In recovery, pivotal events are often referred to as moments of clarity. These are the moments in your life when you recognize you are on a dead-end road and change courses. Additionally, these are the moments when everything is crystal clear and you distinctly know why you are here.
The problem is we get busy in life and forget these moments. It’s crucial to take the time to reflect. And when you do, I have a strong suspicion you’ll discover more of your purpose.
As I’m reflecting on 9 years of sobriety, 1 year of debt freedom, and 1 year closer to financial independence, I’m thinking about my pivotal moments. Moreover, I’m thinking about what they mean in regards to where I’m going next in life and why financial independence is so important to me.
My Love of Math
I had an eighth-grade mathematics teacher, Mr. Lamp, who is responsible for my falling in love with math. At the time, my father & I were not close. I craved a father figure and Mr. Lamp, who was also my basketball coach, took a liking to me. He had me sit in the front row and challenged me.
I wanted to please him so I did my homework in his class and paid attention. Up until this point, I had been doing the minimum in school to skate by. But, I found solace in navigating my way through a maze of mathematical mysteries using the tools at my disposal. I loved that I always came to an answer. Furthermore, I could backtrack and check my work. It was black and white and it gave me peace.
In high school, as my drinking worsened, I continued to skate by with my studies except in my math courses. I always did my math homework and my purpose was starting to shine through. Unfortunately, it was also drowning in booze and later drugs.
The pursuit of Purpose Without a Reconciled Past
I tried my hand at college but found myself unsettled. So I sold my car and traveled to New York City. Then I moved to Colorado and additionally backpacked through Europe. When I focused on my studies in Colorado, I rekindled my love of math and aced my Calculus and Economics courses. However, I was always thwarted by the prospect of love and moved back home to get married at the age of 25 only to divorce at the age of 27. Bankrupt and determined, I finished my bachelors of Arts in Economics at the age of 29.
Faced with the thought of now what, I discovered I was meant to teach. Moreover, I wanted to teach mathematics to high school students. At the age of 30, I did post-baccalaureate studies in mathematics until I was accepted into an accelerated masters program.
I was in love with math all over again but near the end of my graduate studies, I was reintroduced to drugs. One might say why would I throw it all away? Well, with an unreconciled past, years of resentment, and deep-rooted insecurities, I was defenseless. While I recognized my purpose and excelled in my studies, I was afraid to walk in it. Success actually terrified me and I still had this deep craving to be loved above all else.
This girl graduated with a 4.0 and promise-filled future but walked away from it all. Instead, I chose to enter a destructive relationship that I mistook for love and became addicted to substances 24/7.
A Moment of Clarity
On my 36-year-old birthday, I was standing outside in the ghetto smoking a cigarette in freezing temperatures with my aging dog. I sobbed and sobbed. You see I had been deep in the throes of addiction for two years and accepting to be in a destructive relationship. Two years may not sound like much but since the age of 16, I had waxed and waned with drinking and drugging to escape my insecurities. The final two years is where it took me down until I was defeated.
As I cried looking down at my dog on this dark day, I said to myself, “I don’t know who you are anymore.” I sensed my time was short and that something would have to give. Knowing and actually breaking the cycle, though, are two wholly separate things.
It was 8 more months before I had a vision which led me to leave the relationship, ask for help, and quit drugs. It was another 6 months before I committed to full sobriety and quit drinking. I’ve not taken a mood or mind-altering substance since February 1st, 2010.
Redeeming What Was Lost
Within the first year of my sobriety, I did a mission trip. The genesis for this mission trip was to reclaim something that had become a trigger to me. In sobriety, it’s recommended to identify your triggers and avoid them until you are stronger. Pre-sobriety, I would take long bike rides through the Metroparks while on drugs. Additionally, we would stop to drink in bars along the way.
Even upon getting sober, I still associated biking with drugging and drinking. Biking was a bit of a trigger for me. I was attending a local church at the time and I heard about a mission trip where a group of people was going to bike on the great Allegheny trail from Pittsburg, PA to Washington, D.C. in order to raise money for orphans in Uganda. While I didn’t have the money to do it, I signed up.
I wrote a letter about my story and raised enough money to qualify for the trip and hopped back on the saddle with intention and purpose to train.
On the trip, we biked 30 -80 miles a day. Additionally, we camped along the trail and visited churches to spread our mission. My trigger had been redeemed!
Purpose is Good Unless Debt Stands in the Way
The pastor from Juna Amagara ministries came with us and one day I was able to ride in the sag vehicle with him. He learned of my story and plead with me to come to teach mathematics to orphans in Uganda. I put my head down and said, “I’d love to but I have too much debt holding me down.” He simply said, “when you are ready, you let me know.” Well, I didn’t know how I’d get out from under the albatross of debt around my neck, but I knew I didn’t like being held back because of it. On that day, I vowed to do something.
