Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hating Life

It's been well over a month since I last wrote.  Mostly it's because of shame, denial, and self-hatred.  I hate the holidays -- for financial reasons mostly.  As much as I try to keep smiling and put on the happy face, that financial hatred still seeps over.  I'm stressed, I'm worried, and it puts a damper on the joy of the holidays.

Since mid-November, my personal checking account has been overdrawn.  We're not talking small amounts here -- we're talking large numbers.  It's embarrassing, it's frustrating - and I have no one to blame but myself.  And my stress level has gone through the roof.  I'm short-tempered, I'm exhausted from not sleeping, I'm high on caffeine.

It's a simple concept -- why can't I control this?  Why can't I just say no?  Why don't I know where my money goes?  Why do I have this insane need to please - and with that need comes the need to buy approval with gifts.  The need to show that I have it all together - to host the perfect gathering, to give the perfect gift.

I just can't do this any more.  I'm so sick of seeing negative numbers in my balance.  I'm so sick of phone calls and past due notices in the mail.  I'm so sick of playing the "rob Peter to pay Paul" game.  As Dr. Phil would say - "How's that working out for you?"

It's not.

I've got to make some serious changes in my life.  Not just for me, but for my girls.  I don't want them to look up to me as a role model -- not this way.  I don't want them to grow up thinking that they can buy anything they want whenever they want. 

I don't want them to end up like me.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Shining the Light on the Shame

I've only been writing this blog for a short time. 

But in the days of starting this, I've been so amazed at how people have contacted me - either through leaving a comment or emailing me directly.  So many have said, "I understand" or "I am going through this now" or just simply, "Thank you."  I've even gotten "You're so brave" and "Good for you."

It's comments like that that encourage me to keep going.  To keep sharing my struggles, my pain, and my shame.

But the other night, I had doubts.....some major, major doubts.

You see - most of the comments I've gotten are from people I don't know or only have a "cyber" acquaintance with.  So far, no one I've known in real life has said anything to me at all -- until the other night.

We were at the home of some very, very close friends of ours.  You may have read about me writing about my dear friend Cindy and her family -- the family who took me under their wing when I first moved out here.  They are the closest thing to family here that I have.

Well, Cindy's one daughter and I started talking in the kitchen and she said, "I read your blog."  And I thought - Awesome!  She reads The Toy Box Years!  But when she said, "You're so brave to tell your story", my heart sank.  She wasn't talking about The Toy Box Years.  She was talking about this blog.  The blog about my deep, dark secret.  I was so humiliated.  I don't remember what I said in response - I just remember just smiling and thanking her for the encouragement -- when all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole.

Someone I knew - someone that I actually see frequently - now knows my deepest, darkest secret.  It was as if all my shame and embarassment was written all over me for all to see.  Which, in fact, it is with this blog.

I knew when I started this that people who knew me would read it.  But I just didn't expect how deeply it would affect me when someone I truly knew WOULD read it and possibly comment on it.  It's like jumping completely into a spotlight on an empty stage completely naked.  Everyone can see all my flaws, my insecurites.  I could try to cover myself up - but you would still see it all.  And I gotta tell you -- it ain't pretty.

I suppose I had mixed emotions about it for a few reasons.  Underneath it all I suppose I was grateful because it allowed me to realize that there is a crack in the facade that I put up for people.  The mask I wear when I smile and say, "I'm fine" or "Everything's alright".  I can look someone in the eye - with all my flaws and shame - and know that I'm still loved in spite of it all.

But on the flip side, I still want to hide that shame.  And even though I've somewhat been "outed", I could choose to stop writing about this.  To keep my secrets to myself.  To run away and hide and ignore it -- my usual defense mechanism.  Ignore it and it will go away.  Hide the bills in a box and they'll stop coming.  Ignore the phone calls and they'll stop.  Delete the voice mails and it never happened.

But it won't go away.  It did happen.  The bills will keep coming.  The phone calls will keep coming.  And the shame will still be there if I don't face it.

