|In Britain, A Debtor Recovers - And Watches A Fellowship Grow
I was standing outside a church door with a few other members of Alcoholics Anonymous in the rain, waiting for the keyholder to arrive. I was aware that I was talking when a young woman turned on me and almost shouted, “Why don't you just get a job?”
I had the sort of shock that goes directly to the central of my being. In that moment I felt the crash inside myself between what she said and the impossibility of me following through. Maybe I had been complaining a bit too much, but if she had been me she would have a lot to moan about too.
I was a deeply unemployed makeup artist. I had loads of debt, but was not sure how much. That day I had gotten into trouble with the bicycle shop as I could not pay for a puncture repair.
There were too many makeup artists and I was vastly unappreciated. I had been taken advantage of over a workshop I had intended to do something interesting with, not sure what, but had sub-let it, and the tenant had not paid anything for three years. The incredibly cheap rent in my flat was some two and a half years in arrears but the landlord had sent me an unclear statement. I had no intention of paying until he made it clear. I had bought a house on the Coast on a whim in 1988 and had given it back to the bank in 1990. It was now full of addicts and managed by the only agent notorious for taking landlords’ rents, folding her company, and then starting again.
Mary sat on the phone and listened. I told her too much detail of why it was not my fault. I was sure I had convinced her. She gently suggested that I get hold of a book on debting, write down everything I spent in all its tiny detail, and come to a meeting of DA. After six weeks of keeping my figures I could call a Pressure Relief Group. This was made up of two people in DA who would help take the pressure off me wherever it fell.
There was only one DA meeting at that time outside the United States, and that was on a Monday night in central London. I waited for six weeks, writing down everything I spent, then I let DA be graced with my presence. I was prepared to show these losers I was not a debtor, but a poor girl who had been dealt the most terrible of hands. I sat in the meeting not listening to the other five people. I told everyone I was a great makeup artist and that they were lucky to know me. I vaguely recognised another lady. A long while later she told me she had spent a whole afternoon with me talking about DA. I had a complete blackout about that meeting.
At the end of the meeting I accosted the Secretary and demanded he give me a Pressure Relief Meeting. He looked a bit annoyed and suggested 6 in the morning that Friday. I never got out of bed before 11, but out of bravado I agreed and then told Mary what I had arranged. Unbeknownst to me she was in love with the Secretary and also unbeknownst to me she was still debting heavily. It was June 10, 1991. So that Friday morning in central London we met up with my figures of everything I had spent over the last six weeks, every cup of tea, every newspaper and me with a serious self-righteous attitude.
The two looked at my figures and gently pointed out that I was some 20,000 British pounds in debt, but that all I needed to stop debting was to earn 94 pounds 70. I could not believe it. I was desperately ashamed and completely elated at the same time. I did not have to pay the debt back first; I just had to earn that tiny amount of money and worry about the debt later. They explained that unsecured debt was anything that I borrowed where if nothing happened I did not give it back. So from a pencil to cash, if I did not exchange for something of the same value it was a debt.
I left the Pressure Relief Meeting on a high. London was still on its way to work and I was going home to think about how I could get some money. I received a phone call from someone who was about to take some exams. “Can you look after my old lady with Alzheimer’s for the next four weeks? She does not need much. You give her a suppository before lunch and then take her her tray of lunch, made up from the night before and make sure she does not fall over, she said.
“I am really busy and I don't like ill people,” I said. “You finish at 4pm and every day her daughter gives you 75 pounds in cash, ” she begged. I jumped. In one day I could make most of the amount I needed to stop debting one day at a time. I took the job.
In the afternoon another friend, a co-debtor, rang to have the weekly moan about money. I told her I had had a revelation and that I only needed to earn 94 pounds 70 to stop debting. She was as shocked as I was. She said someone she knew needed help “looking things up”. She gave me the number, I rang it, and the voice at the other end asked me to come into the office at 5 pm that day with my bank details, which I did. She was in a turmoil of papers and phones so I did not find out what the job was. She did ask me whether I was a member of the British Library. I wasn't, but said I was and joined on Saturday. By Monday I had worked for the old lady, been to the Library where I had asked the staff there to help answer the questions, and then I went to the DA meeting.
Even I had to agree there was something going in way beyond my comprehension. I paid off some of my cash debts within the first few weeks, the old lady went into a care home, and I got as much work as I wanted at the Library. A few months later I learned I was working for a huge art publication, and I had consistently done well in the audits of the other researchers. The editor asked me what my doctorate had been in! I explained I had failed all my exams and had no degree at all. She looked shocked and said she was only supposed to employ Post Graduates at the very least, but as I had done so well she would keep quiet about it if I did. That first Friday she had been too chaotic to ask, so I did not have to lie.
