I actually consider getting over addiction and out of debt, pits that I dug myself out of; however, climbing mountains was a catchier name so we’ll stick with that metaphor. Which was harder to overcome – debt or addiction? Justin from Root of Good gave me the great idea for this post by asking me this question. This is a little comparative study of what it took to overcome my mountain of debt versus my mountain of addiction as well as the characteristics produced by each journey.
We’ll start here since this was the genesis of my transformation. If you read my first article, From Addiction to Financial Independence or my Testimony, you know I got sober. My sobriety occurred early in 2010. In the past, I was a high functioning addict/alcoholic. I think this is the worst kind as I became expert at flying under the radar.
Anyways, when I became ready to face the music, I changed on a dime. My bottom was a dark and lonely place and I knew my options were grim. I chose what appeared to be the only road to hope and walked away from it all – an abusive relationship, drugging, drinking, and smoking. I really didn’t know what I was doing but I was determined to not go back.
I was scared but I had faith. I remember the only thing that made me feel sane was telling people the truth. I started with a few whom I trusted. People encouraged me to get help and to not do this alone. Ultimately I participated in a recovery program and surrounded myself with accountability partners.
I remember experiencing heavy depression. However, I was determined to get better. At the time, I had an old hand-me-down treadmill in my garage and I would drag myself out of bed, into the cold garage, and run on it for like 15-20 minutes every morning. This produced enough endorphins which allowed me to face the day.
My days were also filled with lots of prayers.
I also rented documentaries from the library on the effects of different drugs on the brain. On one glorious day, I heard the hope I needed. One doctor expressed that the brain has the remarkable ability to recover and heal itself. That is all I needed to know! My hope was re-kindled and my perseverance fortified.
The Woman in The Mirror
In my darkest days, I recall looking in the mirror and saying, “I don’t know who you are anymore but you disgust me”. It is even hard to write that and I wish that lonely place on no one. By the grace of God, I am not there now.
In sobriety and recovery, there is a process where I uncovered the wounds of my past, looked at all my resentments, identified my part in everything, and unearthed the lies I had been believing about myself. This is not an easy process but if done diligently it produces a lot of fruit.
I came to understand that self-pity and anger were the main defects driving this ship for many years. Yuk! Once I recognized this, I could no longer live that way. I learned to identify these familiar defects/emotions and rewire my brain to understand my surroundings differently.
Another big part of the process was making amends to a lot of people for the harm I caused. Beautiful things occurred at this step and people were very gracious to me. I started to become a person I was proud to be. I owned up for my wrongs and did what I could to make them right.
Then I had to learn to forgive myself. This has been the hardest thing yet. I don’t know but I guess wasting years of my life with destructive, self-serving habits, seemed unforgivable. I wanted a redo.
I’ve been coming to realize we do get redos in life. We just get them with scars. I can look at my figurative scars and remember very well how I got them, but they no longer hurt.
The best redemption is helping another coming out of addiction/alcoholism. There is no better way than to walk with someone during their recovery, just as others did with me. It amazing how God can take what was once my greatest weakness, and turn it into my greatest strength.
Now let’s talk about debt. As you can imagine when I got sober I was bankrupt pretty much in every sense of the word, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, and financially. The great thing about a bottom is recognition.
At first, I just kept my head above water financially. Most of my focus was on all the stuff I wrote about above. However, I did make some immediate financial changes. I cut the cord, even the internet as I knew I could go to the library for that. I also consolidated a bunch of credit card debt with a consumer counseling service. This is not what I’d recommend now but at the time I was grasping at straws. Fortunately, I didn’t have to file bankruptcy. Mind you I had to file bankruptcy back in 2000 after my divorce.
Yep, my history is filled with all kinds of financial follies which is what makes the fact that I’m now above the line and working towards financial independence so A M A Z I N G.
Introduction To Dave Ramsey
I became really ready to tackle my debt about four years into sobriety, and I was immediately steered towards Dave Ramsey. Dave is definitely gifted at presenting a simple path to the person who is down and out. He was really the first catalyst in me overcoming some limiting beliefs. I had a big mound (~40k) of student loan debt and I succumbed to the possible reality that I’d be paying on it for the next 30 years.
When I first heard Dave speak on a Financial Peace University DVD, I realized I didn’t have to keep this debt around for 30 years. I’d have to get gazelle intense and make some serious sacrifices but it could be done.
The Baby Steps
A good friend from my church did what was the first key to gaining control of my finances. She sat me down and helped me get on a budget. What an epic idea! Up to then, I’d never lived on a budget as I thought they were constraining. However, budgets are quite the contrary. I now actually find them to be freeing – when I assign my money to certain categories it gives me liberation.
Then she taught me the first two of the Dave Ramsey baby steps:
- Build a baby emergency fund of $1000
- Start the debt snowball.
I quickly saved a baby emergency fund and went to work on my debt snowball. A debt snowball is a method of paying your smallest debt off first, then snowballing that payment into the next biggest one. I had debt which was comprised of credit cards, medical bills, an auto loan, student loans and a mortgage that I was upside down on.
Once I got through all the little ones I was facing my two biggest debts – student loans & mortgage. I realized I was faced with a serious decision. My house was in a neighborhood that was not bouncing back from the crash of the market. Additionally, some major things needed repair and it was no longer a safe place for a single woman to live. I decided to move out and pursue a short sale. I moved into a ministry house and worked with a realtor; however, after about a year the bank declined the short sale and the house went into immediate foreclosure.
This was a low point in sobriety. I had to pause my snowball and hire an attorney. In the end, the bank bought the house back and waived the deficiency.
Final Leg of Debt Pay Off
After all, was said and done, I moved into my parent’s house to pay the remainder of my debt off. During this process, I knew I might have to pay the taxes on the waived deficiency so I saved a mountain of cash for this possibility first. During tax season I worked with a CPA and learned I didn’t have to pay the tax on the deficiency. Phew!
So that cash became my 6-month emergency fund. I actually kept it in an online savings account while I plugged away at my debt. It gave me peace of mind. I love Dave Ramsey and have mad respect for him but I did analyze his advice and chose what worked for me. I was contributing to my retirement account while paying off debt. I thought my employer had a 2% match so I contributed up to it. However, I later learned my boss flat out gives us 2%. One of my better mistakes for sure! Now that I am in the wealth building phase I have a small head start.
I know I wrote about it in my first post but it is worth repeating: on December 29, 2017, I paid it all ($46,763.37) off!!
I created this little chart to show, in my assessment, the characteristics it took to climb these two mountains:
I didn’t try to find an even number of characteristics but that is how it worked out. There is some overlap obviously. I believe coming out of addiction, and perhaps climbing the toughest mountain in my life yet, paved the way for me to face the second mountain, debt.
The addiction mountain was definitely more painful and emotional. I was uncovering years of hurt and resentments. I often felt raw in the process.
The debt didn’t have as much emotion tied to it. It was really a math problem, which I love. Also, it became fun when I was able to apply big chunks of my income (while living with folks) and watch the number decrease.
As fun as it was to watch the debt decrease, I have decided it is way more fun to grow my wealth. I’m so appreciative to be above the line and for the journey I’ve come through.
I would say the biggest thing I’ve learned in both processes is perseverance. My advice to anyone trying to overcome a mountain is to not give up, keep believing it’s possible, and push through when the pain sets in. It’s all so very worth it! Seriously.
What kind of mountains have you overcome? I’d love to hear your experiences…