Money Drunk Money Sober : Ways my financial attitudes have hurt myself and my family

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.

Two things happened when it came to money and family:

1)I went out of my way and made some fairly serious sacrifices to ensure my parents were NOT hurt by my financial needs.  My parents were also quite determined to hurt me with their financial demands. My mother would insist I come home for Christmas – but she didn’t want to pay for the $120 round trip airfare. Ostensibly, I “should have gone to school closer” but I can guarantee you even if I had gone where she wanted me to, she would have laid the financial burden of travel on me. Her disregard for my health and safety was illustrated irrevocably by the end of my first semester of college, and I knew she had been looking for any excuse to pull me out of school. She wanted her house maid back.

My parents really were dead-set on forcing me to drop out of school because their attitudes towards money, towards my being the youngest child, and towards themselves meant that the moment I showed signs of real independence that they were going to and did set out to hurt me – and I’m pretty sure most of it was quite conscious. In the movie Dark Shadows yesterday, there was an exchange between mother and daughter. The daughter said that she was planning on going to New York after graduation. The mother sniped that she “wouldn’t allow that.” And again, I paused – how in the FUCK did the mother think that she had any say in the matter? The girl would be an adult then, and the decision was hers – her consent was the only one that mattered. Sure, if she was taking money from her mother that might make a difference – but anything involving less than 50% of support merited a great big middle finger to the controlling (abusive, since forcing people to stay where they don’t want to be is abusive behavior) mother.

I stayed in school, and I did get my bachelor’s degree. Perhaps I don’t resent how little I’ve used it because to me just getting it was hard enough, especially during the age where college might as well have a PTA. But once I got it, I didn’t know what to do. It was all I’d been fighting for. It was the reason my ex and I had gotten married at the end of that year instead of waiting – to make sure I got the damn thing. I had a financial counselor go about getting me a predatory student loan to get through that last year, and my father quietly co-signed it behind my mother’s back. He explicitly told me not to tell her, which has led me to believe he actually wanted me to finish my education (despite the insane shit he said after graduation about becoming a paralegal, etc. or the insulting shit he suggested before about staying in Crown Point and becoming a massage therapist- i.e. continue my role as a house servant/slave in a home that was barely livable when I was a child because of the behavior of the people in it.)

My college graduation went unacknowledged with one very strange exception. Only my mother’s brother, who had a longstanding nasty attitude towards myself and my family, sent me a card congratulating me on finishing my degree. I was pretty angry with him for years of disrespect to my family, and disgusted with the outright disrespectful eulogy he gave at my grandfather’s funeral, and for hiding pictures of my family and his sister’s family that were supposed to be out at the funeral. He was equally angry that I DARED stand up and speak, and be visibly upset that my grandfather died, something normal people see as well, normal. Clearly he has some father-son resentments that are deep-seated as my mother-daughter anger. Looking back I’m sure there was something snide and condescending embedded in the meaning of the gesture because there always is in any interaction with my mother’s family, but honestly, I just appreciated that someone at all acknowledged what I had spent my entire life fighting to make happen.

There was so much fucked up family stuff about money, but despite my mother’s guilt tripping whenever I accepted any help from my dad, I’m pretty sure they could handle it just fine, they just didn’t believe in making sacrifices for me the way they did and still do for my sister. I was expected to be their human sacrifice, and while Dad was conflicted – he really just wanted me in the background, making him a sandwich while he watched the game like most men that are total assholes – I think the teacher in him saw what I had that Alice ignored, and he chose to sponsor that sort of like you would send a few bucks to a kid in Africa or something.

I didn’t fuck them up with my financial needs; if they say I have, they are lying to themselves or they have withheld something from me – which makes it not my fault, but theirs.

