Money Drunk Money Sober: Moments of Financial Instability

For this current time period, I am working through Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan’s book Money Drunk, Money Sober before I work through the Prosperous Heart. The following blog entries are in response to prompts and experiences from the book. I see this as an extension of my Artist’s Way work. Some of my entries are jarring and highly personal – any program of sobriety and self-improvement demands admitting dysfunction both personally and in family, and it also calls to admit some painful truths. While not everything I work on appears here, a number of realities do. I have a genuine body of work thanks to my work on the Artist’s Way program, and I can’t ignore the changes the continual commitment has brought about. Because of that, I also can’t ignore what going further into the harder aspects of the program – like facing money issues – has the potential to improve.

The worst moments of financial instability that I can recall:

1. When I had to move out of my apartment on First Street and in with a friend. Medical bills were piling sky-high, and despite no one being able to figure out why my body was turning on itself, I also couldn’t qualify for disability. No one really can without ten humiliating visits AND a good lawyer. There was an intervention from Mike (boyfriend, now life partner) and Tanya. I needed help, I really was at risk of dying any moment, and I had already gone too far into perpetuating the sick financial co-dependence that had poisoned my relationship with my ex-husband from the get-go. The new boyfriend was also a strain on that already strained relationship.

That was the worst one I can remember. There was a very real possibility of life in a cardboard box, followed by death in a cheap pine box. The company I had worked for before all this happened had actually tried to get me on their disability program but I just hadn’t been there long enough. Even management was frustrated, as they felt my performance merited getting me on something until I could get my body straightened out. The board, alas, did not approve.

2. Right after college, I was bouncing checks constantly. This was despite a prior history of near-slavish financial carefulness. I realize now I was horribly, horribly depressed and acting out financially. At the time, it was just one more thing making me feel helpless, unloved, and miserable. I regularly maxed credit cards, was constantly just barely ahead of my paycheck, and I was terrible about going in to work. These things are not typical of me, or were not typical of me – I was that depressed with my circumstances. I had chosen to forego getting a job in the big city to stay in Mankato with my ex-husband while he finished up flight school. I paid for it in bank fees, and I don’t think I’ll ever get over my sense of betrayal when he just arbitrarily quit taking flight classes.

3. Technically, it wasn’t my dysfunction – but I stuck around for months after the warning flags went up. I had a boyfriend who kept getting notices for 12 dollars he owed on an account. He refused to pay it – AT ALL – because he was convinced paying it would mean all his other debtors would find him. Every paycheck he got went mostly to the “party” the next weekend. There was no saving, there was no planning ahead, and the one time I suggested we skip the party and go to a coffee shop he said it made him feel like he was “on the wagon.” When said boyfriend started making “I want to marry you,” noises, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I didn’t care he was poor. I cared that he was completely irresponsible, had no interest in resolving his issues, and would definitely drag me down with him.

4. I have historically spent too much time, effort, and money on family and close friends. Family is especially bad as they make noises about appreciating what I do but really they’ve convinced themselves I owe it to them. There were frequent guilt trips while I was in college about my “not visiting” enough from parents and grandparents – they didn’t care that I didn’t have a car, or the money to travel to see them. I didn’t travel at all in college except to Indiana and back to my school. (There were no Cancun spring break hijinks for me.) My mother would whine when she demanded my presence and I charged it to a credit card I shared with my father – as far as she was concerned, every penny of my life should be spent running back to where she was, and I should feel terribly guilty at the debt my father ran up on my behalf. (Help that was still less than 10% of what was given to my sister quite freely and without guilt trips.) I would try to compensate with gifts that were thought about well in advance and that often took a good chunk of what little income I had every year. The moment of “thanks” was almost always followed by “now you owe me an apology, your time, your work, an explanation,” for something that I most certainly did not owe anyone.

It’s still very strange now, because while I still put a great deal of thought into gifts, I buy for myself more than I ever have before in my life. I’m actually putting money towards things I really, really want to make happen – that I couldn’t when I was buying for people that were never going to do anything but demand more from me.