Why would anyone need financial recovery? Substance use was only part of it.

I traveled the road from privileged to pampered to spoiled to entitled to enabled to troubled to difficult to enraged to destructive to nervous breakdown. Some time my 30s, I found myself sober but messy, fragile and broke. I’d gone through all my savings. This put me on a  path I never ever imagined I’d go on. I had always been loose with money but now the tricks I had for robbing Peter to pay Paul were far more dangerous than when I actually had the money, or credit to pay it back.

Money Is Spiritual

I didn’t know that when I walked into the program of Debtors Anonymous. For a long time I couldn’t even call myself a debtor. I come from a good family. I had some money of my own. So, wait? Why didn’t I have any? How did I spend everything I had? Why couldn’t I earn enough to make ends meet? Why couldn’t I pay my taxes? How had I gotten sober only to find myself in a financial crisis in my mid 30s with no way of knowing how to get out of it?

For some of us, the financial piece has to be part of the recovery.

I had been waking up at 4 am in a panic, cold sweats and sometimes staying like that until 5 or 6 am for a year when I finally realized I had to do something about my financial troubles. The tax man, and advice of a sponsor in another 12-step program also pushed me into getting help, but it wasn’t an easy decision to make. The humiliation of it all. What a fall from grace, I thought.

What I learned was very different. I learned I’d had a very toxic relationship with money for as long as I could remember. I come from a good family who always provided everything I needed, which caused this weird feeling, something I can only liken to survivor’s guilt. I didn’t feel like I deserved it, but then without it, I felt like I was nothing. Where I lived, what I wore and what I could afford had defined me forever. Losing it was like losing my skin. I was cold and naked and felt totally ashamed. However, what it forced me to do was grow up in ways I didn’t even know I had to grow up and my life changed completely. Again, from the inside out. 

I Rebuilt From Scratch

My debt wasn’t as horrible as some of the stories I heard. The IRS was my biggest problem. Like crack, which was something I never did, I was too scared to get into trouble with credit cards so my debt across four cards wasn’t a big deal compared to the sum I owed the IRS. So, I started going to DA and doing my numbers. After a few months months I wasn’t waking up at 4am anymore, though I still did feel like a loser. A few months after that I had completed enough to do something called a PRG – a pressure relief group where other members of the program look at your numbers and help you make a spending plan. Thats where the magic really starts to happen.

Today things are manageable. Sometimes they’re good, definitely always getting better. But, that’s because I work really hard at my financial recovery. I balance my numbers at the end of every month and  I have since I started in the program. For me, fear lives wherever there isn’t clarity and balance. I was vague with my numbers. Things like taxes used to arrive and surprise me. This year, I was locked and loaded and filed on time. That didn’t used to happen. 

20 years ago when I began acknowledging and addressing the fact that I substance abuse problems, there was a lot of stigma about being an alcoholic/addict. While the stigma stills exists, it really doesn’t seem as bad. Most families have a member who’s dealing with some kind of addiction issue. Today, admitting to being a 12-step program for finances still feels odd. It’s not well-known so most people have no idea what I’m talking about. They hear the word debt and their eyes glaze over. The reason I want to write about the DA program is because often we’re told that AA, or rehab, or whatever treatment modality we’re using will spill over into other areas of our life. For me, that was not the case.

Learning How To Manage Money Is A Skill

Until someone showed me how to look at my numbers, I didn’t know what to do. Until someone mentored me on how to deal with the IRS, and credit cards, I just felt lost and scared. These can be complicated matters that require knowledge of the tax system, understanding of how debt and creditors work, and a basic working knowledge of math. I was lacking in these things. No amount of prayer or tenth steps was going to fix that.

Recovering addicts and alcoholics can sometimes seem fragile. “Why can’t he get his life together? He’s sober!” I’ve heard people say that. Well, for some recovering people the loss of years of schooling or professional training, or falling off a career path leaves real damage. That damage can be repaired, but for some of us, it does require learning a totally different set of skills.

The skills, tools, friends and mentors that DA has given me has provided me with direction on how to find my way out of debt, how to ask for what I worth in working environments, and how to have a spending plan that is safe and effective.

To all my friends in recovery who can’t figure out why there never seems to be enough money, or who live in fear of the creditors who call all day long, I recommend you look into programs that support financial recovery. There’s no shame in realizing you need support in that area, and like all the other 12-step programs, if you work it, it works.

To sobriety, life, love, and financial recovery 🙂

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Jenny B

Jenny B is a freelance writer who is seeking financial recovery using tools she learned in Debtors Anonymous.

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