Debtors Anonymous: Step 10 — Continue to take personal inventory

My money problems can't be fixed by reading 'The Wealthy Barber'

Debt Diaries, Step Ten: Daily maintenance that keeps you grounded

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One woman’s 12-step path of recovery from debt addiction. Step Ten involves taking an ongoing daily inventory of when you have been wrong and admitting to them as they come up.

The past is the past. This step helps us stay current and in today. I did the best I could with Step Nine. Just to be clear: I’m not “done” with Step Nine. I made a big list of amends I need to make, and I have done a lot of them, but I also work full time and have a life so I can’t rush around making apologies 24 hours a day. So I will likely be cleaning up stuff from Step Nine for a while.

I moved to Step Ten so that I could live in today. Languishing in Step Nine makes you obsess about the past – and, if you’re like me, take it to operatic extremes: “Oh look at this list of amends, look at all the harm I have wrought, I’m such a wretched person, I’m beyond hope, etc.” At this point, someone in program rolled their eyes and say: you are not terminally unique. Get over yourself. Move to Step 10 and do amends as they come up.

READ STEP 9: It’s time to make amends

Step Ten is called the maintenance step.  We work it on a daily basis.  Most people I know look at a list of questions at the end of the day including: was I kind and loving? Do I owe an apology? Am I harboring a resentment? The questions are pulled directly from the AA Big Book.

I fought, and continue to fight this step, every day.

I am exactly the kind of person who needs a daily inventory.

So of course, I resist it.

My main argument was: I, like everyone, am not perfect. I will screw up every day. Every day, I will come up short.  What would be the point of this exercise besides a moody session of self-flagellation?

No, no one has ever accused me of being dramatic.

Thankfully, many people suggested I calm down and try to do this step imperfectly. Ruth, a nurse in New Jersey, came to the rescue on this one. She said this daily review is one we must do imperfectly. Also, she reminded me of the passage in the Big Book that says: “we must be careful not to drift into worry, remorse or morbid reflection, for that would diminish our usefulness to others.” In other words, locking yourself in your bedroom to journal for three years, weeping and whispering apologies to an unloving deity is probably not how this step was meant to be worked.

READ STEP 11: How meditating helped me with my debt problem

What does all this have to do with money? A quick review. My behaviour with money was crazy. It was a deep psychological and spiritual problem: it was not going to be fixed by reading The Wealthy Barber and making an Excel chart. It was motivated by an emptiness, a fear, a sense of shame, and of course, some spiritual bankruptcy. If I behave day in and day out in a shady way that makes shame and fear worse (e.g. if I were to lie to the CRA, borrow money, be late on bills); it is likely that the shame and fear will build to an unhealthy proportion, and I will be tempted to behave compulsively around money again.  I might wander into the mall “just to look” and then find myself taking out new loans to buy myself some emergency needs like a curling iron, $50 conditioner and Lululemon leggings.

What I learned:

  • The key to this step is awareness. Throughout the day, if I find myself slipping into destructive or harmful thoughts or behaviour, I can course correct and get back on track.
  • I will drift back into destructive patterns. I am human, therefore I am flawed. But I can use this step to get back on track.
  • This step can lead to startling revelations about what is actually going on with me, like, for real. My program friend Naomi, who lives in an RV with her husband and four kids in Virginia (and sounds happy and adjusted most of the time, so is therefore a walking advertisement for this program) notices when she does her Step Ten writing that if she is obsessing about a purchase she is usually creating a story about how that purchase will “be the answer to all my problems, will fix my life.” Naomi noticed in her current Step 10 reviews that she was obsessing about buying poly envelopes with snaps in order to organize her homeschooling paperwork. “Underneath all this obsessing about buying homeschooling items is a terrible feeling of inadequacy; this feeling that I am not doing a good enough job homeschooling my kids, and so the next thought is always, if I buy this thing I will feel OK and all my worries will vanish and my homeschooling worries will go away.” And so it goes. It doesn’t necessarily mean that Naomi won’t buy the poly snap envelopes. Just that she is now aware that there is an emotion there (a feeling of being inadequate) that is definitely not going to be solved by shopping at Staples.

Tips on what to do:  

  • Try doing this every night before bed. For the love of God, do not make this overly complicated. Try to rein in the drama queen. It is so easy for me to make a big long list and then read it and cry and be all melodramatic and say oh my life is terrible I am wicked and beyond aid… and so what does it matter if I go shopping? Well, then I have drifted into morbid reflection, which is ridiculous. Aim for the middle: don’t ignore mistakes on your part, don’t magnify them. Make a note. Talk to someone in program about it. Apologize, fix what needs to be fixed. Move on.
  • Once you’ve made a list of your errors, make a list of the things done well. Did you call a creditor and set up a repayment plan? Amazing. Did you water your plants? Also amazing. Were you lovely to a barista? That goes on the amazing list as well. Balance is key.
  • Make a gratitude list every day. Compulsive spenders and debtors are obsessed with what they want and what they can’t have. It sounds cheesy but looking at a list of things you are grateful for can shift you out of self-pity.

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