Disasters Brought Him DA -- And A New Way Of Life
March 21, 1996 began as the worst day of my life.
In the early morning hours, my house
caught fire and I nearly died trying to escape the smoke and flames in
my bedroom. The same afternoon, I was arrested for seven major motor
vehicle violations, lost my driver’s license, and watched my old junk
car being towed away by the police as I stood at the side of a busy U.S.
It was much later I realized that instead of the worst,
it had been the best day of my life, because those seeming disasters had
brought me face to face with the consequences of my actions as a
compulsive debtor, and propelled me at last into Debtors Anonymous. A
loving God cared enough about me to hit me “upside the head” so that I
could no longer maintain a lifetime of denial and do more damage than I
already had to myself and others.
Both the house fire and the driving arrest had been
directly due to my debting. The utilities in my home had been shut
off for nonpayment, and I was trying to live by candlelight in the
middle of winter when a candle tipped over and set my bedroom on fire.
Similarly, I had not been willing to properly maintain my car for two
years, and it had turned unsafe and illegal on me. The registration,
insurance, and inspection had expired, and the tires, headlights,
brakes, and other equipment were unsafe or completely nonfunctional.
These problems of home and automobile were not isolated
ones. They were, rather, symbolic of my entire life, which had somehow
turned junky, degrading, humiliating, impoverished, and broken without
my permission. I had no idea how it had all happened, and was not able
to see how a lifetime of spending other people’s money and relying on
others for basic survival without ever growing up emotionally,
spiritually, or financially had made my present circumstances
In the aftermath of these two events, I summoned the
willingness to make a phone call to a man in another 12-Step program, a
man who was not a member of Debtors Anonymous but who had learned DA
principles from friends in another state and used them to overcome
problems similar to mine. He became my sponsor and my guide to recovery
Meeting my sponsor had been a another “coincidence” of
the type I can only attribute to a Higher Power, because there was not a
single DA meeting or member of DA in my state at this time, and he was
the only person for 200 miles in any direction who knew what DA was or
how it worked. The nearest DA meeting was 5 hours away, and I did not
have a car to get to it.
I am grateful that my sponsor was a DA purist and “Big
Book thumper” who took the program literally, and did not mince words
with me. He stressed that my life depended on not incurring any
unsecured debt one day at a time. I was so terrified and so traumatized
from the consequences of years of debting that I became willing to do
anything he suggested.
Although I owed more money than I could ever hope to pay
back in a lifetime and had always worked at degrading low-wage jobs that
barely met my expenses, he insisted that my solvency came first. The
first few years were incredibly difficult, but I became solvent right
away, lived within my means, paid all my bills on time. Although I was
in a great deal of pain, I also began to realize right from the
beginning the spiritual transformation that occurs when a compulsive
develops the willingness to not debt, one day at a time.
Over the years of my recovery, there have been many
miracles. Interestingly, the biggest ones have been emotional and
spiritual, rather than purely financial. Although I did succeed in
paying off all my debts in an unbelievable 5 1/2 years, and I went in
less than a dozen years from someone who was sure he needed to work
until age 85 just to survive to someone planning a comfortable
retirement at 62, those accomplishments seem to be to be fairly routine
What is truly miraculous has been the steadily
increasing clarity, sanity, and serenity that have compounded like bank
interest down through the years, and affected every area of my life.
Solvency--continuous, uninterrupted solvency, pays the greatest
dividends imaginable, and I believe after almost 12 years (at this
writing) that I’ve barely scratched the surface on my potential in this
In DA, I’ve learned how to meet my real needs. Instead
of a house full of unwanted junk bought with credit cards in a
never-ending attempt to fill a bottomless hole in me, I am surrounded by
an appropriate number of things, possessions I love, use regularly, and
maintain in good condition.
I’ve exchanged my debting lifestyle for a savings
lifestyle, and I now pay cash for everything. By waiting to research and
save for purchases, I have found deep satisfaction in material things,
rather than frustration and disappointment in being surrounded by things
I’d bought that had failed to “save me”.
I have experienced the joy of “watching a fellowship
grow up around me”, as I started the first meeting in my state, then
other meetings and an intergroup. My personal feelings of klutziness and
incompetence have yielded to the exhilarating challenges of learning to
do service for others on the personal, group, and eventually the World
I’ve watched the discipline of keeping DA numbers slowly
blossom into an inner and outer aesthetic that have taken the form of
order and beauty in my home, my yard, my creative work, and the rest of
It’s difficult to explain to someone who is not solvent
the transformation that happens in the life of a compulsive debtor who
becomes willing to stop debting. Life somehow becomes transformed
from a constant struggle to an opportunity for enjoyment on many levels.
When all of my energy is focused on fulfillment rather than fear, I am
blessed beyond anything I could have conceived of when I first came to
Maintaining and extending my 12 years of continuous
solvency is the most important thing in my life today. I continue to
work the 12 Steps of DA, and to practice the 12 Traditions and the
Tools. I’ve found this is a simple program that I no longer need to
The founder of Debtors Anonymous, John Henderson, once
said, “Just get on a cash basis, and everything else will follow.” Thank
God for the wisdom and insights of John H., and for the catastrophes
that brought me to DA and gave me the willingness to follow in the
footsteps of the recovering debtors who came before us and who have
practiced this same set of spiritual principles to recover from this
disease for the past 32 years.
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