Today I had a fascinating phone conversation with Donna D., a leader in my local chapter of Debtors Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. She gave me insight on the psychological and spiritual side of debt, which I’d never taken into consideration before. She shared with me her personal struggle with debt and how the group has helped her and other compulsive debtors remain solvent. Here are some snippets from our conversation.
EG: What types of people come to Debtors Anonymous?
DD: A lot of people are confused and think we’re all a bunch of gamblers, but gambling is not involved at all. They go to Gamblers Anonymous. We are debtors, and this ranges from housewives to executives to people who are homeless. More women come than men, maybe because women feel more comfortable talking about it. It’s there to benefit anybody.
EG: What types of debt are most people there for?
DD: They usually come in because of credit card debt, but it’s also other forms of unsecured debt — the ongoing family and friend loans; friends and family bailing them out of financial disasters. Just living on that revolving unsecured credit and never able to make ends meet, always in an obsession about financial survival.
EG: How did you end up in Debtors Anonymous?
DD: Credit card debt was my main drug of choice, but then I started realizing I was debting myself in many other ways, such as time debting, personal care debting and dental and medical maintenance debting. I put $10,000 on a credit card in three weeks. I was grieving over a job change and I wanted to feel better. As I was grieving, I swiped that card wherever I went. I’ve spent a lot of money in my time but not at warp speed, and it was obvious that my disease of compulsive debiting was increasing very rapidly. That wasn’t the first time I’d had credit card problems — I was in the middle of my second debt management repayment program. I was a repeat offender and a repeat customer. I got into Debtors Anonymous in April 2004, and in my life, mountains have moved.
EG: What is personal care debting?
DD: Most people will put their creditors first, above any sort of personal care. They think they need to pay their creditors before they go get a massage or go have fun. The whole thing is, it’s about their low self worth and a spiritual disconnection with a higher power. Those are the common denominators between all 12-step programs. It’s that underlying feeling that I’m not worth it. I’ve made my employer my higher power and my family members, who held the purse strings, my higher power. We have to turn it over to a power greater than ourselves. Until we can get to that point, then things don’t really seem to change. Your higher power can even be the fellowship of the program. Just don’t let it be you, because you know where you’ve gotten yourself.
EG: How does the group help people overcome compulsive debting?
DD: First of all, we record our numbers and write down every single thing that we spend. Because it’s not about what we thought we spent, it’s about what we really spent, and there’s a huge difference. The second thing we do is have what’s called a pressure relief meeting, hence the word relief. We sit down with two other people and discuss our financial fears and we get suggestions from what they say worked well for them, in finances and other areas of life. They help us create a spending plan. We call it that because a “budget” implies restriction, while a “spending plan” implies choices. Those are the three main things that we do. We also have sponsors and sponsor others, and we also talk about our visions. Visions are our goals that our higher power wants for us in our lives. Most of us will put employers and pension plans before our true needs. Some of us will stay at jobs that are not fulfilling and don’t nurture our soul just to pay the bills, and that’s no life. The vision is about following passions; doing God’s or our higher power’s will for us. Gaining courage to step outside the box and go for our heart’s desire. We also create action plans, which are ways we can take action with visions. We talk about credit repayment. Anonymity is of course the biggest thing. Everyone just knows me as Donna D.
EG: Does the group help most people who come?
DD: When they work the program, it works. When they choose not to, it doesn’t. So yes, for those of us who choose to work the program, our lives have changed significantly. I haven’t used a credit card in four years. Because of the program, I am surrounded by prosperity and abundance every single day.
For more information on the organization, go to DebtorsAnonymous.org.