. So that's my excuse. ... It's like a crack addiction. The crackman comes right to my house."

Eventually, it's time for Logan-Cannon to face her addiction head-on.

ABC tagged along on an outing to St. John, her favorite store, where an outfit can cost thousands.

"We're going to shop. We're going to meet people. We're going to go around," said Sophy. "You're going to show me what excites you. How you feel. Then we're going to shop. We're going to pick out three of your top favorites. Then we're going to leave them here."

At the store, Logan-Cannon hugged her personal shopper, Maxine.

She had never been in the store without purchasing something.

'I Feel Horrible'

Sophy asked her what she likes so much about the clothing.

"The way it feels, fits," Logan-Cannon said. "How you look in it. When other people see you in it. Sometimes they won't talk to you but they'll talk to your clothing."

Sophy nodded. "Let's translate that," he said. "It gives you self-esteem. It's an addiction because it gives you that heart-pounding."

"This is killing me," said Logan-Cannon. "If you never shopped you would be running around with last season's clothes. Your clothes would wear out."

Sophy persuaded Logan-Cannon not to make any purchases, despite her having found items she loved.

"I'm going to leave this all for you," she told Maxine. "I'm not going to shop today. Give me a hug. I'm going to be fine. Oh my God, Jesus."

The doctor asked how she felt.

"I feel horrible," she said. "I feel like I'm abandoning part of my family by not taking them home with me."

'When I Get There'

After months of therapy, Logan-Cannon was in a better place..

"It's almost like I am at a fork in the road, it's like I am almost two people -- the old Ginger and the new Ginger," she said. "I think I am much better and over the hump, but you still have progress, but I am much further than I was and I realize how it impacted, not just me, but everyone around, your family."

In the past couple of months, Logan-Cannon estimates, she has avoided spending $10,000 on clothing.

"I don't miss that at all," she said. "It's not that I don't like shopping -- I love fashion, I love art and that's OK, but it's getting more in control of when you shop and why you shop. So no I don't miss that, and won't miss that. When I get there."