Debtors Anonymous: Step 5 — Admit what got you into this mess

‘Why can’t I have as much money as the Kardashians?’

Debt Diaries, Step Five: You don’t need to be Catholic to confess

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One woman’s 12-step path of recovery from debt addiction. Step Five involves admitting to ourselves and others the exact nature of our wrongs

The first time I read the words of Step Five I thought that I would have to shuffle into a confessional box, cross myself and mumble out all my shameful secrets. This was problematic because I wasn’t Catholic. But there was nothing arcane or impossible or even religious about this step. I just had to find a kind and trustworthy soul, and read out all my angry and sad scribblings from Step Four.

The far-fetched idea being that this would all be cathartic and fill me up with buckets of self-awareness and thirst for a complete personality change. Which kind of happened.

PREVIOUS STEP: Stop blaming other people

I did my fifth step with a very wise woman who sat with me for probably 20 hours while I shared all the darkness I had been carrying around with me.

I chose her because she seemed unshockable. I’d tell her what I thought was a real whopper, like, definite evidence that I was the worst human alive and she’d just nod and say, you’re an addict, you were in your disease, you were sick, you’re getting better. No condemnation. No shaming.

I’d sputter and protest and say no, I don’t think you understand, at one point I actually thought I might have to give up my dog because I had run out of dog food money after one of my stupid binges and she would just nod. Then she would relate some story from her life, some sin she had committed, and she would say you are not alone. And then I would believe her, wipe my eyes, make a cup of tea, and keep going.

My fifth step helped me to see, gently, how my behaviour and thoughts were fuelling this terrible behaviour with money. Self-pity kept coming up over and over. Why can’t I have as much money as the Kardashians, why can’t I live in Manhattan in a brownstone on Central Park, why can’t I have hair as shiny as Reese Witherspoon’s? The next step for me after moping around like this was some ridiculous purchase; surely this Dior bronzer will deliver be from my dull and colourless life!

NEXT STEP: Why spending money makes you feel special 

It was a behaviour, a pattern. I saw it clearly after seeing it come up over and over in those 42 pages.

And they say the first step towards change is awareness.

Ruth, the nurse from New Jersey we met in Step Two, noticed that she was obsessed with what people thought of her, and that would fuel her manic shopping. “I’d go to the mall before work and spend hours shopping for the right pocketbook. I wanted people to remark on how unique it was, on what great taste I had.” By the time she came to DA, she had run up big balances on 15 credit cards.

What I learned:

  • That I was not “terminally unique” I had done bad things… but so had everyone.
  • I had played a role in all of my sad and shameful relational upsets. It was never 100% someone else’s fault.
  • Step five broke down the isolation and shame. When I said all the yucky stuff – I was free of it.

Tips on what to do: 

  • Don’t put this step off. Many spending addicts are so appalled at what they have uncovered in their fourth that they put off sharing their fourth with their confessor. This is not helpful – don’t let a fourth “fester”.

Jane Dough is a pseudonym. The writer has decided to remain anonymous

Read the full Debt Diaries series:

Step 1: ‘I was trying to fix my pain with spending
Step 2:  ‘My higher power cares about money’
Step 3:  ‘I surrendered my free will to finally control my debt’
Step 4: Stop blaming other people
Step 5: Admit what got you into this mess
Step 6: Why spending money makes you feel special 
Step 7: Ask a higher power to remove your defects
Step 8: Make a list of the people you’ve harmed
Step 9: Make amends to those you’ve hurt
Step 10: My money problems can’t be fixed by reading ‘The Wealthy Barber’
Step 11: How meditating helps me with my debt problem
Step 12: My urge to binge shop won’t go away