One of the most common challenges we face as recovering addicts and alcoholics is our inability to establish a stable and healthy financial life in recovery. Even addicts who have been sober for decades sometimes have serious money management problems that plague them and keep them from enjoying life more fully.
It seems to be a part of the addicts DNA; many of us suck at implementing basic financial principles in our lives. It’s ironic because when we’re still drinking and using, we’re brilliant at scheming ways to pay for our booze and drugs. We’re natural hustlers when it comes to feeding our addictions no matter how much they cost. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. If we need to feed the addiction monster, we’re going to find a way to feed it, even if it means not feeding ourselves or our families. We’re ingenious when it comes to financing our addictions.
But once we get sober, we look around us, often dazed by the financial devastation we have imposed on ourselves. How the hell did it get this bad? What happened to my life? I’m broke, and there doesn’t seem to be any way out!
Being broke and in debt causes a tremendous amount of stress on your mind, body, and spirit. It weighs you down, kills your energy, destroys incentive, and can lead to fear and depression. I’m sure this isn’t news to you, but it’s essential to recognize how much debt and financial anxiety can impact your daily life and health. Studies have shown that long-term financial stress can result in migraines, sleep problems, emotional instability, and even heart disease. The last thing we want is to have a heart attack or stroke over money issues. How pathetic would that be?
When I first got sober, the worst part about financial stress was the constant lack of sleep it created. I would toss and turn every night, wondering how the hell I was going to pay for this and pay for that. The stress and lack of sleep felt horrible and threatened my sobriety. Many recovering alcoholics and addicts’ relapse from financial burden. That was always one of my biggest fears; that the financial stress would lead me back to the bottle. I knew that I had to figure out how to get out from under the financial rock that was crushing me and threatening my recovery.
Recovering addicts are particularly susceptible to stress in all its forms. For whatever reason, most of us have a difficult time dealing with high levels of pressure. It’s no coincidence that we all seem to share similar stories of losing our minds while driving. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard from recovering alcoholics about their latest emotional blow-up while driving their car. Someone cuts them off, or traffic is too slow, or too fast, or someone won’t let them enter a lane. The list is endless. Whatever the excuse, cars are often like pressure cookers for addicts; we feel trapped inside a metallic box, the heat is rising, our emotions are boiling, and eventually, we explode!
Financial pressure is the same thing for most people in recovery. Eventually, the pressure gets to us, we don’t know how to handle it, and then we lose our minds completely. Too often, it leads us back to our addiction.
Don’t let this happen to you. No matter how bleak things might seem right now, no matter how bad your financial situation might appear, there are plenty of things you can do to improve and change the conditions that are causing you so much stress.
The absolute last thing in the world you want to do is throw away your hard-earned sobriety over money issues. Money comes, and money goes. It’s just how it works. There’s no reason in the world to get so freaked out or depressed over money that you sacrifice the most significant accomplishment of your life – getting sober.
Like your sobriety, repairing your financial situation happens one day at a time. Be patient and be willing to attack the problem head-on, and eventually, you’ll find the relief you’ve been searching for and deserve.
Doing What’s Right
Being broke and in debt often has a ripple effect on every part of our lives. Even though it might feel like we’re carrying the burden alone, very often, our financial condition impacts other people we know and love, including family and friends. As we finally take stock of all the damage that we need to repair in our life, we often discover that those around us are also negatively affected by our current situation.
Just like our uncontrolled drinking usually affects and hurts our family and friends, we can also impose pain and suffering on our loved ones because we’re often penniless and need to borrow money from them. Likewise, they are forced to witness our painful struggle with debt and, sometimes, poverty. If you can see yourself through their eyes, you might recognize that your financial condition hurts them nearly as much as it hurts you.
In more extreme situations, spouses and children often carry the burden when it comes to the financial choices we’ve made over the years of drinking and using. While we’re still active in our addiction, our families are usually the ones that suffer the most. Not only do they have to witness and endure our deterioration from substance abuse, but they also suffer with the results of unpaid bills, limited resources, debt collectors, destroyed credit, a lack of healthy food, and in some cases, homelessness.
We have to recognize and acknowledge that our bad financial condition is not only harmful to us but can also destroy the lives of other people.
What about the banks and creditors that are coming after us? Are they to blame? Should they be scorned, criticized, and condemned for the financial burdens they have imposed on us?
No, absolutely not!
When I was new to sobriety and trying to clean up the wreckage of my past, I carried a great deal of resentment towards the financial institutions that I thought had harmed me. I held resentments not only against people, but against banks and credit card companies that were demanding the money I owed them.
My thinking at the time was, how dare they? Here I am trying to get sober, and all they want is my money with interest on top! Why, the nerve of those bastards!
What I failed to recognize was that I had entered into a fair and equal partnership with these banks and credit card companies. Whether it was getting a loan for a new car, or running up a huge bar tab on a credit card, I had borrowed money from someone else (companies consist of real human beings, not robots) with the agreement that I would pay back the loan with a reasonable amount of interest. No one forced me to enter into these agreements. I voluntarily signed on the dotted line.
Any time we enter into a legal and fair contract, we are responsible for honoring that contract. You might not like paying the bill later on (paying money after the fact always sucks), but you are responsible as an adult to meet your legal obligations. Blaming the credit card companies and banks for our financial condition is pointless and self-serving. We have no choice but to accept the part we have played in borrowing money or securing credit. We must move forward honorably and meet our obligation as best we can.
Just as we need to make things right with the people we know and love, we must also meet our obligation to financial institutions and make things right with all of them, or we will never be free from the shame and wreckage we have created for ourselves.
One of the most challenging parts of getting sober is turning around and looking backward at the wreckage we have caused. It’s often a gruesome view to behold.
Yikes, I did all that? How the hell am I going to repair all the damage?
The short answer is slowly; one day at a time.
We can only stay sober one day at a time (sometimes, one hour at a time). When it comes to repairing our financial condition, we also must approach it one day at a time. There is no magic potion or pill that will make it all go away in an instant. The ease and comfort we seek won’t magically appear with a blink of an eye. It will take time and patience, but it can be done if we’re willing to try.
To get a handle on debt and save for the future, we often must face our past. Not an easy thing to do. It takes courage and strength to admit when we’re wrong or have made mistakes. Assuming you are now on your journey to stay sober, everything you do from here onward is going to require diligence and courage. But the fact is if you’re sober right now at this moment, and you’re trying to stay sober, then you’ve already proven yourself to be courageous and strong. Give yourself the praise you deserve. You have what it takes to face your past and repair the wreckage one day at a time.
Repairing your financial life is never easy. But as you move forward, you will begin to experience a sense of relief every time you pay off a debt, or put a few dollars into the bank, or look in your wallet at the end of the day to find money that you didn’t spend on booze. It can be an exciting adventure repairing your financial life. There is something incredibly satisfying about no longer living in monetary fear and anxiety. As you begin to pay down debt and save money, you will enjoy a new sense of energy and happiness that comes from honest, diligent effort.
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