For the first time in my life - I'm not running away.  The layers are being peeled away.  And I just have to have faith that I'll continue to be strong enough to share and heal.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Journaling: Day 5 - Weekly Recap (10/30)

So - just some random money posts this morning.  Just some recollection over the past week - how I succeeded and how I failed.  I hope to keep posting like this every Friday.

This morning I checked out my bank balance online.  I'm not happy with the balance at the moment - but that's ok.  I'm still in the black - barely - but we're in the black.  Normally, my initial instinct would be to go to the bank this morning, withdrawal a large amount of cash.  See, my bank has this great thing called overdraft protection.  (And please know that I say "great thing" with great sarcasm.  It's just yet another tool that enables me to continue this awful cycle.)  So, I could withdraw money - making myself feel secure knowing that I had cash on hand.  But not thinking about the negative bank balance and the fees the bank would charge me.  Which would be taken from the next pay deposited.  Again - a vicious, vicious cycle.  But this morning - I have no desire to do that.  I desire, instead, to have faith that I can make it through - WITHOUT putting myself in the red.

Today I need to go grocery shopping and pick up a few groceries that will last us through the next payday which is this upcoming Thursday.  I have a small list -- one that I am determined to stick to.  While I usually do stick to my list - there's always a few "extras" that I end up throwing the cart.

Last week I paid my library fines - which were pretty big.  I have been paying them off a little at a time (yes, they were that big) and still had a bit to go.  But I made the decision to pay them all off -- and I'm so glad I did.  When the urge to buy books hit me hard over the past few days, I just went to the library and put the book on hold.  I missed going to the library and I missed taking the girls.  I felt so ashamed of what I owed and felt that everyone was looking at me when I would walk in -- knowing how much I owed.  But last week, I walked in there with my girls -- and we had a blast!

Last night I packaged up a bunch of books to mail for Paperback Swap.  Lots of credits coming my way!  Which means lots of books that I can order when the urge to shop strikes.  I had a certain amount of postage left in my account to ship.  Normally I would go ahead and just order more postage and not think about if I could afford it or not.  But last night - when it was gone, it was gone.  I emailed the other people waiting for books to explain that it would be another week before I could ship and why.  All were very understanding and accommodating.

I also spent a lot of time listing items for sale on eBay.  My intention is to use that money to buy Christmas and birthday gifts and continue to pay down our MY debt -- one dollar at a time.

This past week has been amazing.  I didn't have our car since My Marine took my Jeep to work.  His car is on it's last legs and we're trying not to drive it so much.  Anyway - with not having a vehicle available to me, I spent the week home with my girls.  We painted, we made playdough, we colored, we played, we read stories.  It also taught me that I CAN avoid spending.  That I am capable of not giving in to the urge.

And THAT alone was worth more than anything any money could buy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Journaling - Day 4

There's an amazing website out there for people like me having issues with compulsive spending and debting.  Debtors Anonymous is an awesome support group which follows the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous. 

When you get to their main page, there's a section down at the bottom where you can test yourself to see where you stand with compulsive spending. 

I decided to post these questions and answer them honestly -- to fully bring to light the hugeness of my problem.  (I know that's probably not a word, but it's a good word for the magnitude of my problem.)

