Stoned, Baked and High: When Debting is Our Drug

Stoned, Baked and High:  When Debting is Our Drug

It took a long time for me to admit that I was in terrible trouble with debt—that debt had become a constant, central part of my adult life and my debt-free days had truly been a figment of my imagination—a non-existent blip on my life’s money screen. 

Certainly I could rationalize that I had been debt-free a few times in the course of my adulthood—but a car accident payoff or a settlement that paid off my credit cards does not financial stability make and I knew it. 

When I added up all of the stresses that debt had brought me—not the least of which were failed relationships, physical symptoms and cycling through jobs—I realized I had a big, big problem. 

I had to admit that what my friend courageously said to me was true: the common denominator in my financial disasters was me. 

As stinging as that realization was, it would take falling down farther and facing bankruptcy before I realized that debting had become a lifestyle activity, a state of being and a way of life in my world, and it had spun out of control. 

Sure, I still had the usual debtor rant going on in my head about “not enough money,” and “if only…”—complete with the magical thinking fantasies of a sudden windfall of money from an instant-success project or an undiscovered inheritance.  And, I had clearly bought the debtor hype that our culture fosters that said I could “manage” my debt, but in my heart of hearts I knew that was crap.  “Managing” overwhelming debt (which is too often code for moving debt around), is an oxymoron that I realized any seventh grader could figure out.

I had to admit that I was getting high on my debt-cycle. I would get giddy when I spent money I didn’t have, leveraging credit on vacations, clothes, even overpriced groceries, and then two or four or twenty days later, when the bills came in, I’d cycle through deep depressions and self-hatred. 

I’d say, “But that’s what my credit line is for,” when I fronted myself huge blocks of cash for an artistic project I couldn’t pay for, and then despise myself for getting in so far over my head.  I would extend my living expense money, sometimes hugely, banking on some magical “one day” that would pull me out.  I’d make promises to myself to stop and then do it all over again.

That’s an addiction cycle.  And that’s what most of us do when we’re in debt trouble. 

None of us likes to think of ourselves as having a serious problem.  Usually we will justify, rationalize, deny and cover long before we will admit.  So the prospect of calling myself a debt addict was hardly thrilling.  But when I took a look at the definition of addiction, this is what I found:  any activity I continue to engage in, or that I am compelled to do, even when I am fully aware that I am harming myself by engaging in it

That, for most of us, is right-on-the-money regarding our debting behavior.  We know it’s killing us, our relationships and our families.  But we can’t stop ourselves.  Certainly that was the truth for me.  It was like careening down the mountain when I had already lost my ski poles and one ski had already snapped in half.  It was dangerous, hair-raising and destructive.

Debting, at its core, is self-destructive.  And we credit card users get high on it:  we’re stoned on the process-addiction of buying now and then gambling for some hail-Mary, two-minute-end-of-the-game miracle that will pull us out.  And the thing is, we know it’s not coming.

What I have learned myself is that there is only one way out of debt trouble: that is, to learn to live within my means.  To live without credit cards, without extending my income for stuff I can’t afford—and to do that while learning how to live well on what I earn. 

That’s what I had to learn for myself, and what my husband and I had to learn to do together.   Living within our means meant a way to stop the debt-cycling, the pressure and the stress, and to finally make peace with our money. 

There’s a million ways to find God, I like to say, so I truly believe there’s no one right way to learn to live debt-free.  I had to create a five-minute-a-day plan or I knew my head would never stay in. So that’s what I did. 

Easy clarity, simple solvency, and no credit cards has brought me the first money ease I’ve ever had.  It has changed my life in gargantuan, happy ways and I’ve become a flag-bearer for the cause in the process. 

I’m sharing this for everyone who’s in trouble who doesn’t think it’s possible to get out.  It is.  We don’t have to keep living with debt addiction and we don’t have to keep buying into the impossible hype of “managing” credit.  We can give it up for good and live a life filled with ease and peace. 

If I can do it, anyone can do it.  Just beginning will change the landscape forever.  Is it worth it?  Yes, absolutely.  Nothing has brought more peace, serenity and ease to my life.   If life is in the living, then living debt-free has brought the first true, solvent, serene freedom to experience life I’ve ever found. 

JoAnneh Nagler, Author

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