(Discretionary) Urgency is Our Enemy

It has recently become clear to me that urgency is one of the most powerful tools in the arsenal of weapons used by our disease to trick us into relapse. Along with adrenaline, urgency is a powerful drug that can drive us to behave counter to our best interests, blinding us to the potential consequences of acting while in its clutches.

When I feel that unrelenting “I’m going to die if I don’t buy this right now” feeling, that is urgency using adrenaline to whip me into a frenzied submission. And I’ve noticed, sadly, that this feeling of urgency follows me into other areas of my life. I like to call it discretionary urgency.

Discretionary Urgency as a Disability

I have been disabled since 2010 with a weird cluster of symptoms that are dominated by dizziness 24/7. This dizziness is made worse on the computer, reading, driving, in big box stores, even talking on the phone! It’s like being seasick but not on a boat or wearing the wrong prescription. Sometimes, the room spins. The rest of the time, there is spinning inside my head, so closing my eyes can make it worse. I’ve not had a moment where I didn’t experience some level of this dizziness (some call it lightheadedness). They have labeled it with many names, but in the end, it’s the symptom that keeps me disabled.

But I feel called to communicate with the written word. (I had to give up on podcasting or public speaking in 2010.) This is a conundrum because being on a computer for any length of time exacerbates the dizziness, and prompts migraines, extreme fatigue, and palpitations. And, being 60, a sense of my own mortality looms ever larger in my consciousness. So I feel pressured to produce whatever work is percolating inside of me. To get it out NOW because tomorrow may be too late.

Recovery and Balance

But that type of thinking is antithetical to recovery. We live one day at a time. We stay present in today. In fact, we do our best to be present in each moment.

As compulsive debtors and spenders, we may find that the side issue of time management often plays a role in our lives. Many feel the crunch of not having enough time to do everything. Plus, I find that an overarching theme in all recovery programs is that we must balance work and play and rest and spirituality.

My problem is that I am both driven by the compulsion to produce (which would have been a miracle in my old life where I felt stuck and blocked) and the inability to do so for more than short periods without becoming extremely dizzy and ill. In fact, last week, I had to shut off the computer for three days in a row because I pushed too hard the previous three and was literally too ill to push myself. So I am left choosing between my self-imposed sense of urgency and self-care.

My DA sponsor helped put this into perspective. She spoke about how most people have to fit such creative endeavors into a life filled with one or more jobs and possibly young children or elderly parents to care for. It seems that we all have our barriers to doing what we want when we want it.

Discretionary Urgency Cannot Drive Spending

Doesn’t that sound familiar? As compulsive spenders and debtors, we have our own set of barriers. In recovery, we can no longer let a sense of self-imposed urgency drive us to spend when we cannot afford it. I’m not talking about true emergencies, such as those that require a trip to the emergency room. I’m talking about discretionary spending that only FEELS urgent, but isn’t.

We keep categories for this purpose, to remind us of our choices for where our money goes. And we are lovingly guided to maintain a sense of balance in allocating our funds. For instance, we cannot fund our clothing, technology, vacation (fill in the blank with your personal favorite) category to the detriment of our food, housing, utility bills, medical, or vehicle categories.

We must live by self-imposed boundaries if we want to stay in recovery from compulsive debting and spending. No one is holding a gun to our heads … except our disease. As with my writing problem, I am left choosing between compulsion and self-care when I allow my sense of urgency around discretionary spending to cloud my judgement.

Here are just a few examples of the clarion call to urgency:

  1. “But the sale ends today!”
  2. “It’s the last one.”
  3. “I have to do this to start my new career”
  4. “It’s my health!” (referring to non-urgent, elective, usually alternative, medical care.)

How to Deal with Discretionary Urgency

What is truly urgent in our lives is not at all the same as what FEELS urgent. Learning the difference is key to a more peaceful recovery. When we are committed to living by our spending plan categories, we are armed with two weapons that fight the sense of urgency:

  1. Clarity and
  2. Commitment

When we are committed to recovery from compulsive debting and spending, we live within our means. A solid spending plan with our money spread across categories is the best way to maintain clarity about how much we have available for any given item and keep us solvent. So, if we are struck with a sense of discretionary urgency for something we cannot afford today, we have two choices:

1. Give in and begin the downward spiral into our old spending patterns, which could lead to relapse.


2. Pray to our Higher Power for the courage and willingness to bear the discomfort until comfort comes.

The feeling of urgency WILL NOT KILL YOU despite the fact that it makes you believe that it will. Discretionary urgency will also pass given enough time, which is why #2 above is the right prayer to use. Meditation, as suggested in Step 11, is a wonderful way to strengthen your ability to withstand uncomfortable feelings, as your mind tries to take over when you sit in silence.

Recovery from compulsive spending and debting is all about choices. We make a choice at any given moment to abstain from our old destructive money behavior. A commitment to recovery is not dependent on feeling good all the time or getting our way under all circumstances.

We might also look at where else we feel this sense of urgency to our detriment. Like me, is a sense of urgency a pattern that makes you overwork, overplay, take risks, or engage in other behaviors besides those around spending and debting?

Urgency in all cases is really a Step 6 and Step 7 issue because we cannot eliminate our feelings of urgency. But we don’t have to give into it. Eventually, as we practice living in recovery and doing our part by not taking the action of giving into discretionary urgency, our Higher Power can lessen or even entirely remove the feelings that drive it. But one thing I know for sure. If I don’t stop acting out on discretionary urgency, there isn’t a chance I’ll stop feeling it.

What pushes your discretionary urgency button?

[Note: The downloadable version of “The Five Year Recovery Journal” is now on sale for just $1.99! Click here for more details, sample pages, and to buy!]


4 thoughts on “(Discretionary) Urgency is Our Enemy

  1. Urgency has led to leaving relationships prematurely; purchasing homes, campers cars jewelry and art I had to have right away. Urgency is a message to slow down and be present, thanks for the reminder

  2. What a timely post for me. Urgency seems to be driven by my need to control situations I can not control. Fear is at the heart of it. I want to know what is going to happen and thus control all the details. Hmmm, this is what my compulsive shopping/debting was all about too: details I could control (I believed) by shopping and buying what I wanted when I wanted it. Ugh. SO grateful for DA HOW!!!

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