Dear Margo

Trying to stop shoplifting but can’t

December 8, 2009

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Q. I graduated from college last summer with highest honors after receiving a full scholarship. I worked hard, believing it would pay off in the job market. Well, once school was over, I found it very difficult to find decent employment. The only place I could find work was at a grocery store - which is the same job I had before I went to college. I live in an expensive area, and my wages are low. Because of this I’ve had a hard time paying my bills. I’ve resorted to eating expired food at work and forgoing expenses like fixing my car. My entire savings has been spent on medical bills after developing some health problems this year. I am uninsured and worry about what would happen if I got sick again. I’ve tried to apply for government assistance, but was denied food stamps because I make $20 too much per month. I’ve been told I don’t qualify for medical assistance, either. Asking my parents to help is not an option.

To make ends meet, I’ve had to make some moral compromises. Namely, I’ve started shoplifting - a lot. At first I stole food from work occasionally, but now it’s become a daily occurrence. I’ve also started stealing from other places (I steal my medications from pharmacies). I am “smart’’ about it, so I’ve never been caught, but I know that eventually I will get caught. It will make my life much worse, but I can’t seem to stop. I feel like I’m getting what I deserve in the absence of better opportunities. I know I sound crazy, but I can’t afford counseling. How can I stop?

CONFUSED A. You are very aware, which is a start, and you are also right that your “luck’’ will run out. Shoplifting, one kind of kleptomania, is thought by some to be a type of mental illness. Here are my concrete suggestions: Consider moving from the expensive area you are in now. Ask your employer to knock off $20 from your pay. Hunt up free mental health care in your community. This can be done through your local hospital. What is called for is behavior modification. You might also get some information by Googling this subject. You do not sound crazy at all, but you are troubled, and I think your situation can be “fixed.’’ I wish you the best of luck in tackling this problem.

Q. I am 55 and have treasured the close friendships I’ve maintained over the years. My husband died six years ago; my best friend, three years ago. I’ve joined a community service group to keep myself active and have continued to be active in my house of worship. I have three sons - one in the service, one in aerospace, and the youngest in college. I miss my friends from the past and long for the conversations we shared. What would you do?

MAUREEN A. You’re a little young to have lost those closest to you, but this does become a fact of life for everyone who is older. While you cannot rebuild a common history with new friends, you can begin new chapters. I had the nutty idea when I was younger that by the time one reached middle age, you didn’t make new good friends . . . because you already had them. To my delight, I was wrong, and have made wonderful friends despite having crossed the 50-year line. Getting out and about as you are is the thing to do. I’m betting you have some wonderful decades ahead of you with new people in your life.

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