A personal story about how one woman faced and got out of debt.
"One morning in 2004, I found myself sitting on Sydney’s Coogee Beach, hungover, and in deep emotional and financial despair. Eleven creditors from across Australia and Canada were chasing me for an eye-watering $185,000 credit card debt.
I had fled Canada to escape my compulsive spending habits and other addictions, only to find myself at the bottom of a deep, deep rabbit hole, Down Under. I was painfully aware that there was nowhere left to run. It was time to face the music, the money, and the issues at the core of my self-destructive behaviours.
I spent mindlessly and extravagantly on expensive clothes, lavish holidays, indulgent spa treatments - all to assuage my anxiety, ADHD, bi-polar mood swings and deep feelings of inadequacy. But I knew that enough was enough and I needed serious help. I had to get honest with myself and someone else about how much pain I was in.
In September 2001, I met a fiercely funny and intelligent man who worked as an actuary. We clicked. At the time, he had no idea of the financial hardship I was in. When I hit that hard rock bottom on Coogee Beach, he said he’d support me emotionally, but the money mess was mine to sort out. “I don’t go that low”, he said, “you need to step up, clean up and do what you were born to do.”
Now my husband, he was a big catalyst in me flipping my financial script, but not in the way most people expect. He didn’t rescue me. Instead, he empowered me to see who I really was, beyond the pain, shame, and debt. His belief in me, gave me the strength and courage to cultivate the conviction that I was worthy and capable of turning my money ship around.
Facing emotional and financial issues
It took two trips to rehab, to cut through the violent denial of addiction that had created chaos and confusion in my life. The intake doctor said, “Alice, this elevator only goes in one direction, and that’s straight into the ground and six feet under.” He was very clear that with the concoction I was on; I’d be lucky to still be alive in six months.
Through therapy and extensive development, I came to see how I’d been self-medicating my mental health issues through drugs and compulsive spending. I started the journey of rebuilding myself, inside out, to address the core of the issue; it ran way deeper than money. I began my journey of emotional and financial recovery.
Getting out of debt
I emerged from rehab still facing into debilitating debt. I had to apply rigorous and rapid changes just to get back to zero. It was very tough at times, particularly while climbing the mountain of early recovery from other addictions. I chose to shift my financial fog into financial focus. Every day I did something related to creating a new narrative for myself around money.
I educated myself on how to increase my self-worth and earnings while simultaneously paying down my debt.
I embarked on training in the best development skills available, building on my existing experience. I learned that our certainty is what translates our intentions into reality.
I committed to my intention to pay down my debt in five years or less. (That’s about $102 a day.)
I journaled every morning to dismantle dysfunctional beliefs and create new, beneficial ones.
I cut up all my credit cards and overhauled my spending.
I got clear on the numbers, as terrified as I was to even look, I had to know the numbers.
I made a clear and conscious decision to become a high-income earner.
I did the leg work and put myself out there for roles that had always felt out of reach.
I separated out my financial wants and needs and found healthy outlets to channel my emotions that didn’t involve spending money.
I read extensively about societal expectations on women and money and negative perceptions of women asking for more. Women still do most of the unpaid work on this planet. I had to challenge these gender biased realities.
I changed how I spoke to myself and others about money for a healthier dialogue. I never said, “I can’t afford that.” I would say, “I’m choosing to conserve my money today.”
I sought free legal advice on how to negotiate with creditors.
I focused each day on how much I had paid off versus how far I had to go.
As overwhelming as it often was, I had to do what I thought I could not. I took my salary from $50,000 to $150,000 within a year. My recovery was not linear, still, I continually chose to focus on the one degree of change I could make each day to turn my ship 180 degrees. By August 2009, I reached my target and had paid down my entire debt in five years.
Today, I live free from the addictions and anxieties that once consumed me and I am squeaky clean. I’m an author, professional speaker, transformation coach and successful leader in change working in Financial Services. I love the life that I’ve created. It’s taken an exceptional amount of work, sweat and tears; but I rebuilt myself and my financial reality. My passion is sharing what I’ve learned, to help others cultivate confidence, curiosity, and courage to find their own freedom.
I’m far from perfect, but I focus on being the greatest version of myself every day.
We choose who we want to be, and we can recreate ourselves again and again. We are not our past, mental illness, financial hardship, or credit card debt. We are unlimited and unconditionally loved. No matter how far down the rabbit hole we go, we can find financial freedom. Through self-love, honesty and compassion with ourselves, and others, we can write a new money story and realise our highest potential.