Building Clarity, Trust, And Joy, The DA Way
I wasn’t in a lot of debt when I walked through the doors of DA, only around $17,000. I had been in worse debt than that in the past. When I entered my first 12-Step program, I was close to $100,000 in debt, and that didn’t include the condominium that they were threatening to foreclose on at the time.
I had many reasons for excusing the original debt. At the time, because of accidents caused by my drinking, I was paying close to $6,000 in car insurance. I had lost my job, twice, and needed the credit cards to exist. But my favorite came from a radio program that I listened to one day. On it they were talking about a study they had done on compulsive spending and the use of valium. It seemed that when patients were given valium by their dentists, they had a habit of compulsively shopping on the way home. Well, with all the valium I took, no wonder I racked up so much debt. So after filing for bankruptcy and losing the condominium to foreclosure, I didn’t give my debt any further thought. I worked on my original program and considered ways that I could rebuild my credit rating.
About a year after my bankruptcy, I received an offer in the mail to get a secured credit card. All I needed to do was to send them $100 and they would give me $500 credit. Perfect! All I had to do was use this card for all my purchases, pay it off every month, and my credit rating would be restored to its former height. It worked for a while. I even received and was approved for other credit cards with higher lines of credit and no deposit. Eventually, I started leaving a balance on the cards. That was okay, though, as long as I could pay more than the minimum due, right? That’s what I thought, anyway.
I continued to spiral out of control. The balances left behind continued to grow until I reached the credit limits. As soon as all my cards reached their limits, I was sent an application for a new card. Thankfully, I wasn’t given more than $1,000 on any of the cards, until my last one. They offered me a $5,000 limit. I guess my credit rating was improving! I was no longer able to pay more than the minimum on most cards, and I was continually running out of money before my next paycheck. The cards were no longer a luxury; I needed them to survive. I started making late payments and went over the limit a few times. I would stop spending and bring the debt down a little, then reward myself and watch it go back up.
I received the opportunity to go on some dream vacations during this period, but they were marred by the complicated recordkeeping I needed to do to make sure that I was never handed a card back because it was declined. So I had all these little notes with the balance on each card and how much credit was left. When I used a card, I would immediately subtract that amount. I hated receiving the “declined” face from store clerks. I wouldn’t allow them to ruin my vacation. What a life!
At one of my volunteer jobs I met a really great guy. We dated a few times, and it was soon obvious that this relationship was going to be a little more than casual dating. I almost ran when during one luncheon date he started talking about money, savings, and debt. I felt nauseous. I had never had such a discussion with anyone before. Here he was telling me how much he had in savings and that he had no debt except for a rental property he owned. He didn’t even have a mortgage on his house! How was I supposed to tell him that I had no savings to speak of and $7,000 in credit card debt? What would he think of me? Not much, I thought. My throat constricted and my stomach did cartwheels as I got honest about my debt for the first time in my life. Not completely honest, though. I fudged on the totals, which wasn’t too hard since I didn’t know what I owed for sure. I also conveniently forgot to mention the department store cards that I had.
I was shocked when he offered to pay my cards off and then I could pay him back. That way I didn’t have to give them all that money in finance charges. I would close out all cards but one, and use that for emergencies only. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. He wrote out the checks, and I was debt free. Except for the cards I “forgot” to mention. A couple of weeks later, he started to tell me how proud he was of me for closing out my cards and trying to live on a cash-only basis. All I heard was a voice in my head saying, “Tell him!” I finally got completely honest. Not only did I hide some cards, but I was using the cards that he had paid off to purchase some emergency sweaters, boots, shoes, etc.
I don’t think I need to explain the amount of anger and pain that resulted from that revelation. Our relationship nearly ended right then and there. I felt ashamed and worthless. How could I do this to the man I love? I entered the rooms of DA in a suicidal depression. I saw no hope for me or our relationship. I prayed every night not to wake up in the morning, I was back to not being able to look at myself in the mirror because of the shame I felt. Even so, I still remember that tiny glimmer of hope that was reignited when I heard the 12 Signposts for the first time.
I have not incurred any unsecured debt since I first entered the rooms of our beloved fellowship. One thing I heard many times in my other programs was that relapse was NOT a requirement. So I worked this program with that thought in mind from day one.
I started to keep my numbers immediately. Besides meetings, I think that recordkeeping is the single most important tool that keeps me from overspending. It would really make me stop and think: do I really need this or that for whatever the price was? My spending dropped immediately. I had a couple of PRGs in the beginning months to help me come up with a spending plan, which I still tweak and revise every month. I don’t do regular PRGs, though, and really don’t believe they are needed. There may be circumstances that require them in my future, but it’s my belief that they receive too much attention. I keep close to my Higher Power and the Steps, and that’s what keeps me from incurring any unsecured debt.
I still struggled with my spending in the beginning. I didn’t debt, but found myself overspending in some categories. I had heard enough in the rooms to know that if I continued, eventually I would debt. I kept hearing people share at meetings about using the envelope system. I hated the thought of it. I saw no reason why I should have to carry around a pile of envelopes stuffed with cash. After continuing to try my way unsuccessfully, I decided to give the envelopes a shot. Let me say I absolutely love the envelope system! I never cared for adding my numbers up every week to see what was left in each category. That left me vague and prone to overspend. With the envelopes, however, all I need to do is see if there is any cash in them. If not, then I know I’ve spent that month’s allotment. And I only have to add my numbers up once a month.
I have received so many gifts from DA, it’s impossible to list them all here, so I’ll list the highlights. After a rough first year, my relationship improved and I earned back the trust that I had lost. He proposed, and I was able to have the wedding of my dreams, paid for in cash. I have discovered within myself a creativity I never knew existed. I have found enjoyment in writing and hope to be published one day. I’ve also discovered a joy in expressing myself through jewelry designs. My materials and design are unusual and not for everyone, but they are most definitely me.
I’ve discovered a whole new understanding of my Higher Power. It may not be conventional, but it fits who I am today. Since I’ve become more comfortable in my skin, I’m less concerned if others find me odd, and that gives me a whole new freedom. I am most grateful for the chance to do service. It can be hard work sometimes, but always rewarding. I’ve met some wonderful people who share my love for this program and who help me to learn and to grow. I’m grateful for the pain that brought me into DA and for the people who held the doors opens for me.
I’m grateful for the opportunity that I’ve been given to hold that door open for the next sick and suffering debtor.