I have gone into some detail about my first week all those years ago to show that despite a stinking attitude, poor recovery around me, and no literature except a non-Conference approved book, my life was changed despite myself, just by sharing with other debtors. We all shared with one another every Monday and gradually the Fellowship grew. I started a number of meetings, gave PRGs, and watched as literature finally arrived from America.
We evolved spending plans before computers were commonplace, using accountancy books. I used a prepaid phone card and jumped into phone boxes all the time to ask the smallest thing about my finances from any other DA member. Using the awareness tool, I started to read the financial sections of the paper, understanding very little.
I went to court over some of my debts and made arrangements to pay them off, all the time talking and talking to other DA members, sometimes for hours until they were begging to get off the phone. I became consumed by the programme in a positive way. I was hungry for recovery!
There was a legal process going through the courts arguing that negative equity did not have to be paid off, so I decided to enter into negotiation. It took five years, but on March 28, 1997 I paid off the last of my debt. Since then I have been totally free of any unsecured debt. I got a sponsor in 1996 and worked the Steps every Tuesday at 6 pm for an hour. After a while my sponsor found out what I was earning. and deeply shocked said I was massively underearning. I nearly hit him, but sat there just fuming. I still acted like a victim. A visitor from New York said he would help me start a Business Owners Debtors Anonymous meeting. He brought some literature and that was the last I saw of him, but I waited and after about three months I had two others committed to the meeting.
I did a very basic computer course. That December a friend gave me her boyfriend’s number, saying he made good money out of computing. I had recently been diagnosed as dyslexic and could not see how I was going to change from being an underearner, still a victim. I made the call and he suggested I go into loads of employment agencies and do their tests until I started to pass them, then to come back to him. I did as I was told, I was learning slowly to do what I was told.
I could not spend it and had just bought my flat at a discount. I got shouted at and bullied. I did not understand the banking world; I did not like my team. I kept at it. I learned how to get the computer to tell me what my dyslexia could not. I got sacked. I got another job and got sacked and this continued . I knew why I was not up to the job but I kept quiet and did the best I could, and went to lots of meetings in the evening. I worked the Steps on my being a victim, being dishonest, being a drama queen. I learned that as a debtor I wanted something for nothing and this is best counteracted by service. I took on sponsees and did more service. “Service makes me rich” is my mantra for newcomers.
My definition of rich means in all areas of my life. I joined Intergroup, and because of the graveyard hours shared a lot on debtors websites. I then made a commitment to have a convention for the next ten years. This year 2010 is the tenth and that has been a thrill to see it growing and growing. Small groups all over Europe send people over to England, and we talk to each other, growing DA.
Things changed in London after 9/11 and I got sacked again. I was sacked on the 3rd of December and paid off the last of my mortgage on 5th of December. I was debt free. What was I going to do with my life? A friend suggested we go to India. After a Christmas and New Year on the beach I went to buy a carpet that had been on my wish list. As I was leaving the pool in the morning, an Englishwoman who had ignored us for the whole three weeks swam towards me She told me not to bother getting out of her way as she was used to her own pool in Spain. I asked why she was here in India when she had a pool in Spain. “Tax exile darling”, she said.
A voice from somewhere came out of my mouth and said, “Tell me if I am being rude, but could you tell me how?” I promise I do not say these sort of things. There followed a six-hour workshop on how to make money. She and her husband told me to write everything down, not to debt and keep my eyes and ears open. I had my Steps, I had my figures, I felt free to tell them what my assets and defects were both in character and finances. They told me story after story always with the emphasis on having fun.
I came back to London and started a business buying and renting property. I am now a millionaire with no unsecured debt. I share my story to illustrate that at no point did I have a clue how things would turn out, and indeed I still don't. I have learned to do what the programme tells me, and trust my HP has got fun and games for me ahead. I am still financial fearful at times, but I just recognise it as an old annoying friend. I work with others and recognise that confused bewildered Princess who came in, so hopeless and angry.
I have moved from a flat to a four-bedroom house with a garden in central London. This week I have a tiny amount of cash to spend, but my refrigerator and car are full. My bills are paid and by Monday, all being in the plan, I will get another large rush of money, which I will carefully allocate according to my Spending Plan. I have had so much evidence that I am being looked after whatever I think of as an HP. Whether I like it or not, I am getting rich and have been able to live without incurring any unsecured debt for many years now.