Reflections On Two Decades Of Recovery In DA

(Reprinted from the 2nd Quarter 2008 Issue Of Ways & Means)

As I look back over the two decades that I have been solvent in Debtors Anonymous, I sometimes have to pinch myself to see if I am really here. At the time I found DA, it had been over a year since I had a permanent address. I was in the process of getting divorced from my first wife, and my own insanity regarding money had contributed to the breakup. I could not recall the last time I had balanced my checkbook, I did not know how many credit cards I had or how much money I owed, and four private credit counselors had not succeeded in changing my ways. I was completely without hope that anything could make a difference.

At DA I found people who had been in the same kind of situations I had been in, but had come through to the other side. Now, DA was only 11 years old when I found it, and the longest continuous solvency (not incurring new unsecured debt) in the city I was living in was only six years. But that seemed like a lifetime. Here were people who, within a few years of entering DA, were able to take vacations, buy homes, and live normal lives, without credit cards! For possibly the first time in my life I listened and took their suggestions: come to three meetings a week, keep records, use the other tools (we only had 10 tools back then), and work the 12 Steps of DA like my life depended on it. And above all, don’t incur any unsecured debt for any reason, NO MATTER WHAT.

I’ve had a lot of good times and a lot of not-so-good times since then. My first DA Fourth Step led to graduate school and earning a doctorate without new debt. I’ve bought and sold two homes, the second losing a lot of money, but I remained solvent because I had listened when my pressure relief meeting wouldn’t accept my rationalization that I didn’t really need a prudent reserve! I got remarried, divorced a second time, and married again, the last time to a wonderful lady who is herself a recovering debtor, all without incurring any debt.

My wife and I attend a DA couples’ issues meeting every week, and it is a new challenge to work DA as part of a partnership. (My ego had tried to convince me that I was “pretty good” at working DA, so I guess my Higher Power decided I needed a dose of humility!) I’ve lived in large cities and small towns, starting meetings and closing meetings, always keeping the focus on needing to carry the message in order to remind myself of how things used to be when I was an active debtor. Throughout this time, I’ve looked to old-timers for mentoring, to hear how to live life without debt. Listening, rather than rationalizing, has been essential.

Today I find myself one of those old-timers. And I find the need for that reminder just as great today as when I walked into my first meeting.  I have a growing retirement fund, cash in the bank, and live in a nice house in New York City. I sometimes have difficulty relating to newcomers’ problems, especially when they ask for advice on specific matters, as it has been many years since I’ve had to deal with creditors or lacked cash. This is embarrassing, but a good ego deflator, because if I start to think of myself as a DA expert, my program is on the path to ruin. And I am reminded that I was once in their shoes, feeling just as hopeless, and that only working the program keeps me from being back in those shoes.

When I tell my story at meetings, I try to let those who are listening know that it is possible to live without unsecured debt, in good times and bad, and that prosperity is available. But the spiritual growth I’ve experienced is far more valuable than all the material prosperity. I do my little piece, and let God take care of just about everything else. It took me many years in recovery before I developed a regular spiritual practice, but now I go to synagogue almost every morning and pray multiple times each day, a reminder that I am not the source of the good that I experience in life. Expressing gratitude to God and to those who have helped me along the way--those early “old-timers”--is important to my recovery. And I hope that I might give back something; that sharing my own experience, strength, and hope may inspire those who come into the DA rooms today.


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