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The Soul Hole (More About Spending)

If you’ve come back for this one, I applaud you. I mean, this is a lot of me sharing my financial journey. I certainly hope that this has been helpful and also interesting so far, but let’s wrap this up so I can return to fiction writing and personal insights few will understand. (also, if you’d like a copy of my personal finances spreadsheets, just let me know.)

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The Soul Hole. That came to me while I was thinking about how to conclude the tale of getting in and out of debt. I mean, the fact that I continued to return to being in debt WAY over my head might be a topic to delve into, right? Right.

Do you now what it feels like to pay down debt? To make that last payment on a car you bought, or a television? Maybe your debt was a loan from a friend or a family member. I asked for a loan from a family member and I remember being very careful not to mention any money I spent that was NOT going to them and feeling a little awkward when we got together. It was restricting, and uncomfortable, but I needed the loan and they were super generous in helping me out. I made a payment each time I got paid, for the most part, and if I knew I was going to have to defer (skip) a payment, I let them know ahead of time. When I sent that last payment, it was a FANTASTIC feeling. I felt that same feeling when I finished paying off a credit card and closed the account. And when I made the last payment on a vehicle and received the registration with only my name listed, instead of with that hanger on – the lender. Bliss.

Here’s where I have to be honest with you: I have been in and out of financial straits for most of my adult life. Mostly in. One of the things I resonated with in the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki was the idea that when I received a raise in pay or a big tax refund or a check from grandma (she sent those far longer than any adult should receive money from their grandma), I did not invest it, or save some of it. I got bigger and better toys: gaming systems for the kids, clothes, trips to fun places, and more dinners out.

True story: my grandmother chose to give me some inheritance before she died – you can give anyone a gift of money up to a certain amount before Uncle Sam steps in. In three years, she gifted me and my husband enough money to put a down payment on a house, if we had put it in the bank drawing a little interest until we were able to find a house we could afford. We chose instead to take the kids to Disneyland, take a road trip, party too much, upgrade computers in the apartment we rented, pay off some bills and incur a little more debt. I literally had a minivan and payments to show for my lack of financial maturity.

I never had too much extra money and I believed (and I still do) that my Higher Power knew I was too irresponsible to handle too much money. I had a savings account after the ‘inheritance’ years and every time we got just a little bit saved to feel a little bit at ease, something big needed replacing – usually an appliance (refrigerator one year) or an automobile needed work (transmissions are costly). Seriously, I knew something was gonna break if we saved more than $500. I worked hard at my job, I got consistent raises, and I spent pretty much everything I had on what I wanted. My children left, one by one to live with their other parent, until only the child I had with my then husband was left (he was 10). I plugged along. Wrestled debt, kept my head above water (I managed all our finances – he wouldn’t do it. I screwed it up several times – and I guess he didn’t want to be responsible for it. I get it. For the record, when I chose to stop doing mind and mood altering substances, I got better at managing money, and I had more money to manage. But I still had a problem with that hole in my soul.)

Have you ever experienced the shit hitting the fan over and over again. Me too – a lot of things happened in pretty rapid succession: In 2011, my grandmother died of Alzheimer’s, two weeks after my mother-in-law died of a very aggressive form of lung cancer. In 2013, I divorced. In 2014, my mother died of ovarian cancer. And in 2015, I received a considerable amount of money. (Lots of really horrible emotional upheaval followed by a means to an end – I would have given all that money back to have my mom here with me – but that’s another story) I used that money left to me as wisely as I could – I paid off both my car and the vehicle of my ex-husband (making his payments was a part of the divorce settlement); I paid all my credit cards off; I paid off a student loan I’d co-signed. At the end of 2015 I had zero debt, I’d quit my job, and I was married again. And I wanted for nothing. I finished college and got my AA. And I spent money, because even though I was sober, I had a hole to fill – the hole in my soul that was left when those three influential women in my life died. I just didn’t know I had a hole or that I was trying to fill it.

To be honest, I’d probably had that hole since I was a kid. I remember stealing money from my dad a few times during my teenage years. I stole from employers. I stole from friends. I bought (and stole) stuff I didn’t need. I didn’t feel loved or important (this is not a ploy for sympathy – this is just my perception of the facts) and I thought if I had enough stuff, I’d be happy. I wasn’t but I was also 15 and I didn’t know any better. Once I discovered a better way to fill the hole I didn’t know I had inside, I was good, relatively speaking.

So almost 25 years later, I had enough money to buy whatever I wanted – and I did. I finally had a pair of jeans for every day of the week, and I took trips, and I bought shit on Amazon that I did not know I’d needed. (It should be said that I invested more than I spent.) The point is, I thought that if I bought enough stuff, I’d finally land on the RIGHT stuff and I’d finally feel better, feel whole. I see that now. I didn’t see that then. At the end of 2016, I received – for the first time I can recall – a statement from each credit card company (Yes, I had more credit cards, which I paid off every month, because I’m a responsible consumer now. Ha.) showing me how much I spent in 2016 and where I spent it. Have you ever gotten one of those? How did that feel? Rather eye-opening. I had two credit cards I used regularly – I got points for using them, so free money, I figured. (Lies I believed which justified spending more). In that year, I’d spent more money than I had made during the last year of my job, and I made good money. I opened that statement, and I read it, and I cried. Keep in mind that I didn’t owe this money – I’d paid it off. Still, I felt this deep shame. I felt that something was really wrong with me. And there was. It wasn’t what I thought it was though.

Over the past year (literally, March 7, 2018 to March 8, 2019) I have done a lot of soul searching, I’ve dug deep on a lot of personal issues, and I’ve come to the realization that I felt not good enough for most of my life, unimportant to those I wanted to be most important to, and to bring relief to that belief – that I was not good enough, that I did not deserve to be here, and that I was unimportant – I did things to escape those feelings. First it was books. As a child I read more than anyone I’ve ever known. As a young adult, I moved on to sex, and drugs. When I got sober, movies became my escape. My final act of escape was to purchase stuff. To buy enough stuff to distract me from myself.

This year I dug in deep to what makes me tick. I faced a lot of hard truths. I wrote and I shared and I got counseling. I even had my brain scanned. I attached emotions to physical discomfort, and dialed in to why I felt the way I felt. And frankly, I had a LOT of limiting beliefs about myself, and about those closest to me. I had to expose those lies I’d told myself, and I had to let those stories go. It took most of the year to get here. It’s taken 15 years to get ready to do this work. And today, I have a different outlook. I may be able to report back next year and tell you that I haven’t had to escape my feelings more than a few times, and in a healthy manner. I’ll set a reminder and let you know.

The hardest person to face was me. The person I lied to the best and for the longest was me. And the person I am kinder and gentler with every day is me. And it ripples out to the rest of my life. I am grateful for the lessons so far. I will never stop learning about who I am and striving to be the best version of me.

Thanks for sticking around. Tomorrow, some fiction. Then we’ll see where life takes us next. Good night.