I have had this expression pinned to my wall for years:
Pain is what I walk through, misery is what I sit in.
There is a lot of angst in healing from our dysfunctional use of money. In the past, I gave in to the obsession to spend rather than walk through the discomfort. I never believed that it would end. But everything changes in life.
In my recovery experience, when I felt agony over wanting something so badly that I thought I would die if I didn’t buy it, waiting was always the antidote. Every time I DIDN’T give in to the obsession, the obsession was eventually lifted.
On the contrary, my addict mind lies to me and says that I will only feel better if I buy it, even if I can’t afford it. The truth is that any time I do that, I always feel a rebound and want more. I never feel that ultimate “ahhhhhh” of satisfaction.
Once I give in to buying when I am in obsession, I unleash craving and desire for more, whether I scratch any particular itch or not. There is a difference between buying something I want and buying something to (temporarily) stop the pain of obsession.
Feeling Our Pain
A DA friend shared this quote from a meditation teacher:
We need to belly up to our own suffering and feel it.
I want to be comfortable. I don’t want to hurt. But our program is about accepting reality … life on life’s terms. And life is sometimes painful. We can’t always have what we want … and certainly we can’t always have what we want the moment we want it.
For me, not running away from pain is the best way to heal from it. But there is a difference between feeling my ache and romancing the obsession.
Recently, I wanted to buy a new, expensive smartphone. Bad. Real bad. I was obsessed with it. I saved for it and worked with my PRG team to abstinently purchase it.
Then, I realized that I was uncomfortable spending so much and didn’t want to buy it until I felt less strangled by it. Until I felt at peace with it.
But I was in the grips of restlessness, irritability, and discontent (RIDS) over it, constantly researching and thinking about it. My sponsor asked me to give it a rest for a week.
NONONO! I insisted I could not do that, but knew that was the right thing to do.
It took less than 24 hours to let go once I made a decision to turn my will over and take direction. Today, someone mentioned a cell phone and I realized I haven’t even thought about this issue for four days. Not once. I have total peace over not buying a cell phone today. I will buy one eventually, but not today.
I couldn’t see that I was in the obsession until my sponsor reached out to pull me out of it. That is the miracle of our fellowship and 12th step work.
There is Always a Choice
Though I cannot necessarily stop the first thought about it, I always have two choices when I am drowning in desire for a purchase:
- I can choose to romance the thought, spending my days on internet research to find the best deal, reading product reviews, exhausting myself by going to store after store to check out the product.
Or, if a career training program or new medical strategy, posting questions about it, or reading everything I can ad nauseam and fantasizing about it non-stop.
All of this behavior will add to my anxiety and desire, which will lead to whipping myself up into an adrenaline frenzy, making abstinence from compulsive spending and debting far more difficult than it needs to be.
- I can recognize what is going on and pray for the willingness to stop. I can make a phone call for help. I can write about the feelings, not the purchase.
I can stop and move on to another activity, so as not to further fuel the flames. For instance, regarding the cell phone, it was not a crisis or even a need, but a desire. So I can choose not to do more research, visit stores, look for sales, or get the opinions of others until I am sane and calm about the issue.
One day at a time, I can give myself a break from actively pursuing this purchase at all, until I no longer feel I will die if I don’t have it or make the wrong decision about it.
Obsession & Craving Require a Spiritual Cure
Even if this is an abstinent purchase, if I choose path #1, I will end up debting because, eventually, I will justify one too many discretionary purchases by insisting they are all needs, not wants. And I will run out of savings before I run out of desire. It’s not the purchase, but my attitude about it, that requires my effort.
As the Big Book states on page 85:
It is easy to let up on the spiritual program of action and rest on our laurels. We are headed for trouble if we do, for alcohol is a subtle foe. We are not cured of alcoholsim. What we really have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintence of our spiritual condition.
Obsession and craving are spiritual problems. We can use our program to find a daily spiritual cure. We don’t just want to be “dry drunks,” hanging on by our fingernails. We are seeking recovery on all three levels, spiritual, physical, and emotional.
Practice is Key
Learning this new way of attention to our purchases takes practice. No one said recovery is painless. They just say it is simple. For today, if you feel gripped by a spending desire, recognize what you can do to calm the obsession, to let go, rather than give in. For today, don’t fuel the flames of desire that are detrimental to your physical, emotional, or spiritual recovery.