“I have no money” has been blasting from my mental megaphone – one I imagine to be red and white just like the model my frightening 4th grade gym teacher used – for as long as I can remember. It’s a painful thought to have on repeat, and one that I did not address for the majority of my adult years to this point.
You might assume that since I’ve shared deeply personal information about battling an eating disorder and attempting to overcome chronic health issues that sharing a seemingly more superficial topic would be easy. If that’s the case, you are sorely mistaken. My fingers are practically trembling as I sit down to write this post, but I believe that my story needs telling, even if it helps just one person. People need to know that they are not struggling alone and that there's always a way out of financial hell.
Money is one of the most loaded topics there is. I would place it above sex on the too uncomfortable/inappropriate/awkward to discuss scale. My super scientific unit of measure for this scale is the severity of my grandmother’s facial expression when I broach a topic at a family event (see below):
Religion – mouth forms a straight line
Politics – eye contact is broken while lips go from straight to pursed
Eating disorder – complete stone face, possible trip to the liquor cabinet
Sex – scrunching of the eyebrows until the creases formed resemble the shape of an “11”, dramatic rolling of the eyes
Money – if the expression could speak, it would say “please shut the F up and be proper”
People don't mind talking about what they do with their money, but they certainly don't like to discuss it directly. If you discuss how much you've made or spent, you're arrogant and obnoxious. If you discuss how little you have, you're making things awkward for everyone. There's no winning in this conversation game.
My negative money story, like anyone else’s, was the result of experiences as a child and an adolescent. Growing up in a home where financial struggle was openly discussed, watching my parents fight over it, always feeling pressure to find the cheapest option, and consistently hearing something along the lines of “Of course, as soon as I think we are getting ahead financially something else happens” resulted in a completely fear based perspective. I felt that I had no control over money and that there was never enough. I resented my reliance upon it and simultaneously judged myself for wishing I had more. Poor habits developed and despite advancing in my education and career, my financial situation actually declined as I got older.
Despite my worsening circumstances, I resisted change. Change is scary and feels daunting at the outset. Two years ago I got divorced, moved across the country, and started over. That was about as much change as I felt like taking on. But it was not enough. Not even close. I needed to get really uncomfortable to make progress.
Admitting you’re in over your head, going through your finances to know where you stand, making changes to your daily habits, and aligning your life with your true values all require a great deal of courage and will power. I know because I lacked both for longer than I care to admit. For many years, I would rather buy another used designer dress on ebay to test the structural integrity of my closet rod – completely disregarding the fact that the credit card used to purchase the dress was almost maxed out – than give up one of my go-to coping mechanisms for stress, loneliness, and unhappiness.
What eventually changed? What led me away from my destructive habit?
Self-awareness and accountability.
I loved to spend money. I loved to fill my physical existence with pretty things. I loved the rush from getting a designer shirt or a sparkling appliance at a large discount. I loved to go to nice restaurants and justify ordering the filet. I loved to avoid, avoid, and avoid some more.
Avoidance is a tricky bi#ch. It’s easily masked by habits that are considered socially acceptable, even ideal in some circumstances. Grabbing a $5 latte everyday on my way to work, having memberships at 3 different gyms, paying for new fitness and meditation apps I never used, overfilling my plate with various online courses and in-person classes about blogging… Although somewhat excessive, none of these activities screamed, “Yikes, I have a problem.” Exercising is good for you, almost everyone I know drinks coffee, and learning how to develop this blog was extremely important to me. The issue was that I turned to these avoidance measures whenever I began to feel discomfort or pain.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a life of abundance. However, spending for a hit of faux happiness is not living abundantly. It’s just avoidance wrapped in a shiny designer bow.
I read (ok ok, I listened to the Audible recording of…) an amazing book, The Untethered Soul, and one of the many lessons that stuck with me was developing the ability to relax and sit with your pain. I began to notice triggers. One evening after getting into an argument with my mother, one we have had countless times, I began to feel like no one understood me. I felt alone. I felt unlovable. The second these feelings crept in, I almost leapt off the couch to grab my laptop and check out the Amazon lightning deals for that day. I caught myself mid-leap and forced myself to sit back down. Then, almost instantly, I felt a craving for an almond milk flat white. I got up to grab my car keys when I recognized my avoidance was triggered yet again. I sat back down on the couch, closed my eyes and made the conscious decision to let the feelings come.
Before they came through I felt a bombardment of other distraction urges. Maybe I should scroll through my Instagram feed, maybe I should check out yet another blogging course (when I hadn’t yet finished a single one of the three I already paid for), maybe I should peruse part-time jobs to help get out of debt, maybe I should Google more articles about autoimmune diseases, or maybe I should go spend $20 at Wendy’s and then throw up. That last one was hit me like a brick wall.
I was playing a mental game of whack-a-mole. As soon as I successfully defeated one distraction, another would pop up. I have to give them credit; my avoidance muscles were pretty f*cking strong. If excuses were plates on a bar bell, I could have been a power lifter.
Finally after what felt like an hour – but was likely all of 5 minutes – I took a deep breath and told myself I wasn’t going anywhere. I wasn’t going to consume anything. I was just going to sit and breathe.
Within a minute I felt like my chest was on fire. I felt sad, angry, disappointed, confused, alone, overwhelmed, and frustrated all at the same time. It was as if something cracked open inside of me and all this toxic energy came pouring out like the river of slime in Ghostbusters II. I admit that in that instant I wished I hadn’t opened the flood gates, but it was too late. The most surprising thing was how many random memories came pouring out of me, some that hadn’t crossed my mind in years. Getting upsetting lab results at the doctor’s office, bad breakups, situations in which “friends” were cruel (hello middle school), arguments with my parents, my card being declined when I was trying to buy breakfast before a final in college… the list goes on. It actually felt similar to memories that came up during EMDR therapy. My brain had linked all these negative snapshots together, and one moment of emotional uncertainty set off an avalanche of images, feelings, and tears.
I rode the wave until the images slowed, my chest stopped burning, and my tears began to dry. It was not pretty. It was not enjoyable. I hated every moment of it. But then I felt free. I knew if I could handle that first barrage of emotion that I could recover even faster and more effectively the next time the pain and self-doubt crept in.
It was time to change my habits. I needed to learn to sit in the discomfort if I ever wanted to live a fulfilling and abundant life. This was my first step on the road to financial recovery. This is how I silenced the “I have no money” megaphone.
I will share more about the steps I took, how I continue to heal my relationship with money, and how I work to keep a positive mindset in the process. The changes I have made, and the much needed overhaul of my values and priorities, have allowed me to invest in my health on a level I never have before. My health takes top priority, ALWAYS, and addressing my relationship with money is a crucial part of this healing journey.