Today while running some errands, I saw mountainous displays of bags of candy so enormous that I would need assistance just getting them to the car! Aisles and aisles of transparent sacks filled with tempting giant size candy bars! Where are those little bit size morsels we used to consider a treat? Now there were Reese’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Cups the size of small pizzas! (Okay, maybe just the size of bagels…but still!) Of course, they are priced to encourage you purchase more than just one bag. (buy two, get one FREE!)

Halloween is the gateway holiday to the season of excess- the sugar high of October 31 segues nicely into the Thanksgiving food feast (Can there ever be too many pies?). Then it is just a four week slide down the slippery slope to the Mother of all Excesses-Christmas. Unfortunately, Christmas seems to be increasingly associated with displays that reach far beyond even abundance; we eat too much, drink too much, spend too much, worry too much and party too much. We are so out of control with our obsession of acquisition that it is not unusual to turn on the news and watch with horror as some crazed person, in the “spirit of Christmas” pummels other shoppers in the quest for that last Tickle Me Elmo (or whatever is most coveted toy of the year!)

We keep the intensity of excess pretty constant through New Year’s Eve and then on January first, we awake with a horrific hangover, grabbing for a couple of aspirin, as we stagger to the scale, screech in horror and then while downing endless mugs of black coffee, try to address the growing pile of unopened bills. After a cold shower, we drag ourselves reluctantly to the gym where we practice another kind of excess; trying to right at least one wrong with hours of spinning class and Pilates.

But it was back in October, we begin, cookie by cookie, drink by drink and purchase by purchase to embrace the joy of a “splurge”. And splurging is fun and harmless, but where is the line between the innocent splurge and the self-destructive binge?

While most of the definitions I found referred to binge as relating to food or alcohol and splurge as relating to spending, the single biggest difference in the definitions was that a splurge has very little negative consequences and elicits no remorse. For example, a splurge may lead to a two pound gain, a slight hangover or a manageable increase in your credit card balance, but the binge results in none of your clothes fitting, a drunk driving infraction or the inability to make a car or mortgage pain.

While the splurge and the binge may exist on a continuum, we all know when we have crossed into the “gray” zone simply by being honest with how we feel about it. You might not have gotten a DUI or an overdue notice on your mortgage, but if there is self-reproach, secrecy, shame, guilt or remorse, pay attention: these are the red flags that let you know that you have crossed the line from pleasure to  destruction.

How to differentiate? It is easy; a splurge is premeditated, planned for, and an enjoyed experience that results in pleasant memories; a binge is impulsive, and frequently results in guilt and negative consequences.

As you think forward to this season where the enticement of excess is everywhere, plan accordingly. Splurges are encouraged; Binges are discouraged. Consider how you want to start off 2015 –filled with the afterglow of a holiday season fully enjoyed or with remorse, worry and shame.



© 2014 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a licensed psychotherapist and addictions specialist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986.

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