I wanted to be free to go where God calls me. The pain of having to say no, ignited the fire to change the trajectory of my financial life.
I slowly chipped away at my finances but I focused more on the most important task at hand which was:
- Identifying lies I had believed about myself
- Discovering truth
- Reconciliation with my past
- Making amends
- Giving and receiving forgiveness
I never forgot that Pastor’s offer.
The Debt Freedom Plan
When I was 40, I asked for help with my finances and was steered to Dave Ramsey and started the debt snowball. As I started to get some momentum by budgeting, selling stuff and reducing expenses, I thought maybe just maybe I could do this.
However, the house I had been living in was deep underwater and then my furnace broke in the middle of winter. My options were clear:
- Go into more debt to fix a sinking house
- Move out and pursue a short sale
I choose the latter and worked with a realtor while I lived in a ministry house. Unfortunately, after a year I was declined for the short sale and the house went into foreclosure. I hired an attorney and things ended fairly well.
Once the dust settled, I looked at my mountain of debt and decided it was time to turn up the intensity. I asked my parents to move in with them. They graciously said yes, and I got to work on my debt. It’s easy to say no to all kinds of extra-curricular activities when you are living with your parents at age 44. With my laser focus, I was able to apply 90% of my income towards debt and savings.
Not Just About Financial Redemption
I realized by moving in with my parents, I was being given the chance to heal my relationship with my parents further. While I worked through a lot of my resentments in recovery, there is nothing like living with people to really get the chance to work on things. Essentially, I was given a second chance to submit to my parent’s authority in a healthy way. The last time I had lived with them was when I was 20 and rebellious.
Granted I was living with them at the age of 44 so they didn’t place rules on me. However, I respected them and their house. I learned to be helpful to them. Moreover, I learned to work through some residual anger with my Dad and find a meaningful relationship. It was something we both wanted so when the intention is there, restoration can happen. Now I’m the kind of daughter who can visit on Sundays and aid them with things they may need help with.
Living with my parents in my 40’s was a complete do-over both financially and emotionally. Once you find that kind of freedom there is no going back.
The Audacity to go for Financial Independence
Who do I think I am to go for the audacious goal of financial independence? I’ve battled drug addiction/alcoholism for years. Additionally, I was mired in debt for most of my adult life and developed poor money habits. Furthermore, I’m a single woman earning under 6 figures. So again, the question remains, who the heck do I think I am to go for financial independence?
The willingness to take bold risks.
Synonyms: boldness, daring, fearlessness, intrepidity, bravery, courage, heroism, pluck, grit; recklessness; spirit, mettle; informal guts, gutsiness, spunk, moxie.
I believe in going for financial independence one must possess the characteristics described above. For all that I’ve been through, I’d say I’ve developed the moxie to go for it. My plan is to keep growing my income while living an intentional low-cost life. However, I do take the time to enjoy and spend money on the things I value.
Walking in Purpose
I’m a teacher and today I teach in different ways. Sometimes it’s with women in recovery and other times it’s with women who want to gain control of their financial lives. As you can imagine, there can be a lot of overlap in the two. In my career, I manage accounts and do cost/benefit calculations. I get to teach when I present my findings to clients and/or inform their employees about their benefits.
I am a teacher.
And I’ve never forgotten that pastor’s offer. Actually, I re-kindled with him a couple of years ago. I know the next step is to take a short term mission trip to Uganda to really know if I’m called to teach there. Now that I’ve got a financial safety net, it’s possible. Moreover, if I decide to take a sabbatical and teach there for a year, I believe I could. While I’m not yet financially independent, I’m well on my way.
When the debt has been cleared out, safety nets put in place, and investment accounts are humming along, a whole world opportunity opens up. Partially, I believe it’s because my mind is no longer focused on surviving but rather thriving.
In looking back at my pivotal moments, my purpose was always there. Additionally, I find it rather interesting that the instability with my father played a part in opening the door to my love of mathematics. I regret nothing. Life defines us and we learn the most from adversity. This strong, purpose-driven woman was overtaken by this insecure little girl who didn’t think she was worthy of love but craved it none the less. When the basic need of love is missing, purposes are thwarted. I’ve found love and now, I’m able to walk in success.
I live my purpose today but I know by achieving financial independence, I’ll have more opportunity. God willing I’d love to teach in Africa at some point, whether it be when I retire or by taking a sabbatical along the way.
So how about you? What are your pivotal moments and how have they defined your purpose?