How did you know you had a problem?
The same thing kept happening over and over, related to money and borrowing cycles. The cycles grew shorter and shorter, and the loans grew bigger, yet were repaid ever more slowly, if at all. In 2008, at 42 years old, I moved from Seattle to San Francisco for several months to try to save a failing business. A bigger market — that’s all I needed. Instead I ran out of money and had to borrow money from a friend to get back home. Within three days I had signed a lucrative contract doing work I hated that kept me busy and well-paid for the next 10 months, in which I saved NOTHING. A two-month lull in income had me borrowing from friends again. At the end of two months, I signed an even more lucrative contract that would keep me busy doing work I hated for the next 10 months. Instead of repaying my loans and setting aside some savings, I immediately signed a new lease on a bigger, much more expensive apartment, committing more than half of my income for the next three months to deposits and moving expenses. Finally! Even I could see how wrecked my relationship with money and debt had become, and I knew that I would never make changes without help. I had begun Step 1 in D.A.
How did you find D.A.?
My [other 12-Step program] sponsor in the early to mid-2000s had been in D.A. for a dozen years or more. As we worked [that] program together, she heard me share about the unmanaged peaks and valleys in my income, about my spending habits, about my inability to save, and about my scavenging for food at work because I always ran out of money between paychecks, despite high earnings. She had a solid program, though, so she never told me what to do. She would listen and give feedback, and every few months or so she would remind me that there was help for me in D.A. When I finally hit bottom in 2009, though, I didn’t turn to this sponsor. I first went to my therapist and asked him to help me develop a healthy relationship with money. His response was that I had found successful recovery in several 12- Step programs, and he would be shocked if there weren’t a program relating to money. I said there was, and we talked about my need for D.A. for the next 30 minutes. I attended my first D.A. meeting the next week.
What have you learned in D.A.?
Thanks to D.A., money is no longer my Higher Power. I don’t want to go back to the life I was living when money was god. A cold, merciless, unfair, self‐righteous god. Plus I’m happier as an active D.A. member than I ever was before. I came to D.A. as a high-earner with huge debt and a debting problem. After 2.5 years in D.A., I still had huge debt, but my earnings had consistently shrunk until I had none. The small savings I had accrued was soon spent, too. Back in my disease, I returned to borrowing just to make ends meet and dropped out of D.A. for 2.5 years. I returned to D.A. in August 2014, five years after my first meeting, and have not incurred any new debt since then, one day at a time. My income is still below the poverty line, and I’ve never been happier or more filled with purpose in my life. I like to say that D.A. has finally given me permission to be happy and poor at the same time. I have faith that as long as I stay in D.A. recovery, continue to use the tools, and practice the Steps, Higher Power will guide my income to a higher place. In the meantime, I’m so busy enjoying my life that I hardly notice the stuff I can’t afford to buy. Especially now, mid-December, that feels like real freedom.
What suggestions do you have for newcomers in their first 90 days?
Stop debting, no matter what, and get into the Steps as soon as possible, especially if you’ve already worked the Steps in another program. You’re in for a surprise — same Steps, completely different application. If you’re slow to commit, get a temporary sponsor, asking a D.A. member to help you get started on the first three Steps. If that goes well, ask that person to sponsor you for the remaining nine steps. If it doesn’t, ask someone else for help. If you’re told no, keep asking. Life is full of no’s; asking over and over is the only way to get to yes. Back to the first three Steps, we sometimes hear them summarized as “I came; I came to; I came to believe.” For me, I came … to D.A. meetings where I listened as closely as I could, especially listening for members who had debted the way I had debted and no longer debted as a result of D.A. I came to … letting my toxic thinking slip away and letting the healthy sharing of my sponsor, PRGs [pressure relief groups], home group members, and new friends sink in. I came to believe … I know that’s supposed to happen in the second Step, but I’m slow. In the second Step, I stopped refusing to believe. In the third Step, I turned my will and life over to the care of a Higher Power over and over and over again. I came to believe at that point because the more I turned my self and my life I turned over, the better and more healthy I and my life became. Finally, once you do have a sponsor, I suggest you let that person be the sponsor and you be the sponsee. I’ve slipped in and out of self-sponsorship over the years. That always makes things worse. Today I have two D.A. sponsors — one for recovery and one for service — and I listen closely to everything they offer me. I asked them to help; they said yes; it’s now my responsibility to LET them help me.
—Bob A, Seattle, WA.