Debtors Anonymous: Step 12 — Give back to others - MoneySense

My urge to binge shop won’t go away—I’ve just found ways to cope

The Debt Diaries, Step Twelve: Give back to others

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One woman’s 12-step path of recovery from debt addiction. Step Twelve involves giving back as a way to acknowledge the spiritual experience of recovery

We have had a spiritual experience; we acknowledge that many helped us in our recovery; now we give back. I had definitely had a spiritual awakening. Something bigger than me had relieved me of (at least some) of my compulsion to spend and debt. And when I tapped into that power, I was offered a daily reprieve from my money madness. It certainly wasn’t willpower or discipline because God knows I had been trying that forever. Nope. It was this program: wonky and annoying and occasionally sanctimonious and God-laden as it was. It was the meetings, the sponsor calls, the daily awareness of my money, the praying, the meditation.

PREVIOUS STEP: Step 11- How meditating helps me with my debt problem

So, OK, I had had a spiritual awakening. But was it the RIGHT kind of spiritual awakening? Was it the kind of pure and unclouded awakening that I imagined other people were having?

I was so scared of the part of this step that asked me to carry the message to others. I still am.

Why?

Because I am still a mess!  I had stopped burning through cash, true, but I still had urges to binge shop all the time (these don’t go away, I had simply developed a set of tools on how to handle it) and I still felt chaotic about my money. Being a freelancer didn’t help; I always had multiple and varied streams of income and allocating things in the right directions was tricky, especially considering that my addict brain usually said to me: spend it at Sephora on bronzer!

And more generally, I was still neurotic in most areas: a veteran worrier, sometimes bad-tempered, prone to tantrums and the occasional ill-timed outburst.

So what did I possibly have to bring to someone else—how could I help someone else when I was still a mess myself?

Also, what about this practicing these principles in all my affairs? This was another toughie. Basically, the principles I had come to learn were important were: honesty, humility, discipline, and compassion. I tried to weave these into my life. But, did you see my list of flaws that I listed above? How could I honestly say I was working these principles out in my life if I was doing it all so imperfectly?

Well, as with some of the previous steps, I had to commit to doing this all imperfectly. I had to commit to TRYING to bring the principles into my daily affairs. That meant when I was in a conversation and feeling all judgy and bitchy, I had to just chill and take a breath, not interrupt someone, let them finish, and try to bring about harmony instead of dissent.

Ha, I know, right?

That’s why I did all this reading and meditating and praying: because left to my own devices I was not necessarily the most harmonious of sorts.

God, this stuff is hard.

As far as carrying the message to other compulsive debtors? Life brought me so many ways to do this. I go to an in-person meeting. I do service there; setting up, putting away chairs, talking to newcomers, talking to other debtors, serving on pressure relief meetings. On the phone, I take calls from other friends, I listen to them vent and share, I make outreach calls, I chair meetings… whenever there is an option to do service, I try to do it. Of course, I don’t want to do it! I’m selfish. I don’t want to do most of the stuff in this program. But then I just think about what hell it was a few years ago, and I grudgingly, and without a lot of grace, do the next right thing.

And then, just for a moment, I am restored to sanity. Which is a miracle.

What I learned:

  • If I waited until I was perfect to do service, I would never do anything. “Do what you can, when you can,” my friend in program said. Oh and guess what else? I do service imperfectly.
  • Doing service is weirdly effective at erasing self-destructive impulses. Every day and I mean every day, the reasons why I need to debt or compulsively spend will crop up, and they will be desperate and compelling, and vivid. With very little in savings and uncertain income, I can convince myself that I need to go to Cuba because I have Seasonal Affective Disorder and if I don’t get a lot of sun it might be dire. Also, if I don’t have the right bikini my self-esteem might be low, so I should head out and get a bikini in a bright color because that will help. When I do service I get out of this hellish think tank of crazy. And sometimes, I actually might help someone.

Tips on what to do: 

  • Forget about the idea of needing to be perfect before doing service. Ha.
  • Do what you can, when you can. Your first focus should be not debting or overspending, one day at a time. If that’s all you can do, do that.
  • If you are tempted to leave program now, to think, I am at step 12, I am “done” ask a few people in program what they think of this plan.

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