2. My financial issues/depression really made a mess for my ex-husband, and I am sorry I hurt him with my issues but I can’t ignore how much his issues made my issues worse. His refusal to talk about any of our problems let alone making plans to deal with them – or stick with plans to deal with them – hurt us both. Nothing was more important to my ex than money. NOTHING. It was also true of his mother, thus her accusation I was gold-digging. Her accusation was based on my not owning a car, and my ex driving me down to my grandfather’s funeral. To her, that equaled gold-digging. Since my ex shared a two-bedroom apartment in a college neighborhood, was too cheap to go to a bar and opted to keep a potent everclear-juice mix on him for parties he dropped in on, and dressed in really crappy clothing, I had no idea what the hell she was talking about until I met my ex’s walking disaster of a biological father. Hell, on our first date I got stuck picking up the check after he ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, and even during our marriage he usually demanded we go dutch. I think I actually picked up the check for most of my birthday dinners.

I was depressed, not pursuing a career, and I spent. I overspent on groceries, trying to imitate what married life looked like. I learned pretty quick that the model of imitating your parents was not going to work in southern Minnesota, and brought on too many house-servant flashbacks.  I spent on dollar store crap. I picked up the tab for too many people, expecting reciprocity that never came. I wanted to give, and my ex wanted to hoard. He wanted to hoard so badly he refused to work out a way to get me on health insurance at his company. I spent out of a sense of helplessness, of depression, out of emptiness. I always felt like I was the failure within that marriage, because money was never there. I was so busy blaming myself that I was accepting behavior from my ex that was killing me from the inside out.

When I took on the graduate assistant job, I suddenly felt like I had corrected something, finally gotten something right, like my ex’s family would finally realize “See? I wasn’t gold-digging.” Now I realize that my ex mother-in-law was just one of those random female-violent assholes, and I called her out on her shit so often that it wasn’t conscious, and it was never going to become something friendly.

Except I hadn’t corrected anything. Oh, the bills finally got paid and the cable got turned on again, but my ex actually withdrew from me altogether.

After the divorce, my ex tried to be there for me. It was partly habit – I’m sure he wanted me back. Like my family, he became used to having someone on hand to do the cooking and cleaning, and he was preferable since my efforts with him weren’t met with a volley of verbal abuse about how all the cleaning I did was never good enough, or how he “expected more from me,” as my mother liked to tell my sister. He was familiar, and safe, and suddenly he was providing money and support when he’d been totally withholding throughout the course of our relationship. I struggled with myself – I knew his patterns, of doing a temporary change and then as soon as possible reverting back to the old habits that left me isolated. But I was very sick, and really desperate, and he was there when absolutely no one else was. He even bought me a car when mine broke down. I told him at the time I might not be able to pay him back, and that was fine – until, of course, I started a new relationship. He also claimed he had to wipe out his 401K to support himself after I left, and he went down to a psychotically Spartan way to live. I realize now that some of this was just to make me feel guilty. We lived in a two-bedroom in a university town – roommates were out there. There were really limited jobs to be had in that city, but the job market wasn’t completely dead, either. Even so, he supported me while making it look like he made sacrifices but ultimately it was still about manipulation.

I acknowledge that I did really hurt my ex with my financial behaviors. I did. He also hurt me really badly with his. I’m still on a fence about how to make that right or if it’s even on me to do so, and there’s the added wound to my pride that his mother can carry on about how I really am a gold-digger.

As for now – Mike took on supporting me after watching me struggle with jobs versus my physical health for years. I’ve always felt enormous guilt at the burden placed on him, but he swears he doesn’t mind, and our lifestyle has been carefully managed to avoid lifestyle inflation. The first few years, any spending money I had, I had to get myself, and it wasn’t easy. It did create some strife as I felt depersonalized for awhile as I had no power in economic decision making. There were a lot of dreams and waking visions about losing teeth, which even Mike recognized as a sign I really didn’t feel like I had sufficient power/self-determination. I still often think of “our” money as “Mike’s” money, and while we have a joint account, I still don’t access it directly. He wishes I would just roll my personal savings and checking into the joint, but I won’t do it because I’m terrified that some careless spending will turn into a financial disaster for both of us. I’m very conscious that that’s how I hurt my ex the most, and I don’t want to do it to him.

The people hurt by my financial disorders are at least, thankfully, few. The person I’ve hurt the most is myself, and by addressing myself first, I’m hoping I can get a clear head on who I really owe what. One thing is very clear, though: I don’t owe my family a goddamn thing.