Debtors Anonymous: Step Four — Take moral inventory of yourself

Stop blaming other people for your mountain of debt

Debt Diaries, Step Four: Make inventory of your baggage

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One woman’s 12-step path of recovery from debt addiction. Step Four involves making a fearless moral inventory of yourself

What does morality have to do with being unable to pass up a sale at Bed Bath and Beyond?

By the time I really surrendered to this program, I had been compulsively shopping and maxing out credit lines for about 20 years.

Broken down further, what was I really doing? And again, what was the “moral” part of all this?

PREVIOUS STEP: ‘I surrendered my free will to finally control my debt’

By going into debt, I was borrowing money without a clear sense of how I would pay it off. That was, at least, very irresponsible. Further, by spending all my money on non-essential items (a trip to Belize to learn snorkelling might have felt like an emergency, but technically…) I was repeatedly plunging myself into financial chaos, and then asking others to bail me out.

So I was causing stress and putting unfair pressure on my friends and family, who wanted to help but felt unhappy doing it. That was unkind of me. And finally, I lied constantly about money. How much I was making, how much I owed, when I would pay the phone bill. It was dishonest and cowardly. So…At the very least, I was (sometimes) irresponsible, inconsiderate, dishonest and cowardly. That’s the moral part of all this.

In order to get better, I had to put all this down on paper and see it clearly.

NEXT STEP: Admit what got you into this mess

For my most recent fourth step, I filled out forty-two pages of paper with neat columns. I had no issue filling page after page with names of people who had wronged and slighted me. How delightful, to have so many clean white pages to fill with all my sensitive slights! I put down the name of a cute guy in my undergrad sociology class who didn’t ask me out on a date after a Halloween party. Parents got a section. I was mad at mother for continuing to bake banana bread when I was trying to lose weight. I was mad at my old therapist for retiring and leaving me all alone to grapple with life. Ex-boyfriends? Of course. I was mad at a grad school boyfriend for dumping me and promptly taking up with a woman who owned a luxury pet hotel. I was furious at Capital One for (a) giving me credit and (b) harassing me when they realized I couldn’t pay them back.

What I learned:

  • That I had a lot of resentment. That I was a creature filled with grudges, slights imagined and real, and that I carried a three-piece Samsonite set of baggage around with me pretty much…All the time.
  • That my beliefs and behaviours led to my mangled relationship with money. There was a direct relationship. My repeated behaviour, for example, of comparing myself to others and imagining myself inferior (or superior depending on the day), gave me an excuse to go shopping for clothes and jewelry I couldn’t afford. I thought if I had the right “look”, the right brand names, the right fall coat, I would feel OK about my status. Of course, I would…for about a minute. And then down the chasm of self-doubt again…

Tips on what to do:

  • Forget about doing it perfectly. I have watched people flounder around with this step for months, trying to make sure they included every name, making sure it’s “perfect”. This step can never be done perfectly, because we are human, and we do everything imperfectly.
  • Do it quickly. Dragging this step out over months is not the way this process was designed. The original AA members did their fourth step in a day and ran around town doing their amends just as quickly. The idea of this steps is to expose causes and conditions so we can get down to the business of recovery.
  • If you can’t see your part in the problem, don’t worry about it. For a lot of my resentments, I was outraged at the idea that I had any role to play. My sponsor helped me, gently, see my part. I didn’t do this part alone

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