Debtors Anonymous: An Interview

I was very interested to read in the comments section of a recent Fruclassity post, a note from “Aceling” – someone who had found victory over her finances through Debtors Anonymous (DA). I had heard and written about DA before, but I had never posted an interview with a person from the support group, and I wondered if the individual behind this comment would be willing to take part in such an interview. I’m so grateful that she was. Aceling has a real first and last name, but in keeping with the anonymity essential to DA, we’re going to stick with the name she used on that original comment. (I have added bold lettering to concepts that are central to the DA philosophy and to highlight UA as well.)
Fruclassity: Before you first went to Debtors Anonymous (DA), how would you describe your habits relating to financial management?
Aceling: At times, I would have a great relationship with money.  With work, I would move around with regularity.  Most jobs would last 1 to 2 years and I would move on.  Many of my debts would revolve around relationships.  I would end up with someone who I really cared about.  The interesting thing is he would either have no money, or I would end up feeling that if I helped him, he would be better off and things would be great with us.  The money would be in the form of a loan, but, of course, it never got paid back. Interesting thing is that I have been a bookkeeper over the years and never had a problem handling other people’s money, but couldn’t get a grip on mine.  With all the cash I handled, thankfully, I was NEVER tempted to steal.
Fruclassity: To the extent that you are comfortable sharing, what were the debts that you accumulated?
Aceling: I would borrow money for cars, or just buy clothing, etc. on credit cards. The last time I got into a serious financial mess was when I went for one of those motivational seminar weekends.  I spent over $30,000 buying programs, thinking I could make some quick money and fix my lack of money overnight.  After a few weeks passed, the whole process lost its lustre.  Some of the programs haven’t even been opened and that was in 2008.
Fruclassity: Did you try to get a handle on your finances before you became a part of DA? If so, what did you try?
Aceling: I tried any number of things to get a grip on my finances.  I would take out bank loans and finally got a line of credit.  Overdraft was problematic for years, and at 22% it was choking me.  I would even overdraw the overdraft!  I went to the bank one time, and one of the bank employees suggested I collapse my RRSP’s to pay the debt.  Thankfully, I was smart enough not to do that.  I borrowed money from friends, and they would be the first ones to get paid back.
Fruclassity: What made you decide to join DA?
Aceling: After the last fiasco, I was having problems sleeping and anxiety was up.  I was able to make minimum payments but there was little or nothing left at the end of the paycheque.  I resigned myself that I would be carrying this debt until I took my last breath on this planet.  I had a girlfriend I would speak with first thing in the morning.  One day she asked me if I had considered joining DA.  I think she was getting sick of listening to me.  I said, “What’s DA?”.  The conversation was very brief after that (she was driving to work), so I immediately went to the computer before leaving for work.  I saw a light at the end of the tunnel – and it wasn’t a freight train!
Fruclassity: Describe you first meeting.
Aceling: It was May 1, 2009, a Friday evening, a small meeting room in the basement of a community centre, with a few people, (3 or 4).  I sat and listened to every word.  It was truly amazing to feel I could share without being judged, without feeling shame, being able to breathe and feeling safe for what seemed like the first time in my life.
Fruclassity: Describe the turn-around that you effected with your finances with the support of DA.
Aceling: The amount I paid off was $46,530.37 of unsecured debt plus the interest that was charged; that was the amount I owed as of May 1, 2009, and had paid off by June 15, 2015.  Please keep in mind that it is NOT about the money but about the relationship we believe ourselves to be in with money.  I had acquired thousands of dollars of debt in the past and had paid it off more than once, but this was the most ever.  Six years ago, I was renting where I lived, figuring I would die with all the debt outstanding or living in poverty, working until I was in a wheelchair.  I had no savings other than my RRSP’s, and I would not have had that if I had listened to that bank employee when she suggested I collapse my RRSP’s to pay the debt.  I instinctively knew that was not the answer to the problem, but I was also struggling to find out what was wrong.

