A Business Owner Finds His Way From Chaos To Clarity
I got my first credit card shortly after I turned 18. Having grown up in a family that could be classified as the 'working poor', I saw credit as a way to live the lifestyle that my parents never had the means to provide. I signed up for every card I could get my hands on and began missing payments almost immediately. It did not occur to me that the two minimum wage jobs I had were insufficient to cover my basic expenses and the rapidly increasing minimum monthly payments for my numerous credit cards. I think most people would have taken this as a sign that they needed to change their spending habits. Not me! In my opinion, as long as I looked good everything was cool. I had a car, a motorcycle, a closet full of new clothes and was trying to impress my lady friends with expensive dinners and evenings out. Of course, the stacks of unopened mail and unpaid bills continued to grow.
The first time I heard of Debtors Anonymous was while giving a co-worker a ride to work. I had shared with this person that I had been attending another 12-Step fellowship for a number of years and she shared with me that she was a member of DA. I remember thinking how humiliating it must be to have to go to a fellowship called Debtors Anonymous! Of course, in retrospect, I was living mostly on borrowed money at that time and was more than likely behind on my rent.
The motivation to go to my first DA meeting came from one of the guys that had helped me to get clean in another fellowship a few years earlier. I worked as a sales rep at his company and had just asked him for yet another commission advance to be able to pay my rent. As he was writing the check for me, he looked at me with great sadness and told me he felt as though he was giving an alcoholic another drink. I respected this man's opinion of me. I also knew that he knew me well enough to be able to tell me what I didn't necessarily want to hear.
I reluctantly went to my first meeting. I did not want to be there. I sat in judgment of everyone in the group and decided that they were all way more screwed up than me. I left the meeting, got in my expensive car that I could not afford and drove to my apartment that I was facing eviction from. It's no wonder I felt superior to the 'losers' at the meeting! The way I saw it, as long as I could continue to look good on the outside my finances would eventually work themselves out.
It was a few years later that I began to attend DA regularly. By this time, any illusions I had of being able to 'manage' my financial affairs had been shattered. My credit was ruined. I owed large amounts of money to all my closest friends, including the woman that would eventually become my wife. I had started a business that I used as a vehicle to create more debt in every way conceivable, including bouncing payroll checks to my employees. In addition to paying ridiculous amounts of interest on my unsecured debts, I was also paying thousands of dollars per year in overdraft and NSF fees. I was no longer able to keep up the 'big-shot' appearance.
It took me almost two years of coming to DA on a regular basis to finally stop incurring new unsecured debt, one day at a time. I finally became willing to begin working the Steps in this program and began a series of Pressure Relief Meetings. My finances were such a tangled web of confusion that it wasn't until my third PRM that we were able to create my first income and spending plan. The vagueness of my spending seemed to be eclipsed only by my lack of clarity on how much money I actually earned, or didn't earn, from my various income sources.
For me, gaining clarity in my finances and getting some serenity as it related to my income required selling my business. I am not suggesting that that is the answer for everyone. But for me, I had so much emotional baggage wrapped up in this business it was the only way. Of course, I still had to work on me.
Since I have been working the DA program seriously, I have been able to pay off most of the unsecured debt I had accumulated, including the many thousands of dollars I had borrowed from my wife before we got married. My last remaining unsecured debt is to a friend and investor in the business I once had. I still owe her just under $15,000 and am making monthly payments in accordance with mutually agreed-upon terms. This is part of my amends to her for taking advantage of our friendship to meet my financial needs, even though I didn't see it that way at the time.
Not long ago I received a notice from a collection agency regarding a delinquent credit card account. This was rather surprising, considering I thought all my credit cards had been paid off for quite some time. It turns out that this was related to that first credit card I had received when I turned 18, over 15 years ago! Having not seen this on my credit report in many years and having kept no records of it otherwise, I had completely forgotten about it. Even with the recovery I have in DA, it was still difficult for me to take the action I knew I needed to take. As much as I hated to part with the money so many years later for a debt that seemed to be from another lifetime ago, it was clear to me after speaking with my sponsor and sharing about it at the group level that I needed to clean up this wreckage of my distant past. I negotiated a settlement with the collection agency and mailed them a check for the full amount of the settlement on the day that I told them I would. What a difference from my past experiences of trying to manipulate collection agencies to stall for more time!
I will soon be celebrating my fourth anniversary of not having incurred any new unsecured debt. I regularly attend one DA and one BDA meeting per week, I am of service to DA, I have been a part of countless Pressure Relief Groups, I have worked the Steps, I keep a current record of my income and expenses and I also now keep my personal funds separate from my business finances. These actions help me to remain steadfast in my resolve not to incur any new, unsecured debt, one day at a time; no matter what!
I am grateful to DA and to my Higher Power for giving me the courage to face my shortcomings as they manifest themselves in the area of money.