Getting Off the Seesaw

Click here to listen on our podcast site, “I Cant Stop Spending!”

get-off-the-seesaw1I really enjoy articles from the website “Becoming Minimalist.” In fact, I sometimes repost them to our Facebook page.

In fact, just yesterday, I reposted an article from them called “The Story of Enough: Giving Up (new) Clothes for One Year.”

Without reading more than a paragraph, I clicked the Share button to spread the word.

The thought of how exciting it would be to go one year without buying new items in one or more of my own discretionary categories whipped up my adrenaline to nearly a frenzy.

But the fact is, it’s the idea of it, the past tense of having accomplished it, that excites me … being at the end of that year and having accomplished the goal. The actual pain of having to endure day after day after day without succumbing to temptation or desire … now THAT is a horrifying thought. Having gone through a three-month moratorium on all discretionary spending, I can tell you that for me, anyway, on many days, it was a nightmare of pain and longing, a battle royale with my addiction.

There is a Better Way


That brings me to the subject of today’s podcast: getting off the seesaw. Most compulsive spenders in the throes of their addiction swing between binging and deprivation. There is a high, there is a low, and there is a lot of pain on either end of the spectrum.

But we compulsive spenders are practiced at swinging back and forth, either engaging in out of control spending that leaves us stoned, disoriented, and still dissatisfied (because there is just no such thing as the ultimate “ahhhh” for a compulsive spender), or vowing to “get back on the wagon” after a spending blowout (a reference to a term used by alcoholics after a drinking bender), which is usually accompanied by tremendous self-loathing and remorse. Oh, and, by the way, said vow may be just to oneself or it might be sincerely pledged to one’s family if the spending impacted them adversely and/or involved some dishonest use of credit cards, check, or cash.

Let’s face it, there is no real satisfaction in either going up or down on the seesaw between binging and deprivation. If there were, there’d be no need for us to continue the cycle.

But recovery teaches us to find that middle way so we can finally get off the teetertotter. The middle way doesn’t involve striving for ultimate fulfillment.

Accepting the Fact that There is No Ultimate Satisfaction in Any Purchase

The fact is, and this may be hard to swallow, if you’re a compulsive spender like me, you’ll never be completely satisfied. That’s right. If I have nothing, I yearn for something. If I have something, I long for more. If I see something I don’t have that I want (and especially if I can’t afford it), that longing intensifies exponentially to the point that I literally feel that I will die if I don’t have it. And in all cases, I believe that having whatever it is I desire at this moment will forever change my life. Man, if I had a million dollars to spend, by golly, I will find that I need a million and one. And if I don’t have that additional $1 to spend, my torment and suffering will be boundless.

And this is where acceptance comes in. With acceptance that neither extreme will satisfy me, when I really come to know that on a visceral level, I can then begin to accept and be grateful for what I do have, for what I can afford. When I know, really accept that fact, then I am willing and able to say no to both the obsession before I buy, and the craving for more, more, more once I spend any money, even soberly. It is at that point that I can be willing to live within my means.

For me, getting there involved believing in and allowing a Power greater than myself to restore me to sanity. Because the fact is, there is no way on earth I could come to believe all that on my own. I know it because I tried unsuccessfully for most of my adult life.

A Perfect Setup for Binging

Getting back to the Becoming Minimalist article, I see that this would be the perfect example of deprivation for an active compulsive debtor … a setup for a mind-blowing spending binge in reaction to making such an extreme and impulsive commitment. However, as I discussed in in the post, “Money Diet vs. Spending Moratorium,” where I talk about the difference between a spending diet and a moratorium, there may be value for someone who has spent time living in that middle way for awhile to make a considered decision, not a knee-jerk, impulsive, resolution, to take their recovery to the next level by taking some time away from spending in one or more discretionary categories.

I believe that if you are still engaged in active compulsive spending, attempting such a commitment without a period of sobriety first along with a network of support to shore you up, is self-sabotage that will throw you into a binge of equal epic proportion. I believe that if you do manage to make it to the end, you’ll be like that racehorse who bolts out of the gate, chomping at the bit for the moment you can return to your old behavior.

However, again I bring up the example of my friend, who is currently engaged in a three-month spending moratorium with discretionary spending. She has well over a year of living within her means and being sober with her spending. She chose to make this commitment because she has become increasingly aware of the subtle ways her addiction still talks to her around such spending.

She feels ready to move to another level of recovery. It’s not just the act of not compulsively spending that’s important to her, it’s increasing the peace she feels around living soberly with money.

But I don’t think you can go from zero to 90. I think you must lay the groundwork before attempting something like this. Because it’s your motivation that’s the key to success when you decide to commit to a spending moratorium. If you go into it desperate, believing it’s a magic bullet that will cure you, you will be sorely disappointed. You can’t kill the addiction with deprivation.

The Middle Way is Still the Best

I left the link to the article on the Facebook page because the author made some important points, but I urge you to be cautious when you read it. It sure sounds exciting in theory, but let me tell you that you will have to face 365 individual days (or 8,760 hours) not buying clothes (or whatever is your biggest spending tempation), much of which, I guarantee you, will be spent in a battle with your demons unless you are in fit spiritual condition and have that network of support around your spending already. And even then, based on my own experience, you may still spend more time than you can imagine struggling.

The fact is, you never, ever have to do a spending moratorium to be in recovery and sober with money. Most people I know in recovery never even attempt it.

Just get off the seesaw. Start by getting the help you need to live within your means one day a time. Find a support group of others like you to help you on the road to recovery. For me it was Debtors Anonymous and the 12 Steps. But whatever route you take to become willing, the practical steps are the same, and they’re simple and few:

  1. Cut up your credit cards
  2. Create a spending plan
  3. Become willing to stick to it, and
  4. Cultivate gratitude for what you have.

It’s in living this middle way that will heal you day in and day out. You can do this. You can get off the seesaw of binging and deprivation. You can learn to live the middle way, one day at a time, for the rest of your life. And when you do, won’t that be far more astonishing than a temporary cease-fire?

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