Under DA’s Wing, Financial Fantasy Gives Way To Bright Reality

(Reprinted from the 2nd Quarter 2008 issue of Ways & Means)

I was always a deeply sensitive and imaginative child who, under the stress of my family’s long-term poverty, retreated into a perpetual pink, fuzzy haze of fantasy and daydreams, a pint-size Walter Mitty.

My devoted and hardworking mother Rachel did her best to raise and support 10 children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. In the Depression we lost our large farm in Connecticut and ended up on public assistance, with my Dad working for the Works Progress Administration on construction projects. There was very often a shortage of money for rent and clothing (except shoes), but never a lack of delicious, healthful food in plentiful amounts, as Mama was a gourmet cook who could feed 10 people on two chickens and a salad!

My childhood fantasy life consisted of three main elements or themes:

1. The dream of soft, comfy living like a Roman emperor, with my every whim quickly satisfied.

2. Prince Charming, riding in on a white steed from Disneyland with Cinderella to rescue me from the terrors of life--poverty, illness, anti-Semitism, boredom, etc.

3. A philanthropist of immense wealth. (Herein was my secret persona, my true Undiscovered Self--the Count Of Monte Cristo, the superrich, hidden hero.) Even more intoxicating than my brother’s vast collections of cowboy and Indian tin soldiers and BB guns was the Count’s great fat wads of “funny money”, Confederate dollars and Monopoly game “dough”, an endless supply of riches! I loved to carry a big roll of pretty, colored, but worthless “Big Bucks” in my pocket to show how important and great I was, someone no cruel Scrooge welfare case worker dared to mess with!

Herein lies the source of my magical relation to money and reality, the desperate need of a lonely, sensitive victimized child to extricate himself from an overwhelming dilemma--powerlessness over poverty. I created a phony abundance as a cocoon of safety and never really grew up to establish a mature, adult relation to money and wealth. “When you’re rich, they can’t touch you or push you around.” Even my parents bought this idea of money as a shield from life. Their favorite expression was, “Hey, they’re filthy with money,” that is, objects of awe and respect.

I chose to become a social worker in Public Assistance to work out the demon of impotence, and because my mother was in awe of such powerful positions as Welfare Supervisor, as we had suffered at their hands in closing our cases arbitrarily. I became a supervisor to make Mama proud and to hopefully prevent future abuses against others.

But, oh, the Count of Monte Cristo! Even now the center of my living room has a small shrine surrounded by two boxes of treasure and jewels. On my junkets to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, how I loved the clickety-clack sound of ivory-plastic markers thrown on the roulette table to the call, “Place your bets!” Oh, “Fete Voyager” in Casablanca--Rick’s Club! Oh, glamour! Oh, Hollywood! Oh, escapism! For a night I was not Saul, but James Bond with $10,000 markers. How sophisticated, how debonair, how chic!

How broke!

Now the creation of credit cards was to me a fabulous event equal in wonder to Orville Wright’s flying machine. Funny money was transformed into “crazy credit,” funds on demand. You put your plastic card in a box, and out came a fur coat at Bloomingdale’s, without cash. Unfortunately, a month later a bill came to my home requesting immediate payment--that’s not like Snow White in Disneyland! I was offended and dismayed by the tone of demand and threat of these letters and calls from collection agencies to my Imperial James Bond, Count of Monte Cristo. Alas, there was no Prince Charming to rescue me and demolish my debts.

I found my true salvation in an Overeaters Anonymous meeting. In 1981, I came to Debtors Anonymous and listened, an unemployed social worker deeply in debt, owing $5,500 to creditors. All I had to show for being a Count was a drawer full of tissue-paper slips marked Visa, Master card, and Northeast Bank.

My first DA sponsor, Jane S., immediately taught me how to deal with nasty collection agencies and pushy creditors. However, my first pressure group with Bill L. and Rhoda F. was a scene of cold-turkey withdrawal out of Man With A Golden Arm, The Lost Weekend, or Days Of Wine And Roses. I sweated like a pig! I got a spending plan, an action plan, and a debt repayment plan that changed my life. I found in the 12 Steps a gift from my HP, a way up and out, a gift of clarity sweeping the fog and mist of delusion away, revealing beautiful, shining city on a hill.

Now I live one day at a time, trusting that it’s OK to live this life in the real world rather than in my head. I’ve found that reality can be a good friend, not a bleak, empty wasteland; that Disney tales can be cruel, but most important of all, that my HP (Hope Perpetual) is always there for me, my Prince on a white steed, and that the truly abundant life is not one of imperial, aristocratic, glamorous rescuer illusions and fantasies, but a life of service, love, honesty, and purity which the Promises offer.

I guess I’m finally OK, and it’s great!


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