Money, money, money. It doesn’t need to sabotage the recovery plan.
It pissed me off. It really did.
I was deep into my second week of inpatient addiction treatment. One guy who I’d gotten to know and care about as a fellow compatriot in recovery, and who began treatment on the same day I had, told me that he’d be leaving the center in the morning after having been there just four days.
It turns out his health insurance company wasn’t going to cover him anymore. To make matters worse, the mountain of debt he had accumulated became the perfect rationale to keep drinking and kicking the can of responsibility into the next day, the next week, the next month.
The next day he was gone. I promised to text him and stay in touch to make sure he was okay. I did, too, but he never replied. I never knew what happened to him for the next two years.
Then one day I attended a meeting where I saw another “classmate” who had gone through the same treatment center, two years’ prior. I asked that one how he was doing and we got to talking about the other guys.
“Yeah. I relapsed after nine months. Brian was there, too,” he said.
“Really? How was he doing?” I asked, wondering what had become of him.
“His insurance company canned him again and last I heard he killed himself.”
It’s a story sadly too often reported. Not only are people not receiving the help they desperately need, but they also find that the financial burden pinches them so hard, that they cannot see past the heaping piles of IOUs.
The topic of financial burdens and its turbulent relationship with getting sober is a prime one, but I want you to know that the problem is not just manageable, but can also become a benefit to learning how to live again. Here’s how.
Debt is just another problem. The number one problem lies elsewhere.
When it comes to addiction, there are a million reasons to just keep doing what you’ve always been doing. Personally, I would drink when I was happy, sad, miserable and “celebrating.” It didn’t matter. There was always a reason to drink.
And when I’d score some painkillers, that was even better. Or so I thought.
In my first go-around with trying to get sober, I tallied up just how much I’d spent to celebrate or to wash my tears away. The total was close to six figures.
Finally when I wanted to get sober, when I desperately needed to make it work, I heard how much treatment was going to cost me. Luckily, my insurance company wasn’t as backward or bone-headed as my friend’s, but I still needed to pay some of the expenses. The amazing thing is I bemoaned and worried that I would be all be able to make it work.
I thought, maybe I can do this on my own, without any help.
Yeah, right. I’d been down that path before.
The undeniable fact is that financial burden is simply another problem among life’s many problems. But problems are just that—problems. And problems have solutions. The biggest problem is that I got to the point where I couldn’t function without a pill or a drink, which of course only added to the problem of additional debt to feed my addiction.
Here’s the thing: when you deal with the number one problem, your addiction, the other problems do manage to suddenly shrink in their importance. It’s not as if the anxiety goes away when you’re sober. No—in some ways the anxiety is worse. However, with your life free from the addictive, chemical death-grip, you’ll find that a financial burden is just that—a burden that isn’t as infinitely-reaching and all-encompassing as you think.
Debt is manageable, and more. Owing money can actually be a gift.
Two points I want to raise:
Financial responsibilities are never insurmountable.
Debt can actually be a gift from which to achieve an attainable goal. It can actually help you in your sobriety!
Like I stated above, debt is just debt. It isn’t a demonic, pitchfork-bearing fiend about to stab you in the throat. With financial management and good planning, you can sit down on paper and see how to reduce or even eliminate it. What’s more, you don’t have to go this route alone. Options for debt management have exploded in the past decade, and all you need to do to look at them is to google it.
However, the second point I raised is perhaps the more unintuitive one. After you begin your path to sobriety, you start to notice that things that demand your attention and planning can actually make you feel better about yourself and assist you in getting through the day.
Out of all the topics I’ve written concerning recovery, probably the most important is finding a sense of meaning and purpose to your help. I’m not saying that paying off your debt has to be the end-all, be-all to your life, but let’s face it—consistently paying down, month after month, is not only attainable, but measurable. You can actually add up how much smaller your monthly financial obligations have shrunk.
Knowing that you have an attainable goal and that today all you need to do is stay sober will keep you on the right path to long-term recovery from addiction. Yeah . . . debt can be a gift!
Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer, an award-winning Hazelden author, and a public speaker on recovery from addiction. He lives with his family in St. Paul, Minnesota.