The following entry is an exercise from Julia Cameron’s work The Prosperous Heart: Creating a Life of Enough.
It might make for uncomfortable reading.
Often what follows, as a course of the exercise, is personal – sometimes jarringly so. I prefer to aim for as much openness as possible about my past, about my family dysfunction, and about my current health and emotional challenges now. My present as I write this is quite stable, but my past is something of a lingering disease – and there is the possibility that the lingering disease may actually be literal, rather than metaphorical. Money is more taboo to discuss than even sex, sexual violence, or misogyny from populations as suppressed and oppressed as women. What is silenced most of all are the later in life protests of the targets of emotional and physical abuses – “get over it” is in fact “shut up about it,” because shutting up preserves the abuser’s power by ensuring that that person will never be held accountable – that’s what silence does. This also creates a situation where the target’s silence contributes to the abuser’s ability to persuade herself or himself that the behavior “wasn’t that bad” thus enabling that person to seek a high by abusing another day, whether that’s a person or a substance. While it is not the case for everyone, the work I do via Julia Cameron’s projects brings out these memories and maladies – and the scream breaks the spell.
There is also a very positive side to this work for me in that I am a stronger, better committed writer. I plunge into this work as one path to total healing. Most people just want to get working on their art. It works for that – just remember to forgive yourself for what you do to yourself, and stay accountable for what you do to others. That’s really the simplest way to function.
I actually prefer the Money Drunk/Money Sober personality types, as I think they’re more thorough and bring up a much more specific inventory of behavior. That said, under the Prosperous Heart personalities, I actually have strong resonances with three of the four financially dysfunctional types.
I am definitely an Enabler. I am definitely a Bargain Shopper. I am definitely a Money Miser. And it is definitely in that order, as moods and emotional triggers can alter my behavior from time to time. For example, as I write this I am taking a course of Prednisone. The side effects vary for different people, but in my case, one of the early effects is low impulse control. (No worries, I’m only on it short-term diagnosis in order to get a diagnosis.) If I go somewhere to shop, I will over shop. If I want to eat something, I will over eat. I mitigate these things by writing down everything I eat, and everything I spend – it’s a good thing counting and journal writing are a bit part of the process. It helps by allowing the part of my brain that does the behavior monitoring to kick in. It also has the disturbing effect of lowering my already pretty low inhibitions – it’s a good think I like wearing clothing, and probably a mixed blessing how open I am about my past, my inner life, and my outer life in public. I don’t have much of a filter, but what I do filter, I have to work hard on when I’m on this stuff.
The Bargain Hunter is in part a cultural mentality. I’ve never bought anything from Neiman Marcus, but then again, I rarely if ever buy anything from mid-range suppliers, either. Growing up Carson Pirrie Scott was the terrifyingly expensive place – one friend would take me in, and I’d be awkward and uncomfortable until we left. I was even uncomfortable shopping at Kohl’s. Actually, just about everything available at the main shopping mall for my area was impossible for me. Either I was too fat for the clothing, or the cost of the clothing was too fat for my budget. Because my parents did not pay for my clothing after I turned 15 (my mother wanted to force me to sew, but that still involved up front costs. I figured my luck would be better with pre-made clothing than with something I did not enjoy doing that was not guaranteed to turn out well – and not with the usually hideous rags my mother insisted I wear when she made things for me) I stuck to the $10 store on a strip mall, or got the occasional item from Wal-Mart or Hills when we visited my grandparents. If we had had more than just an elderly church lady with bad taste thrift store in my town, I would have lived there.
A Horror Story about the Miser. Maybe Two Horror Stories.
The Miser actually comes out in my medical care. I’m sure it’s partly an echo of my parents with my medical care. By kindergarten, if I told my mother I was sick she’d call me a hypochondriac – so I just stopped telling her I was sick. I left it to teachers to call her since she didn’t listen to me or believe me when I told her what I was experiencing. She was one of those “Oh, THAT DOESN’T HURT!” people, as though she could possibly know what another person experienced, and to her mind, if she doesn’t experience it, it’s not real.
It stopped for awhile when a doctor scolded ME for telling him about my mother calling me a hypochondriac when I was 8 and explaining why I hadn’t told anyone my tonsils hurt that badly. (My 2nd grade teacher had called home for that one.) He told me if I said things like that, he’d have to have the police come talk to my mommy, and I didn’t want to do that to my mommy, did I? Dude’s an asshole. I hope he’s not practicing anymore.
The hypochondria accusations continued after that until, because my sister liked long showers in the morning and was a self-centered asshole, I had to resort to throwing up in the kitchen sink. What my mother did after that was to guilt trip me for how much my medical expenses cost while being the worst parent advocate EVER. I would get secondary infections, and be forced to perform concerts while running fevers and having bronchial infections. There’s a well recorded Thanksgiving dinner my freshman year of college where I was unable to swallow, got taken to a doctor, got demonstrated to have mononucleosis on the verge of hepatitis, and somehow I still wound up cooking, cleaning, washing the dishes, and waiting on everyone else in the house as though I were the servant. My mother often talks about how I had jaundice when I was born – and I swear since I didn’t die as a baby, she’s been trying to passively kill me ever since. She must have a crazy huge life insurance policy on me or something, or at least, she did.
I’m aware of the tendency we have to repeat the dysfunctions in our lives in new ways until we learn from them. There’s a lot of dysfunction that tangled my formative years, and while I’ve sidestepped a lot of personal crazy by watching the poor decisions of my family members, it’s hard to be conscious of every choice you make when there’s that much stuff coming at you. The Miser continued for me in two ways: one, my first husband was a full-on miser. He was so much so that he actually wanted to live the most Spartan existence humanly possible – and he refused to put me on his health insurance when we came to a point where I needed the care. This left us in one hell of a mess when I broke my ankle, and while I was emotional and made promises I shouldn’t have while waiting for the ambulance to come get me, ultimately that bone crack was what cracked our marriage. The man was so cheap he would not even go buy rock salt so the walkway to our apartment was safe for me – and while some of that was passive aggressive resentment, it still doesn’t excuse the way the situation piled up on me. He handled everything by trying to talk me out of getting medical care – just like my mother did.
But I also started doing it with myself. Because people who were supposed to care for me treated me like I wasn’t important enough to be kept alive, I also got that way. I’d self-medicate with herbs as I could afford to, but I’d defer my own care and own needs for other people – thus being an Enabler for others while being a Miser for myself.
So it’s all there. Three out of four possible dysfunctions. I can’t get all my issues straight at once, so tackling these a few at a time? I can do that.