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Stoned, Baked and High: When Debting is Our Drug

It took a long time for me to admit that I was in terrible trouble with debt—that debt had become a constant, central part of my adult life and the debt-free days had been limited if non-existent. Certainly I could rationalize, using the few times I had made big credit payments with a chunk of cash—but a car accident payoff or a settlement to leave a company does financial stability make and I knew it.

When I added up all of the stresses that debt had brought me—not the least of which were failed relationships, physical symptoms and cycling through jobs—I realized I had a big, big problem.

I had to admit that what my friend courageously said to me was true: the common denominator in my financial disasters was me.

As stinging as that realization was, it would take falling down farther and facing bankruptcy before I realized that debting had become a lifestyle activity, a state of being and a way of life in my world, and it had spun out of control.

Sure, I still had the usual debtor rant going on in my head about “not enough money,” and “if only…”—complete with the magical thinking fantasies of a sudden windfall of money from an instant-success project. And, I had clearly bought the debtor hype that our culture fosters that said I could “manage” my debt, but in my heart of hearts I knew that was crap. “Managing” overwhelming debt (which is too often code for moving debt around), is an oxymoron that I realized any seventh grader could figure out.

I had to admit that I was getting high on my debt-cycle. I would get giddy when I spent money I didn’t have, leveraging credit on vacations, clothes, even overpriced groceries, and then two or four or twenty days later, when the bills came in, I’d cycle through deep depressions and self-hatred. I’d say, “But that’s what my credit line is for,” when I fronted myself huge blocks of cash for an artistic project I couldn’t pay for, and then despise myself for getting in so far over my head. I would extend my living expense money, sometimes hugely, banking on some magical “one day” that would pull me out. I’d make promises to myself to stop and then do it all over again.

That’s an addiction cycle. And that’s what most of us do when we’re in debt trouble.

None of us likes to think of ourselves as addicts. Usually we will justify, rationalize, deny and cover long before we will admit. So the prospect of calling ourselves a debt addict is not thrilling. But take a look at this definition of addiction: any activity I continue to engage in, or that I am compelled to do, even when I am fully aware that I am harming myself by engaging in it.

That, for most of us, is right-on-the-money regarding our debting behavior. We know it’s killing us, our relationships and our families. But we can’t stop ourselves.

Truly, we know that debt is dangerous. To keep debting when we’re already in trouble is like careening down the mountain when we’ve lost our ski poles and one ski has already snapped in half.

Debting, at its core, has the same kind of self-destructive cycling behavior in it that the abuse of food, drug or alcohol has in it. We debtors get high on a different substance: we’re stoned on the process-addiction of buying now and then gambling for some hail-Mary, two-minute-end-of-the-game miracle that will pull us out. And the thing is, we know it’s not coming.

This cycling is both harmful and dangerous to our health and well-being, and the well-being of our loved ones. There is only one way out of our debt addictions: learning to live debt- and credit-free. That’s what The Debt-Free Spending Plan is all about—a way to stop the addiction and to finally make peace with our money.

And don’t be fooled by the hype: we can’t pay off our debt and then start debting some more as if our issues have gone away because our balances are paid off. We’ve got to realize that we’re compulsive around debt.

Easy clarity, simple solvency, five-minute-a-day expense tracking, and no credit cards has brought me the first money sobriety I’ve ever had. It has changed my life in gargantuan, happy ways and it can change yours.

We don’t have to keep living with debt addiction and we don’t have to keep buying into the impossible hype of “managing” credit. We can give it up for good and live a life filled with ease and peace.

Start now. Admit you’re an addict. Agree with yourself that you’ll go to whatever ends necessary to stop the madness. It’s time.

And know that The Debt-Free Spending Plan is here to help you get there, step by step and minute by minute. You can do it. You just have to begin.

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