A 12-Step Journey, From Deep Debt To ‘Blessings And Opportunities’

(Reprinted with revisions from the 4th Quarter 2008 issue of Ways & Means)

I have been a grateful member of Debtors Anonymous since 1990. I have abstained from unsecured debt since May 1996, and  I have been debt free since December 1999.

I’m going to share what it’s like now, what it was like, and what happened. What is it like now? Thanks to my Higher Power and DA, I have been granted a practically perfect life. I have only blessings and opportunities, and I live in gratitude through the 12-Step way of life.

Besides a small mortgage, I have no debt. I have an excellent job; I earn more than triple what I earned my first year in DA. I have earned the respect of my professional peers and superiors. This year, my employer has paid my full salary and all expenses for me to attend a prestigious graduate school in a thoroughly prosperous location. My career is poised so that I may soon become a senior executive.

I have been married to a loving wife (our second marriage) for almost 15 years. We have two delightful stepchildren for whom I have been the loving, caring father they never had before. My stepchildren, now in their 30s, are married to equally delightful spouses. All four are intelligent, good people, building successful professional careers and looking forward to raising happy, prosperous families. With HP’s grace, I’ll be there to love and enjoy their children—and spoil them rotten!

Since I joined DA, my wife and I have visited more than 20 countries on six continents. Most recently, we set foot on Antarctica on Christmas Day 2007. We have paid cash for all our trips. We live an abundant life, enjoying the simple everyday things and saving our money to enjoy adventure travel and plan a prosperous retirement. Life is very good, and my cup is always overflowing, never half full.

How is my life imperfect? My imperfections derive from the fact that I am an addict. I create almost all of my problems because I am human and my addict brain wants to relive my inherited “drama” of abandonment, betrayal, and deprivation. I was born into a family descended from five generations of addicts. My father’s family of 10 children was torn apart when both parents and the oldest child died during the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic. I grew up with 32 first cousins from the families of these orphans, almost all of whom were alcoholics, compulsive overeaters, and/or smokers. My addictive personality comes from both nature and nurture. 

With this background, what was my life like before I joined DA? By the time I joined in 1990, I was $104,000 in debt from 11 ‘maxed out’ credit cards, two major bank loans, and myriad personal debts. I was in the middle of a difficult divorce from an insane first marriage. During this 16-year marriage, we went bankrupt in 1975, and we moved 23 times (the geographical cure does NOT work!). We borrowed and had not paid tens of thousands of dollars for failed real estate and business ventures.

In July 1990, when my HP miraculously pointed me toward DA, I had been self-employed for 23 years, running a struggling at-home business.  I earned only $35,000 that year, the least I had earned since 1978. Importantly, all of these terrible events happened while I was being very successful in a different 12-Step program. Abstinent is not sane.

My first five years in DA were filled with pain, struggle, and recovery. Despite the pain, I remember those years as full of hope and love. I spent two weeks in a mental hospital for suicidal depression. Both of my parents and my sister-in-law died of lung cancer after long illnesses. The three-year-long divorce finally ended. Only the love and support of my HP, sponsor, program friends, therapist, and significant other carried me through this awful time.

On the positive side, my current wife and I married in a beautiful, debt-free wedding in 1993. I completed graduate school, earning my first masters degree. I began to change careers, doing what I loved to do, rather than what I forced myself to do to pay my creditors. My debt slowly but surely went down, thanks to small monthly payments to my creditors and many large miracles from my HP. By early 1995, my debt had been reduced to $42,000.

Unfortunately, with my new marriage, graduate school, challenging work, and stepchildren, I had begun to slowly drift away from DA. I became arrogant and launched a grandiose plan to build a million-dollar consulting business by myself in one year. I signed numerous contracts with only a verbal guarantee from a financial backer. In April 1995, my dreams of grandeur were destroyed with one phone call:  the guarantor withdrew his support, and instantly I faced $165,000 in unsecured debt.

Within a day, I almost literally crawled back into a DA meeting that I had started and begged its few remaining members to take me back. Of course they did. They have been the loving base of support for my rapid recovery and successful life during the past 13 years. For the next four years, putting my recovery first in my life, I did whatever DA told me to do, and for a time, I worked three jobs. Receiving numerous miracles from my HP, I was debt free by the end of 1999.

In 2002, I joined a large organization, continuing to do what I love to do, and have earned increasing levels of respect and responsibility, increasing my income by 75 percent.

What happened? What made the difference? I can say only three actions—taken each day—have created my virtually perfect life:

--I am willing, however imperfectly, to do whatever this simple program (and my sponsor, mentors, Pressure Relief Group, and therapist) suggests that I do. I often kick and cuss, but I work the Steps and use the Tools. They work if you work them 

--I give service, service, and more service. I have served DA at every level. I continue to do whatever I am asked to do and whatever I can do to be of service. I know that for every hour of service I give, I receive 10 hours of recovery; for every dollar I donate, I receive ten dollars in return.

--Most importantly, I seek and do my HP’s will for me, as well as I can understand it, one day at a time. That is my only prayer these days: Each morning, I give thanks for all my blessings and ask ONLY for the knowledge and strength to do my HP’s will for 24 hours.

Finally, I know that I am just another DA member. I am an addict with a deadly disease. My feet rest on a foundation of addictive quicksand. My HP’s grace arrests my illness one day at a time, and only my HP’s love and DA raise me from sure destruction and death to the blessed life I lead today


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