Confessions of a Kleptomaniac - Page 2

By Dylan Lavene 10/09/12

I became a drug addict only years after I'd discovered my first true love: compulsive thieving. I've stolen from strangers, friends—and even my own grandmother.

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Stealing can create a drug-like buzz. Photo via

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The more I stole, the worse I felt; the worse I felt, the more I wanted drugs, and the more I needed to steal. It wasn’t long before I went for the big score. My dad’s change of career was proving lucrative. My parents started to build a three-story extension onto our suburban home. Builders were smashing down walls, working on scaffolding and laying bricks, and they needed to be paid. One typically desperate morning, I found an envelope with about £400 in it in the top draw of my parents' dresser: a quarter of it went into my pocket. I couldn’t let myself think about what I was doing, and focused instead on the drugs it would buy.

I arrived back home late and found both parents waiting for me. “How could you?” yelled my dad. “Your brothers and sister would never do this. Why?” shouted my mum. “I don’t know,” I whispered to the ground. Then my father punched me on the jaw and I fell down. Later he apologized, and I replied, “It’s OK. I would have hit me too.”

From then on, my grandmother’s money might as well have been in my dealer’s hands already.

I wish I could say I stopped. But my drug habit only grew. I managed to control my stealing temporarily, by taking a part-time job at the local supermarket and dealing on the side. At university, things got worse still.

I became a total booze and coke fiend as a student. I worked two part-time jobs, where I was noted for my extreme unreliability. I was fired from one job as a kitchen porter four times, but always begged my way back in. I took every student loan and credit card going, and gleefully ran up huge debts. I lied to the university hardship fund—a lot. I told them my parents were getting divorced and I had no money for food. Then I lied to my parents and told them I had no money for rent and my books were too expensive.

After university heroin largely took over from booze and cocaine, and my house of cards tumbled. My parents could no longer deny to themselves how much trouble I was in: I mean, I was homeless and just could not stop taking smack. So they packed me off to rehab. I came out and stayed clean for a few months, refrained from stealing and lived within my tiny means in a small town in northern England. But there were no jobs up there, so I decided to move in with my grandmother in London, in the hope of finding work and a new life.

I certainly found a dealer pretty quick. And as using gripped me again, I found it harder and harder not notice my grandmother’s PIN, which she entered with trembling hands at the ATM whenever I took her shopping. Tiredness can make it much harder to make the right choices, I tell myself. I was certainly tired the day I "let myself" learn her PIN—late-night crack binges will do that to you. From then on, my grandmother’s money might as well have been in my dealer’s hands already.

She kept asking me, “Why are you always tired?” and “Why are you not doing anything?” I gave in to the temptation of her bank account on the day of the Royal Wedding. I watched on TV as Kate walked up the aisle 10 miles away, gritting my teeth and telling myself I wasn't going to steal, wasn't going to use. William kissed Kate. I got up, took my grandmother's bank card, called out, “I’m just going to meet a friend,” and shut the door behind me.

A few days later I rang my mother and told her what I'd done. I felt full of poison. She arrived the next day to take me back to my parents' new home in Wales. The courage it took me to call up my mum and confess gave me a little piece of much-needed evidence that I wasn’t a bad person. Even so, I found, as I left my grandmother in tears, that I couldn’t feel ashamed any more. Some things are too horrible for guilt. I retreated inside myself and wondered if I'd finally broken everything.

But that little piece of honesty was the start of a healing process. In those months living back at home, I was honest with my mum about my problems for the first time. And the more honest I was, the less ashamed I felt. I stayed clean from drugs and stealing during this time, through a combination of 12-step meetings and the much-maligned "geographic" cure.

So is kleptomania a "real" addiction? No, says the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which classifies it only as an "impulse control disorder." Experts answer the question in different ways. "Kleptomania is classified as an impulse control disorder and is a relatively rare condition," notes Shulman. "But I do believe stealing can become addictive for many people, as it mimics addiction to other negative behaviors such as gambling. I think it can be labeled as an addiction in certain but not all cases." Gardere says, "Stealing can be an addiction in that it can be very compulsive and is a self-medication for either reducing anxiety or combating depression. But he cautions, "Stealing by itself should not be seen as an addiction; rather the feelings that cause one to act out and steal are usually diagnosable, such as the anxiety, depression, or even compulsions/OCD."

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.

Dylan Lavene is the pen-name of a poet who lives in the UK. You can read more from him on his blog and in his e-book, Enormous Heroin.

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 Dylan Lavene.jpeg

 Dylan Lavene is the pen-name of a poet who lives in the UK. You can read more from him on his blog.