(Note:  most compulsive debtors will answer "yes" to at least eight of the following 15 questions.)
1. Are your debts making your home life unhappy?
Absolutely.  I'm stressed.  Worried about money all the time.  I feel like the joy of living is almost all but gone.
2. Does the pressure of your debts distract you from your daily work?
To an extent, yes.  And while I don't work, but it has been affecting how I run my home. 
3. Are your debts affecting your reputation?
Yes.  I've been earning back the trust of family members -- my parents, my brother, my husband and his family.  I've proven over and over that I'm not trustworthy when it comes to money.
4. Do your debts cause you to think less of yourself?
Oh, where to begin.  My self-esteem is shot.  I'm a disappointment not only to myself, but to my family.  I feel like a bad mother because my problem is potentially causing a negative impact on my daughter's.  I'm stupid because why can't I just stop? 
5. Have you ever given false information in order to obtain credit?
Yes.  And I'll get into that in a later post.
6. Have you ever made unrealistic promises to your creditors?
Yep.  I'll tell them anything to get them to stop calling.
7. Does the pressure of your debts make you careless of the welfare of your family?
Yes.  I spend without regard to keeping my home and family safe.  I spend to fulfill MY needs instead of taking care of the needs of my family.  I spend money before taking care of basic necessities - like utilities, bills, etc.
8. Do you ever fear that your employer, family or friends will learn the extent of your total indebtedness?
Every day.  I fear that if my friends and family really knew the extent of what I've done and the mess I've gotten myself into, I would completely lose everything.
9. When faced with a difficult financial situation, does the prospect of borrowing give you an inordinate feeling of relief?
Absolutely.  It's that "if I only won the lottery" syndrome.  When there's an extra paycheck that I know that's coming, the weight is lifted off my shoulders because then I know that I can play "catch up" with that extra cash instead of doing the responsible thing like paying off debt or putting it into savings.
10. Does the pressure of your debts cause you to have difficulty sleeping?
Have you seen the bags under my eyes?  Can you say insomnia?  Is tossing and turning an Olympic sport?
11. Has the pressure of your debts ever caused you to consider getting drunk?
Thankfully, I can answer no to this one. 
12. Have you ever borrowed money without giving adequate consideration to the rate of interest you are required to pay?
No.  Because of my credit, I can't even get a loan, so this really isn't an issue.
13. Do you usually expect a negative response when you are subject to a credit investigation?
Absolutely.  While I don't know my credit score, I know that warning bells go off everywhere when I have to go through a credit check.
14. Have you ever developed a strict regimen for paying off your debts, only to break it under pressure?
Yes.  The need to spend is so strong that I give in and all good intentions are out the window.
15. Do you justify your debts by telling yourself that you are superior to the "other" people, and when you get your "break" you'll be out of debt overnight?
I wouldn't say that I ever say that I'm superior to others.  In fact, it's the opposite.  I feel so unworthy and shameful that I couldn't even begin to imagine a feeling of superiority.
So, there you have it.  More than half of my answers show that I have a problem with compulsive debt/spending.  It's seeing this in black and white that's prompted me to work on this issue.  I believe that as I work through this, everything else will fall into place -- weight issues, self-esteem issues, etc.
If you took this quiz along wtih me, how did YOU score?
If you found yourself answering in a similar manner, then I hope that you'll take this journey with me.  I realize that I was at a cross road.  The one road - the easy road - will lead me to further denial and despair.  The second road - the hard road - will be more challenging, but will lead me to the life that I wish I had all along - one of self-respect, happiness, and solvency. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Journaling - Day 3

I've been out of commission for the past couple days.  Nudgie passed her stomach bug on to me and I've been feeling really crappy.  (No pun intended!)

But, I'm back.....feeling a bit better, finally.  And ready to be accountable for my last few days.


So, the past few days, I've been really good about tracking what I've been spending since pay day.  I found this great online tracking program that's been very helpful.  To check it out, click here.  I was a little bad at not writing things down right away, but one morning, I just sat down with my receipts, check book, computer and documented every cent.  Big step for me.

Normally, I start off with good intentions and then lose steam.  I forget to write things down so then I'm very vague about our bank balance.  But really -- it was just sheer laziness.  Then I would be stuck with a wallet full of receipts that I didn't track.  I'd get frustrated and just throw them away.

But not this time.  I made a point of writing everything down and putting it into my online spending diary.  Seeing that little pie chart is helping me to see where all the money is going.

But in spite of my small victory with tracking.  I did fall off the wagon.  The other day, I went to Barnes and Noble and spent $60.  Unplanned spending.  Stuff I didn't need.  Books for the girls.  Two books for me.  Why?  I don't know.  I didn't need any of it.  I ended up putting the stuff I bought for the girls in our Christmas closet -- meaning they'll get them for Christmas.  My two books are sitting on the ever-growing pile of "to read" books that I've been hoarding buying for as long as I can remember.

Funny thing is - just that morning, I'd gone through my huge stockpile and made an even bigger pile of books that I was going to list for sale on eBay.  Let me go over that again.....I just got RID of over 40+ books to the eBay pile and then an hour later added two more books to my stash.  What kind of insanity is that?

