Disasters Brought Him DA -- And A New Way Of Life

March 21, 1996 began as the worst day of my life.

In the early morning hours, my house caught fire and I nearly died trying to escape the smoke and flames in my bedroom. The same afternoon, I was arrested for seven major motor vehicle violations, lost my driver’s license, and watched my old junk car being towed away by the police as I stood at the side of a busy U.S. highway.

It was much later I realized that instead of the worst, it had been the best day of my life, because those seeming disasters had brought me face to face with the consequences of my actions as a compulsive debtor, and propelled me at last into Debtors Anonymous. A loving God cared enough about me to hit me “upside the head” so that I could no longer maintain a lifetime of denial and do more damage than I already had to myself and others.

Both the house fire and the driving arrest had been directly due to my debting.  The utilities in my home had been shut off for nonpayment, and I was trying to live by candlelight in the middle of winter when a candle tipped over and set my bedroom on fire. Similarly, I had not been willing to properly maintain my car for two years, and it had turned unsafe and illegal on me. The registration, insurance, and inspection had expired, and the tires, headlights, brakes, and other equipment were unsafe or completely nonfunctional.

These problems of home and automobile were not isolated ones. They were, rather, symbolic of my entire life, which had somehow turned junky, degrading, humiliating, impoverished, and broken without my permission. I had no idea how it had all happened, and was not able to see how a lifetime of spending other people’s money and relying on others for basic survival without ever growing up emotionally, spiritually, or financially had made my present circumstances inevitable.

In the aftermath of these two events, I summoned the willingness to make a phone call to a man in another 12-Step program, a man who was not a member of Debtors Anonymous but who had learned DA principles from friends in another state and used them to overcome problems similar to mine. He became my sponsor and my guide to recovery in DA.

Meeting my sponsor had been a another “coincidence” of the type I can only attribute to a Higher Power, because there was not a single DA meeting or member of DA in my state at this time, and he was the only person for 200 miles in any direction who knew what DA was or how it worked. The nearest DA meeting was 5 hours away, and I did not have a car to get to it.

I am grateful that my sponsor was a DA purist and “Big Book thumper” who took the program literally, and did not mince words with me. He stressed that my life depended on not incurring any unsecured debt one day at a time. I was so terrified and so traumatized from the consequences of years of debting that I became willing to do anything he suggested.

Although I owed more money than I could ever hope to pay back in a lifetime and had always worked at degrading low-wage jobs that barely met my expenses, he insisted that my solvency came first. The first few years were incredibly difficult, but I became solvent right away, lived within my means, paid all my bills on time. Although I was in a great deal of pain, I also began to realize right from the beginning the spiritual transformation that occurs when a compulsive debtor
develops the willingness to not debt, one day at a time.

Over the years of my recovery, there have been many miracles. Interestingly, the biggest ones have been emotional and spiritual, rather than purely financial. Although I did succeed in paying off all my debts in an unbelievable 5 1/2 years, and I went in less than a dozen years from someone who was sure he needed to work until age 85 just to survive to someone planning a comfortable retirement at 62, those accomplishments seem to be to be fairly routine in DA.

What is truly miraculous has been the steadily increasing clarity, sanity, and serenity that have compounded like bank interest down through the years, and affected every area of my life. Solvency--continuous, uninterrupted solvency, pays the greatest dividends imaginable, and I believe after almost 12 years (at this writing) that I’ve barely scratched the surface on my potential in this program.

In DA, I’ve learned how to meet my real needs. Instead of a house full of unwanted junk bought with credit cards in a never-ending attempt to fill a bottomless hole in me, I am surrounded by an appropriate number of things, possessions I love, use regularly, and maintain in good condition.

I’ve exchanged my debting lifestyle for a savings lifestyle, and I now pay cash for everything. By waiting to research and save for purchases, I have found deep satisfaction in material things, rather than frustration and disappointment in being surrounded by things I’d bought that had failed to “save me”.

I have experienced the joy of “watching a fellowship grow up around me”, as I started the first meeting in my state, then other meetings and an intergroup. My personal feelings of klutziness and incompetence have yielded to the exhilarating challenges of learning to do service for others on the personal, group, and eventually the World Service levels.

I’ve watched the discipline of keeping DA numbers slowly blossom into an inner and outer aesthetic that have taken the form of order and beauty in my home, my yard, my creative work, and the rest of my life.

It’s difficult to explain to someone who is not solvent the transformation that happens in the life of a compulsive debtor who becomes willing to stop debting.  Life somehow becomes transformed from a constant struggle to an opportunity for enjoyment on many levels. When all of my energy is focused on fulfillment rather than fear, I am blessed beyond anything I could have conceived of when I first came to DA.

Maintaining and extending my 12 years of continuous solvency is the most important thing in my life today. I continue to work the 12 Steps of DA, and to practice the 12 Traditions and the Tools. I’ve found this is a simple program that I no longer need to complicate.

The founder of Debtors Anonymous, John Henderson, once said, “Just get on a cash basis, and everything else will follow.” Thank God for the wisdom and insights of John H., and for the catastrophes that brought me to DA and gave me the willingness to follow in the footsteps of the recovering debtors who came before us and who have practiced this same set of spiritual principles to recover from this disease for the past 32 years.


Click here to return