From Homelessness To Happiness: A DA Odyssey

(Reprinted from the 2nd Quarter 2008 issue of Ways & Means)

July 7, 2008 was my 20-year anniversary in Debtors Anonymous. If I were looking at my life from the vantage point of myself 20 years ago, I would be amazed. I have a husband I love, we are building a house in Vermont, and I have been successfully and professionally self employed for 7 years.

Twenty years ago I lived in Boston. I was sleeping on the floor of my ex-boyfriendís apartment with no job, no home, and no money of my own. I was 29 years old and harbored a great sense of inferiority, particularly in relation to my older sister, who had all of those things. I grew up in a family in which people were expected to excel. In fact, I had done well in college and went immediately on to graduate school. At the continual prodding of my father, I finished a Ph. D. in psychology. All the while I had no sense of self esteem. I drank, used drugs, and barely got through. I was always terrified that I would not be able to complete my work, which required maturity and sanity.

I donít know how I had gotten to be the debtor I was at 29. I was a happy child up until 3rd Grade. My parents often fought about money and parenting. I didnít get along with my mother, but I was very close to my father. Then one day my father came home from work and found me fighting with my mother. He went into a rage at me, packed all my clothes in a suitcase, which he put outside, and told me to leave. Iím sure he never really meant for me to leave the family, but I didnít know that, and I had some type of a nervous breakdown which led to getting sick for 3 months with a temperature that kept going up and down. This led to chronic depression. And I now felt that I was an outcast. I donít think my parents caught on to how unhappy I had become. I learned quickly how to fake it after that. I didnít believe in myself and my abilities. I was jealous of others and felt inferior.

After graduate school in California I moved to Boston with my boyfriend. He was unemployed; I was working at two low-paying jobs. We couldnít make ends meet. I had never used a credit card, but had one during school that my father had given me for emergencies. My boyfriend talked me into using it. I quickly began spending money that was not my own. My father gave us some money, in addition 

When I broke up with this man I became very isolated. I could not make friends. I always felt desperate and inferior on the inside, even though I worked hard to have people see me as competent on the outside. I had a spiritual awakening of the worst kind in 1986 at 29 years old when I crashed up my brand new Toyota Corolla SR5. No one was hurt, but I finally realized that life was not working for me. I was miserable and hopeless. I quite my job and began to take money from my father (to my motherís dismay). I could not support myself and eventually lost my apartment.

I went to a career counselor and by some strange set of circumstances met a woman in a 12-Step program. She took me to my first (non-DA) 12-Step meeting. The day my ex-boyfriend asked me to leave his house (after 3 months of sleeping on his floor) I was at a 12-Step meeting when a man began talking to me about Debtors Anonymous. I knew right away that was what I needed, and took down the meeting information.

DA miracles started happening for me right away when I agreed to stop debting one day at a time and stop taking money from my father. I got a temp job right away. It was at a hospital in Cambridge, Mass. where seriously brain-injured people had permanent housing. (I could easily identify with their mental condition!) There I ate meals for $1 and drank coffee for 25 cents. I was there for 6 months and got paid $9 an hour, which was enough to pay my meager bills. I had lucked into a funky apartment overlooking the ocean for only $200 a month, and was able to support myself for the first time in 2 years.

My first Pressure Relief Group wanted me now to get a permanent secretarial job. It was easy to be a temp secretary, but to be a REAL secretary was a major blow to my ego. After all, I had a Ph.D. in psychology! That was one of my first surrenders in DA. There would be many more over the years. Godís will, not my will, was not something that has ever come easily to me.

Over the next 3 1/2 years I attended DA meetings regularly and grew tremendously as a person. I was working at Massachusetts General Hospital and got into my first relationship in recovery. But slowly I started getting irritated by other peoplesí character defects, stopped going to meetings, and eventually moved away from DA. The only good thing I did that indeed kept me solvent for the next 5 years was to use a Spending Plan. I am a huge believer in them because this was the key to remaining solvent in spite of starting to make bad choices for myself. I let my father buy me a car and give me money for some living expenses during the next several years. He decided to take out a loan at almost $500 a month, which was in my name and which I could never afford on my own. (But I did take it over after returning to DA, and it took an excruciating amount of time to sell the damn car!)

I moved to Vermont with a fiancť in 1996. The engagement did not work out, but I ended up remaining in Vermont and meeting a woman who wanted to start DA in Montpelier. We had regular meetings for the next 6 months. The next year I moved to Burlington and joined with a group of people who were also trying hard to get DA off the ground. I was back in the center of the program! It has been about 8 years since I have once again been attending DA regularly, doing service and working a program. I have been a slow grower in the program. But I finally got one of my visions--to be married--at 49 years old! I still remain solvent and am making more money in my chosen profession, psychology, than I ever have before. I carry a high level of responsibility, something prior to DA I felt incapable of. I live with much less anxiety about money, although it does come and go. I am just beginning to develop a retirement plan, something others in DA were better at doing earlier in their lives and programs. I have many friends in and out of the program and consider my DA community to be my family. I have known many of them for 5 to 8 years now, and enjoy watching each one of them recover and add new successes to their lives.

We have an active group in Burlington. We have a Do-DA Day event every fall and a Winter Lights recovery celebration in the winter. We have high attendance at DA retreats in August and April. But mostly we support each other in staying solvent one day at a time and living lives that are filled with joy and satisfaction. Thank god for DA!


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