Can You Out-Earn Your Disease?

I heard this expression recently and cannot stop thinking about whether it would be possible to earn enough that I would no longer be a compulsive debtor. But the problem is that I’m not just a compulsive debtor, I’m a compulsive spender as well.

In Overeaters Anonymous, there is an expression that you cannot out-exercise your compulsive overeating. I always knew that was true, maybe because I hated to exercise. In fact, when I got abstinent, it was all I could do not to pick up the food, much less add in exercise. And I didn’t want my abstinence and weight to depend on whether I took a walk or went to the gym.

However, with my compulsive spending and debting, it is quite a different story. I am one who foolishly believed that if I only earned enough, whatever THAT amount is, I wouldn’t have this problem. Yet, I now know that if I magically received a million dollars, I would want (no, NEED) to spend one million and one.

Over the past few days, I had a vivid example of this. Every month, I allocate $50 toward discretionary spending for such items as movies, books, art supplies, etc. For the past year, art supplies have devoured this money for the most part. But now, I finally have what I need and just periodically replace markers and paper. A few days ago, I proudly told my sponsor that for the first time in what seems like forever, I won’t use up every penny of my discretionary money on the 1st of the month.

In fact, I am in process of redoing my spending plan with my PRG and was able to add $30 to my discretionary category for a total of $80 for the month! Surely that was more than enough.

And then, I found myself wanting this, that, and the other. Now that the funds were freed up from art supplies, the bucket began to fill up with books and movies and spiritual knick-knacks. And guess what? In order to get all I now want, I really need $100.

Not only that, but I’m resentful about it as well!

Needs Vs. Wants

There is a big difference, in discussing under-earning, between living in deprivation and, for want of a better word, greed. For DA members who are sober with money, yet cannot pay their rent or don’t have enough for food, clearly the initial goal of this program for them is to find a way to earn enough money to take care of their basic needs.

This also means that if the person who can’t make the rent or buy food is paying down debt with the bulk of income and that is the reason they are in dire straits, then the PRG team will help the member shift to caring for his or her needs first and paying the debt second.

We each know our bottom line for deprivation. Once we get clarity about this, we can actually determine a number that we need to earn or receive each month.

We don’t have to feel embarrassed about our bottom line. What is important to me may be irrelevant to someone else. (This is also important for DA members to remember as they become part of a PRG team for others.) For instance, letting go of cable tv would really put me in deprivation as most of my entertainment comes from it. For others, cable tv is not at all important to them and I know people who are perfectly happy having no TV at all!

A Spending Plan in DA is Not a Budget

A budget is like a diet, something you get on and go off, often binging in reaction to the deprivation. The DA way of life is to live in balance, ensuring that our needs are cared for first.

We ensure there is some money, even $1, in all kinds of self-care categories that the “budget” thinker might call luxuries, such as clothing, entertainment, and vacation. Yet, for us, those are all components of living in balance. Maybe $1 seems silly, but this will eventually build up. (And often, by just putting the money in the category with faith, something else happens to fund that category further.)

So meeting your bottom line is the first step in recovery. But after that, moving into more comfort may be your goal. To do so, you may have to bring in more income or sell something for what you want, or you may find an over-funded category that can provide the funds. This is where having clarity and working with your PRG team to ensure your spending plan is balanced is vital.

For instance, let’s say you feel deprived in your clothing category but you spend $200 a week at restaurants. When you have well-defined spending plan, you will see this clearly. Then, you can make a decision to eat at home more often and reduce the amount in that category if buying clothes is more important to you.

Working for Stuff

However, remember that a lot of our “wants” are just stuff that will satisfy us for a moment in time, only to be replaced by the next desire, once that one is satisfied. If you are working yourself to death just so you can afford that big house or fancy car, maybe think about whether the reward is worth the effort.

Last night, two tickets won the Powerball jackpot for nearly $600 million dollars. And I was talking to my husband about what we would do with it.

Because money burns a hole in my pocket, I realized that I might not buy Lear jets and yachts, but the nagging yearning for “stuff” would haunt me and I would not have a night’s peace. My life would become an endless pit of desire. As a bulk binger (I prefer a cart full of stuff at the thrift shop to one high-end item), I’d be buying a never-ending a stream of nickel and dime stuff.

It would be Hell for me. Even accounting for charitable giving of 10, 20, or 50%, my itch would never be satisfied because I could never spend all that money down (like Sisyphus endlessly pushing the boulder up the hill only to have it roll down again).

Sometimes Less is More

Now, I have a spending plan and every dollar has a job. Sometimes, it feels like a fortune, sometimes a paltry sum. But I don’t spend every waking minute planning how to spend a gross mountain of money, which would definitely make me miserable.

So I can either be satisfied with what I have now, which takes care of my basic needs and more, or believe the delusion that more would give me that ultimate “ahhhhh” of satisfaction, which I know is a lie.


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