In April, I celebrated six years of back to back abstinence from compulsive debting. But it has become clear to me recently that I am still a seriously compulsive spender. And I now truly understand why the primary purpose of Debtors Anonymous (DA) is not incurring unsecured debt.
If we just never had to spend money again, we wouldn’t have a problem, right? But unfortunately, we must learn to forge a new relationship with money that doesn’t include incurring unsecured debt. As I’ve written before, we must walk the razor’s edge.
From a practical standpoint, the first thing we must become willing to do in order not to debt is to learn to live within our means. There are many who qualify for this program who are not compulsive spenders (such as deprivers and underearners), and they face their own set of difficulties. But for those who are compulsive spenders, walking that razor’s edge is a particularly painful challenge.
Working a Rigorous Program
I, personally, work a highly rigorous DA program that includes:
- Calling a sponsor every day.
- Committing what I plan to spend today by category.
- Reporting what I spent yesterday by category.
- Contacting my sponsor if any spending I hadn’t planned becomes necessary as I go through my day.
- Thinking through any unplanned purchase to see if it can wait until tomorrow as a gesture of humility before proceeding.
- Waiting at least 24 hours for a new discretionary purchase for which I develop a yearning, even if i have the money in my spending plan.
- Living by my spending plan categories. While I do move money between subcategories, I do not move between master categories without discussing it with my sponsor or having a pressure relief meeting (PRG). For instance, I wouldn’t take grocery money and spend it on clothing because I know that eventually, if I keep doing this, I won’t have money for something I actually need (like a bill that will come due).
- Having a PRG every few months and when I receive unallocated money of over $100 or develop an obsession to buy a big ticket item for which I do not have enough money saved in its category.
- Maintaining clarity with my spending by reconciling with my bank account at least weekly (and usually more often).
- Looking at my spending plan categories instead of my bank account to determine how much money I have available.
- Attending one meeting a week, making or receiving a phone call a day (I strive to do that), and reading and writing.
- Sponsor and sit on others’ PRGs.
- Meditating, praying, and daily inventory.
WHEW! Now, with all that, you’d think I’d have it made, right? On paper, it sure looks like I’ve got every angle covered. But if you thought that, you’d have underestimated the cunning of my dastardly disease.
Just One Way to Work DA
To the newcomer, I want to be clear that this isn’t the only way to work DA. Many people are sober in this program who do not work the program as I do. And I also know this level of rigor may sound crazy to someone who is solvent in DA who doesn’t need to do all that I need to do to stay sober. But I have grown to cherish the way I work my recovery program (though I must confess that the first two years I wanted to quit every few weeks). Without this rigor, as I proved to myself from earlier experience in DA, I was not able to maintain solvency.
I don’t debt. I do live within my means, though I have had to use my savings recently because my income became vastly reduced. I’ve developed a system that took it all from overwhelming to easily managed. [For one thing, I use a software program called YNAB (You Need a Budget) that completely streamlines bank reconciliation and the spending plan/category process, making it like a virtual envelope system.]
A Revolving Door of Desire
The way my particular addiction is cunning, baffling, and powerful is precisely why I need to do all those things I just described. It’s just my opinion, but for those who are not compulsive spenders, working DA is a vastly different experience. There is still the same bottom line, but the compulsion to spend is not a factor.
As a compulsive spender, I am driven by constant desire. I’m embarrassed to admit this after six years, but the demons still haunt me. Thankfully, for today I’m graced with willingness to work my program, which keeps me sober and not white knuckling it, but these demons still walk alongside me. Yes, it’s gotten better. But those guys are far from gone.
Working Steps 6 and 7 on those demons as character defects is how I deal with it. I’ve even done a three month moratorium on all discretionary spending. It was tough. But I made it and found it an amazing experience. But like a rubber band, my addictive mind worked its way back to a revolving door of desire again.
The Compulsion will Pass
What is my part? I’m embarrassed to admit that the slightest nudging can begin the downward spiral. A new idea comes along and I start to research it. Too much research provokes more desire. Desire produces yearning. Yearning plus obsessive researching soon explodes into a ball of fiery obsession.
What I’ve learned, though, is that as long as I don’t act on the obsession (which for me means working my program by doing all those things I described above), I will not trigger craving. As they describe in the Big Book, obsession is in the mind. Craving is a physical reaction in the body (for me, the adrenaline rush when I buy in obsession).
Eventually, obsession will pass. But I know from painful experience that I am powerless over the craving once I’ve given in to the obsession, and I won’t be able to stop spending. This behavior will inevitably lead to debting when I A) run out of money, B) have the brilliant idea that I should save my cash and use credit cards again, or C) become determined to buy something I just can’t afford. Or to put it simply … relapse.
Therefore, waiting is an integral part of my program of recovery. I try never to buy when I’m in the throes of obsession (and succeed often). If I still want it when the desire settles, then it becomes a different matter. This is where I believe I am in recovery. I am willing to experience the pain of waiting. And sometimes, it’s just awful. But I do remember that it will pass.
But there are times that I wait and wait, but still really want something. In that case, I discuss it with my sponsor and if I have the money available to purchase it, I do finally commit and buy it. But I’m thankful that I’ve learned how to deal with the pain of sitting with the feelings of compulsion soberly to at least let some of the urgency pass. And by the way, I’ve never regretted a decision not to make a purchase once the dust settled.
Enslaved by Chronic Desire
It’s that feeling of urgency that is the Devil for me. The lie that I will die if I don’t get what I want when I want it. The lie that buying this ONE LAST THING will make the pain of desire finally go away forever.
What I really loathe is being enslaved by my mind, which just won’t stop wanting stuff.
The deep-rooted problem is that once I’ve purchased what I want, no matter how soberly, it’s just a temporary solution until I come across the next object of desire.
Staying the Course
I just haven’t been able to shake the tree limbs of my mind enough to get rid of what drives me to want one thing after another. My disease manifests as a desire for more and a lack of satisfaction once I get it. But if I want to live a life in recovery, I must keep trying to remove this character defect as with all Step 6 and 7 issues. I just have to do my part and my Higher Power will eventually remove the mental defect. But no one gives a timeline for when the miracle occurs.
My part is to do what I need to do to stay solvent and clear about my choices. And I know that I could certainly make it easier on myself by not winding myself up when tempted. So in the end, I am definitely NOT recovered. But for today, I am in recovery.
Our Brilliant Primary Purpose
I am so grateful for the wisdom of the founders of DA. Clearly there was no way to create one primary purpose to address the many paths that lead us to incur unsecured debt. But they clearly recognized that if we don’t debt as our bottom line, then all the ways we get there will be dealt with through the 12 Steps of Debtors Anonymous.