I have now purchased my own home; fortunately it was the same place I had been renting for many years – saved on moving expense!  Please note that I do have a mortgage; this is considered secured debt as the lender has my residence as collateral. I went to Europe for three weeks two years ago, which was a life-long dream, another lovely holiday to the East Coast last year, and this year I will be going the West Coast – all trips paid for IN ADVANCE.  I have more savings categories.  At the moment, I’m saving to purchase a new computer, and I will be attending a retreat in the fall, and I have a gift category as Christmas is coming.  And I still donate to my favourite charities.
In the midst of all of this, I have entered into the best relationship I have ever had with my Special Someone.  He has a healthy relationship with money, and he supports me in my recovery.  Who knew all of this could be possible, by being authentic and true?
I guess what I have to say about what has changed is that it is me.  It’s not magic but it is due diligence, being prepared to do what needs to be done and being willing to do it.  Writing our numbers of spending and income, making a spending plan that works for the individual, and not purchasing anything unless the money is in place.  The discipline can be tough at first but it’s worth it.  And having the support without judgement is what has kept me going.  My sponsor asked me that now that the debt is paid off, will I continue to attend, and it was an overwhelming “YES”!  It can be easy to slip; the awareness makes me want to be at the meeting, to be able to check in, without fearing rejection or shame.  I truly have become a different person – and all for the better.  As we say, “Keep coming back; it works when we work it, and we’re worth it!”
Fruclassity: Explain the specific ways in which the DA community supported you.
DA members listened, and I listened to them, without cross-talk, just being me with my issues, and respecting where they came from.  Once we got to know each other, we would sometimes share, send emails or phone to suggest other action steps we could take.  The point of not debting one day at a time was a big hurdle.  I had all of this debt that I wanted to pay off super fast, but was coached that the number one priority was to take care of my own needs first.  They supported me by sitting on my PRG.  A Pressure Relief Group is a meeting where two other members sit with you and you discuss the areas that are a “pressure” to you.  It may be getting your first spending plan in order (we don’t use the term budget as it has a negative connotation), along with action steps to get it done.  Pressure Relief Meetings can be once a week, once a month, once a year, or just when someone has an event for which they need to look for clarification.  Sometimes it’s about buying a computer, a home, setting up for retirement, etc.

As an aside, there is another 12-step program – Underearners Anonymous – for those who feel they are not earning enough or have time management issues, etc.  We were sharing with the group after a meeting at one point, and decided that for us, UA was the graduate program, after we got a better grip on DA.

Fruclassity: Do you still attend DA meetings?
Aceling: I try my best to attend once a week.  Our area has three every week, and there are phone meetings as well, if anyone is unable to do a face-to-face meeting.  I have even spoken with someone in Ireland! DA is in many countries around the world, so for those who travel, you have the opportunity to get that grounding.
Fruclassity: Do you find that you discuss personal finances more broadly now than you used to? Or is it still a topic reserved for DA and online forums?
Aceling: One of the things that I asked myself some years ago was, “What does a healthy conversation around money look like?”  I started sitting back and listening to people not “in Program” to see how they talk about money.  I have been taking some cues from others and finding I can discuss without getting anxiety stricken.
One thing that really sticks out for us is that there are two things in life we use daily, and often more than once – money and food.  For people who have issues with these, learning to live, one day at a time, and using them to our advantage as opposed to letting them destroy us can be extremely difficult.  It is with patience and guidance that we need to take hold.  Sometimes, therapy, meditation and finding other ways to help cope need to be sought. There is no quick-fix, but there is certainly hope – and a lot of it!
For those interested, please see debtorsanonymous.org and check for a meeting near you.

8 comments on “Debtors Anonymous: An Interview

  1. Thanks for sharing your story Aceling. I’m sure you success will hep someone else. Knowing that their are others in the same situation, have made the same mistakes, are supportive can be extremely helpful and healing. I’m glad you found DA.

    1. Thanks! And what a journey it has been! And just when you think life is sailing nicely, up comes another bump in the road! Recognizing that this is part of life, it makes me sit back a bit and breathe, take some time, before I pull out the cash or sign on the dotted line.
      Blessings to you!

    1. It can sometimes be a bit unnerving, because I know that it takes work, and happy to do it. I just keep watching those speed bumps of life. It’s interesting how some of the old habits or old life experiences try to creep into my current life. Boundaries are extremely important, and never to be taken for granted!
      Blessings to you for all you do!

    1. I appreciate your congrats. I’m not purr-fect, so I strive to do the best each and every with “Da Money”!

  2. Aceling, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. I think that DA has a lot to teach all of us. I find I really like the “spending plan” concept, and the emphasis upon our “relationship” with money. New insights are great, and you’ve given me plenty through this interview. Thanks again!

  3. My pleasure, I can assure you! I often feel like a novice, even after six plus years. I am certainly in a better position financially, but sometimes I feel I’m the equivalent of a grade seven student, finding my way in life to get to that graduate degree – it feels a long way off. I sometimes have to pinch myself to see if it’s really me who has come this far!

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