Debtors Anonymous is Not Just for Debtors

The following is a guest post from Susan B., who is sharing her journey as part of my “Stories of Recovery” series.  Susan is a financial sobriety evangelist. Her website, Getting Out from Going Under, provides guidance for people who are recovering from compulsive spending, shopping, and debting. Her recent book, “Getting Out from Going Under: Daily Reader for Compulsive Debtors and Spenders,” is filled with practical tips, inspiration, and a thought for each day to encourage and motivate you to stay on the path of recovery.

If you would like to be profiled in the “Stories of Recovery” series (you can be anonymous if desired), please connect with me to share your thoughts.

dealing with debt

Is bill paying a time of extreme stress for you?

My name is Susan B. and I’m a recovering shopaholic. More precisely, I’m recovering from an addiction to spending and buying that nearly killed me. I’m also a member of Debtors Anonymous (DA), a 12 step program (like Alcoholics Anonymous) for people who are out of control with money, with or without debt. And I haven’t had a shopping binge since April 25, 2009.

I wish that the program that saved my life wasn’t called “Debtors Anonymous” because far too many people whose lives have been decimated by a compulsion to shop think the program isn’t for them because they have no debt. (See DA’s 12 Signs of Compulsive Debting, which barely mentions debt!)

A Compulsion Fueled by Urgency

The fact is, a shopaholic is just a debtor who hasn’t run out of money yet. It’s not about how we get our fix with money, but about the fact that we feel compelled to spend to the detriment of our bank accounts, our relationships, our careers, and even our health.

My addiction was never to debting. For me, it was (and still is) an urgency, a compulsion, an obsession, to buy, that left me feeling that I would die, literally die, if I did not purchase whatever was in my laser focus immediately.

And, of course, after buying the wardrobe, shoes, purse, computer, gift, smartphone, car, house, etc. (fill in the blank), I would be satisfied for about 15 minutes before the thought of the next purchase popped into my head. And the cycle of obsession over that new purchase and the compulsion to buy it would begin again.

Not once have I ever experienced the ultimate “Ahhhhh,” a feeling of satisfaction that stayed with me for more than a brief period. It didn’t matter if it was a new lipstick or a complete wardrobe. That feeling of urgency and need gripped me like a vise squeezing tighter and tighter … over and over again.

We Can’t Always Have What We Want

For me, debting was just the means to an end, because I wasn’t about to let the fact that I didn’t have the money stop me as long as I had the credit. And, with or without the credit, nothing could keep me from spending my cash, which always seemed to burn a hole in my pocket.

In Debtors Anonymous, I learned that I had a spiritual sickness, one that deluded me into believing I could have anything I wanted when I wanted it while ignoring the grim reality of the aftermath of such thinking. In recovery, I learned that the obsession of the mind will pass if I don’t give into it by buying what I cannot afford. Because if I do give in, I will be struck by cravings too strong to resist that will ensure that I continue spending until I am literally spent.

How Debtors Anonymous Can Help

The DA program is comprised of twelve steps that taught me a new way of living, and a network of support that has been instrumental in keeping me sober with money one day at a time since 2009. The first step is an admission that we have hit bottom. The first half of Step 1 knocks me to my knees, confronting the truth head on: “I am powerless over debt(but I can just as easily say, “I am powerless over shopping”). The second half of that step deals the final blow, stating, “And my life has become unmanageable.” If you are a real shopaholic, you will know that this is true whether or not you have debt.

While Step 1 states the problem, Steps 2-12 teach us the solution. There is no one right way to work a DA recovery program. But there are tools, live and phone meetings, and a network of support to help you on your path. If you struggle with the compulsion to shop, it may be worth giving DA a try. There are live meetings across the world and dozens of phone meetings (and even online meetings, too). It is recommended that you attend six meetings to see if DA is for you. (The DA website has a helpful section called, “Is DA for You?”)

Living One Day at a Time in Recovery

As for me, I have paid off nearly $32,000 of the $34,000 of credit card debt I started out with in 2009 (despite my becoming disabled in 2010 and having my income slashed in half). For today, I live within my means and without incurring any new unsecured debt. Most importantly, when I am gripped by those old feelings of desperation, I now know how to handle them until they lift, without my giving into them. I am profoundly grateful that, one day at a time, I am no longer a slave to shopping.

A big thank you to Susan for sharing this wonderful story and excellent resources!  Learn more about Susan B. and her journey with Debtors Anonymous over at her website / blog, “Getting Out from Going Under.” 

Thank you for the gift of your time and attention. If you liked this post, please share it with others. And if you're new, please consider subscribing for free updates by email and joining me on Facebook.