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Gaining Peace of Mind from My Financial Past

Issue 31

by Karen F.

I bought a recommended financial book by a famous female author to try to understand money and why I had such a hard time making a viable living. The introductory assignment made me want to slam the book shut. The honesty required was more harrowing than my painful, post-divorce therapy sessions. This dreaded exercise simply stated: “Write your family history around money.”

I hadn’t forgotten it, but I did not want to look at it. I remembered the bankruptcy, our house on the auction block, and the utilities being shut off during my father’s downward spiral into alcoholism. I recalled my mother’s exhaustion from raising three kids, working both full-time and often part-time simply to keep a roof over our heads. Years later, even with Dad’s many years of sobriety, my parents lost their second small business and their home, as their unpaid taxes built up penalties of $450,000.

I wrote it all down. The panic I had as a kid when the sheriff’s department came to our house repeatedly looking for my dad, with a summons for his arrest for overdue bills. I felt my mother’s anxiety and fear as we teetered on the brink of homelessness. I also knew it was the main reason why I had stayed in a lonely marriage and 25 years of rejection. We had two children, he made a good living, and somehow despite many attempts, I could never make that happen for myself.

So now, I am sitting in a room in a 12-step recovery program listening to stories like mine. As people untangle the wreckage of their financial past to move toward, they often achieve a much brighter future.

Debtor’s Anonymous is more than just about money. It is a journey into the fears, resentments, and beliefs we carry in our psyches. While the steps are similar, the verbiage varies a bit to address this particular issue. We admit our powerlessness, call on a Higher Power, do our personal inventories, and the subsequent steps.

We look at the stories we tell ourselves and the beliefs that get revealed. Some people spend their money the minute they get it in their hands, terrified to save it. Others hoard it and live a threadbare existence. Some people are afraid to ask for what they are owed, or they ignore the unpaid tax bills. The lack of self-esteem, the desire to be rescued, the magical thinking that money will somehow appear – any or all of these can be at play.

Some come with huge debt, like my Dad. With the tools and support of the program, they can learn helpful skills to reverse that. Some, like me, have been spending down a settlement, or have lost it all and don’t know how to change or fix it. Others have a serious fear of success and thus have undervalued and underpriced their services. The common denominator is that we are terrified to look at the numbers and also recognize our compulsive behaviors around money.

There are as many reasons as there are solutions. There is also an emphasis on self-care as we try these new practices of doing our numbers, budgeting, getting a sponsor, working the steps, and asking for help. As we practice new habits and shift our beliefs, new stories emerge; success stories as we take new actions that bring clarity, solvency, and peace of mind.

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