A Debtor Finds A New Life, In Which Less Really Is More

I grew up in a modest home where money was not highly valued, but financial responsibilities were taken seriously. My father was an alcoholic, but was not particularly frivolous with money. I think my mother resented the money that he spent on booze, but the negative financial effect of his alcoholism came more from how it limited his ability to earn rather than leading him to be profligate in his spending.

The alcoholism at home was extremely shameful to me, but I never discussed it with anyone in my family until I was in my 20s. It finally occurred to me that I might benefit from Al-Anon. I didn't take to it right away, but I continued to go to meetings and finally I made the first breakthrough that would eventually lead me to Debtors Anonymous--I discovered that I was actually an alcoholic myself, and started going to AA. I knew I had a great deal of alcoholism on both sides of my family, but I thought it wouldn't be too hard. I was very surprised to find that it was really difficult for me to stay sober, especially for the first 2 years. 

Eventually I became more comfortable with sobriety, and my money problems started to take a different form from the sort of slow-motion, chronic underearning I had experienced as an active alcoholic. I had worked in a creative field that I loved; unfortunately, it demanded a great deal of time and was very financially insecure. My husband and I had a young daughter now, so I reluctantly came to the conclusion that motherhood would not mix well with it.

I left that creative field and went into business with a partner in a field that I thought might be more lucrative, and in which I had natural talent--computer programming. Our business expanded quickly. We struggled for a while, but then suddenly our earning took off. Within 2 years, I was able to pay off all my credit card debt--probably about $20,000 worth--and my partner and I bought comfortable homes. That may have been the most dangerous thing for me, because I concluded that debt was no problem--I'd already beat it, hadn't I?

Ironically, I believe that my recovery from alcoholism had unleashed a dangerous character defect that didn't cause me much trouble when I was still drinking, but eventually led me to uncontrolled debting. It was my grandiose assumption that money was not really worthy of my concern. When I was still drinking, living small, and not making decisions about large amounts of money, I couldn't do much damage. But now that there were important decisions to be made, I needed my wits about me. Unfortunately, getting sober did not cause me to think clearly about everything right away. I persisted in a kind of magical thinking--that as long as I continued to focus on my dreams, then the universe would cooperate.  Vagueness was a perfect "substance" for me to use to avoid experiencing reality.

As quickly as our business rose, it started to fall. We had become dependent on a single large client, and that business was now going away. Rather than liquidating the business, closing it in an orderly way, and preserving some of our assets, we continued to pour all the money we had earned back into it. When that ran out, we used our own money. All the while, we were slowly slipping into deep debt on a credit line that a bank had eagerly given us in our heyday.

The rise and fall happened so fast. By the time I was 5 years sober, my partner and I had more than $600,000 in debt. I continued to share my troubles in Alcoholics Anonymous, and it was a fellow member there who urged me to try DA.

I started to keep track of all my spending. I was delighted to do this because it was one of the few things I seemed to have control over. I dove into the program, going to many meetings and getting active. My business partner also joined the program for a while, and somehow we were able to stop debting, both personally and in our business. It lasted for 9 months, and then we had a business setback.  We fell back into a debting pattern to keep the business going, and I fell into an 18-month relapse, continuing to get into more debt. 

Because much of my debt was tied up with my business partner, I couldn't see how I could make my own decisions. Also, although my business failure had made my family less secure, I secretly blamed my husband, who had never earned much and was not likely to earn more. Finally, when I was telling a DA friend that all my problems were really Al-Anon problems, he said, "If you had an AA sponsee who told you she would stop drinking when she was able to straighten out her marriage, what would you say?" That stopped me cold and pushed me into making a serious commitment to stop debting one day at a time, no matter what.

Somehow, that commitment allowed me to leave that business within the next year and get a pleasant "recovery job" that paid me enough to meet the needs of my family. My relationships with my husband and my daughter improved immensely. I gradually began to pay down my debt and began saving for my retirement.

Today, 13 years later, I have plenty of challenges, yet I really do have a life beyond my wildest dreams. I have a wonderful, challenging and responsible position in a business area that requires tremendous creativity-- communications and marketing. I've paid off more than $50,000 in debt. I have resources to provide my family with appropriate medical care. I paid for my daughter's tuition to a private college without incurring debt. I was able to care for my mother during her final years, manage her money responsibly, and eventually manage her estate after she died. I've been able to travel to visit people who are important to me. And my husband and I are saving for a comfortable retirement, which I'll be able to take while we're still young and healthy enough to enjoy it.

DA has given me the tools to face my financial situation honestly and responsibly, yet in a balanced way. On the way, I'm having a terrific time. I can hold on to my good ideals and replace the mistaken ones. In a funny way, I was sort of right that money isn't that important. I have much greater blessings in my life than money, yet giving the right sort of attention to the material realities of my life has let me enjoy the very best that life has to offer. DA has taught me to recognize when less really is more.


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