It's the insanity of compulsive spending.  There's no rhyme or reason to it.  But I'm hoping (and praying) that by writing this blog that I can start to peel away the onion-like layers of my problem.  That I can be accountable.

One day at a time.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Journaling - Day 2

Yesterday was a good day for me.  I did not spend any money.  I did not debt.  I resisted the urge to drive my daughter to school so I could "run errands" while she's in school.  ("Run errands" is my denial phrase for "just really want to go shopping.")

But today is different.  Today is payday.  And I'm a nervous wreck.

In my compulsive spending past, I would think more about how I could spend my money and what I could spend it on, rather than do the responsible thing like, oh....I don't know....pay bills.

It's always the same story.

Each pay period I tell myself that I will be responsible.  I will track what I spend.  I will not do any unnecessary shopping - which means staying out of the craft stores (which are my crack), book stores, clothing stores.  Basically anywhere which requires me to pull out cash or my debit card.  (I no longer have any credit cards - which I will get to in a future post.)  But the debit card is just as bad.  It's like using a credit card, but it's only using the cash you have on hand -- which is usually already earmarked for responsible things -- car payment, insurance, mortgage, etc.

But inevitably, the temptation kicks in and the urge grows so strong that it's literally hard to ignore that deep-seated need.  And then the cycle begins.  The mad dash to shop -- to buy things that I just don't need - all because I want it.  I have to have it, although I don't know why.  The euphoria of finding good deals.  Of finding something I really like and instead of buying just one - I buy one of every basic color.  At craft stores I'll buy supplies, telling myself all the while that it's a project that I'll get to.  When in reality I've got LOTS of projects I'll "get to" sitting in my garage, my laundry room, on my living room floor.

But then there's the other side.  The downside once the binge is over.  The buyer's remorse that sets in.  The guilt that eats me up inside.  The negative self-talk that I go through over and over and over.  And it's always the same.

"You're so stupid.  How could you do that again"

"You just have no self-control."

"You're useless and worthless.  If you can't control this, then no wonder your life is so screwed up."

"You're such a disappointment to everyone."

And then once I finish that conversation, I just tell myself that I'll "make it right" by taking some stuff back.  Completing the cycle.  At least until it starts all over again.

So we have -- the urge, the act, the euphoria, the remorse, the guilt, the self-hatred, the return (act of contrition).

In the midst of all this, I would try to hide my spending.  Trying to stay one step ahead.  Trying to detour my husband from wanting to spend money -- usually on stuff for the house.  I'd get angry when he'd want to spend money on a 6-pack or go to Happy Hour.  I recognize that as displaced anger.  Anger towards him, when I'm internally angry with myself.

But today....today is going to be different.  In Debtors Anonymous (that will come in another post), we are taught to immediately start tracking our spending and to take it one day at a time.  In my case, it has to be one hour at a time.  We are also encouraged to be held accountable - which is where this blog comes in.

By writing and sharing, I am holding myself accountable.  And just for today, I will take it one hour at a time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hello, My Name Is Jennifer......

and I'm a compulsive spender/debtor.

It's a big secret that some knew about me.  But there are probably more people who don't know that little fact than people who do.

What may surprise you even more is that I've struggled with this for well over 20+ years.  At times the compulsion would lie dormant for awhile, only to erupt with full force and heap destruction through my financial life.

It's caused me heartache, stress, insomnia, and much much more.

I decided a few weeks ago that I really needed to take the bull by the horns and get my financial life back on track.  I'm setting a bad example for my daughters - and darn it - it's time I just grew up and stopped acting so damn irresponsibly.

As I was looking for support groups online, I found that there were maybe only a handful of blogs out there that touched on this topic.  So I thought that I would start one myself.  And with that came my challenge.  Over the next 30 days I will be journaling every day about my journey -- the good, the bad, and even the ugly.

It is my hope that through this blog, others who struggle with debt and compulsive spending will find a place to come and share and know that they are not alone.  If I only reach one person through my story, then I will be happy.


PS - For those wondering about the Sesame Street header.....I just felt like putting up something that would make me happy while I was writing about something that depresses me!  Hope it makes you smile!