Resisting that Irresistible Urge to Spend

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

Image by George Hodan

Image by George Hodan

Recently, I came across an article about a woman in the U.K. who had to keep a backlog of rent money because there were issues with the property owners being unable to set up a bank account for rent. The article said:

The problem [with the rent money] was only alerted to Ms Bracher upon [her] contacting the company in May, and it has been unable to tell her when the situation is likely to be resolved.

Ms. Bracher has a history of mental health and compulsive spending problems, and she is concerned she will be unable to resist using the accumulating rent for other purposes.

She said: “I have told Network Housing that I am in danger of spending the money and that it is causing a great deal of anxiety having the money in my account, but they do not seem to care.

As a result, I am not sleeping properly and it is having a massive effect on my day-to-day life and health.

They have put me in a vulnerable position as they cannot tell me when the problem will be resolved and I cannot cope much longer.”

Wow! I can sure relate to that. I clearly remember those days when having a pile of money accumulating in my checking account was gasoline poured on the fire of my compulsion to spend.

But I must say that I am awed by Ms. Bracher’s honesty and integrity around this matter. She reached out to them. And she had clear self-awareness of her problem. That buildup of pressure when we accumulate money is all too familiar to me.

I’ve shared many times that money burns a hole in my pocket, even around sober spending. That’s why having a clear spending plan with every penny allocated to a category is vital for me. When I see a pile of money in my bank account, my addict brain goes, “Whooppeee! Party Time!” But now that I’ve developed the habit of rigorously living by my categories, that compulsive feeling comes on me far less frequently, and only with discretionary categories, like clothing, books, and art supplies.

So while I do empathize with Ms. Bracher’s dilemma, and gratefully remember those days myself, the miracle of recovery is that since April 25th, 2009, I have been able to accumulate in categories defined for a specific purpose to be paid at a later date. For instance, I divide all my annual bills by 12, or quarterly bills by three, and each month, that portion of my income goes into that specific category to be used only for that purpose. Even in my gifts category, where I spend $20 on each of my many great nieces and nephews, I allocate $1.67/month toward each child so I have enough for their gift each year when the time comes to buy it.

Because of recovery, unlike Ms. Bracher, I would be able to accumulate and keep the rent money for as long as necessary because I wouldn’t see it as money I can spend for any other purpose. I am profoundly grateful that recovery has blessed me with a set of blinders when it comes to such spending.

As I said many times, where I do still suffer is in those nagging discretionary categories. It’s nearly impossible for me to accumulate for bigger ticket items, just for the reason Ms. Bracher shared. I am still, despite years of recovery, too tempted by what’s in front of me today. Too often, I will opt for the thing I can afford rather than holding out to “save up” for what I really want.

By the way, “save” is a word I despise (nearly as much as the word “budget”) because it still triggers feelings of deprivation and desperation in me. Like a Pavlov’s dog who was trained to react in a specific way to a stimulus, when I think about saving, I immediately want to spend.

But I love the tool of delayed gratification. Because of my positive experience using this tool, I now more easily turn to it even when in the grips of compulsion because I’ve practiced doing so over and over.

What really helps me is my practice of committing my spending in the morning to another member of my support group every day. I view that commitment as removing all decision-making for new discretionary items that might cross my path in the course of the day.

So, for instance, if I suddenly come across a book I really want mid-afternoon, I am now able to tell myself that if I still want it tomorrow, as long as there’s money in that category, I can buy it then after I commit it. Most often, when tomorrow comes, I no longer want it because my disease has released its death grip on me. That is the miracle of delayed gratification.

Now, that’s how it goes when it’s a fleeing fancy. But in the case of some new item showing up that causes me to experience that “I’m going to die if I don’t buy it now” feeling, I don’t just wait until the next morning. Oh no! I become willing to wait it out until the fire dies down, because I know that it is not sober for me to engage in spending that feels so desperately driven. That may mean waiting weeks, or even months, sometimes. Inevitably, when I wait, once I’m released from desire’s grip, I end up realizing that what I thought I needed so desperately in that addictive state wasn’t in my best and highest good after all and I no longer want it.

Today, I know that feeling of “I will die if I don’t have it right now,” especially when connected with either, “this will make me successful (or rich),” or its sister, “this is the cure for my chronic illness” are never messages coming from the voice of my Higher Power. I know that because I am absolutely certain that my Higher Power’s will for me is to live within my means and will never, ever put something discretionary in my path (as opposed to an actual life or death matter) that is in my best and highest good that I cannot afford.

Maybe I could accumulate the funds over time for that item, class, or service. But if I’m not willing to do that, and instead insist that the only solution is to bankrupt myself or debt, I can be all the more certain that this thought, this feeling is the work of the devil of my addict mind. And when I remember that, I can surrender to the discomfort of waiting it out, so that the sunlight of truth shines on the darkness of my desire.

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