049: Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill & Inspirational Reading 12/14 “Avoiding Pain”

Episode Summary

In today’s episode, I’m going to:

  • Talk about why I wasn’t willing to let my husband return a library book I reserved for him late.

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Why I Made a Mountain Out of a Molehill

Today I want to tell you a story about my making a mountain out of a molehill … and the reasons why it was the right thing for me to do. Now, I’m absolutely rigorous about my commitment not to incur unsecured debt. Gratefully, I have not done so since April 25th 2009.

Secured vs. Unsecured Debt

What does that mean to me? It means that I don’t take services or goods without paying for them first unless there is a payment arrangement with the company. So, for instance, I once left my debit card home and the doctor’s office said they would be happy to bill me. While I wasn’t comfortable, they assured me that it was an acceptable payment arrangement. Some utilities charge in advance, but others, like the cable company, charge after you use the service.

A secured debt is when you provide a tangible asset of equal amount (called collateral) so that if you don’t pay, your creditor doesn’t suffer a loss. It’s a way of making you accountable when you borrow money or something else. For instance, a car or a mortgage are both examples of secured debt. So is borrowing $500 from a friend and giving them your computer to hold until you pay it back. You and the creditor have both agreed on a payment arrangement. If you dn’t pay, they take (or keep) the collateral.

Late Fees at the Library

But what about the library? Well, you borrow a book with an agreement that you will return it by a certain date. If not, you must pay a late fee of 10 cents a day. If you never return it, then you pay for a replacement book.

Simple, right?

Well, not so simple because, technically, if I don’t return the book on time, I’ve incurred an unsecured debt because I haven’t given them any collateral. And that’s where the molehill starts to pile up. But more about that shortly.

So, anyway, I work very hard to ensure I get my library books back in time. Oh, and by the way, let me digress a moment and make my periodic plug for using the library. I just love the library, but I wasn’t always a fan. See, I am a big book binger. Mind you, I can’t really read much due to my disability anymore, but that doesn’t stop the craving to look through books that pique my interest. I always felt like I HAD to own them.

I can’t tell you how many unread books I accumulated over the years (listen to podcast episode 009 – for more on the 18 boxes of books I got rid of while de-cluttering – well, not quite – many are still sitting in the closet for my son to go through them).

Recovering from Binge Book Buying

So once I stopped compulsively spending, I knew this was one of my biggest triggers. When someone mentioned trying the library first, I was stunned … and resistant. Never thought about it. But I gave it a try. And I was shocked to see how often our great library system had the most obscure titles!

Even if I have to wait for it, I don’t mind anymore because it’s great practice in delayed gratification. I’ve never been sorry that I waited … despite the fact that I LOVE the instant gratification of just one click downloads of books!

The best part about my library conversion is that most often, after perusing a book (usually non-fiction how-to’s and inspirational tomes), I don’t feel like I need to own it anymore. Borrowing books from the library feeds that craving to acquire in a way that is not self-destructive. After all, I’m sober with money, but not dead.

The Plot Thickens

OK, so back to mountains and molehills. A few weeks ago, I put in a library request for a book that was just coming out, knowing that there’d be a gigantic waiting list. My husband wanted to read it as well.

Surprisingly, we got it pretty quickly. I looked through it first (completely satisfying my curiosity about the contents) and then turned it over to my husband. So, two days ago, he tells me that he’s going to take the book with him on our upcoming cruise. And he’ll pay the .20 late fee for the book being two days late when we get back.

Now, that wasn’t ok to me. But see, I’ve been getting lesson after lesson lately about people-pleasing and fear. It’s become really clear that I shove down my own needs to do what other people want … and then I get really resentful about doing so. I keep doing it despite the fact that I know, as a recovering addict, that resentment can kill me. But on some level, I still think giving in is more tolerable than risking somebody’s wrath or disappointment.

A Very Uncomfortable Position

So unfortunately, my default position has been to twist myself into a pretzel to accommodate others. But now, I’ve just been through three other opportunities to practice saying no, and discovering the earth didn’t swallow me up! So you’d think this would have been a no-brainer.

Nope. Because it’s my husband, after all.

So instead, I argued (to put it mildly). But when my husband loudly insisted I was being ridiculous about such a small amount of money and time, I felt my limbs contorting into that familiar pretzel shape.

It just felt wrong to me, but he was right that it was just 20 cents and only two days, for goodness sakes.

I got in touch with two friends from my support group. Though we were on the phone, I could feel friend number one rolling her eyes as she echoed my husband’s sentiments that I was being extreme and ridiculous.

I wanted to agree with her. I wanted to just dismiss my discomfort. But it continued to gnaw at me and I couldn’t figure out why.

Twisting Myself into a More Twisted Pretzel

I called the library and asked if I could pre-pay the fine. There was such a long pause that I thought they might have hung up thinking it was a prank call. But then, they told me that their system isn’t set up for such a contingency. I tried renewing online, but no go because there is a waiting list.

So then, I thought I might give my husband the .20 now or even a check with the full amount it would cost to buy the book (as collateral) to be torn up after he returned it to the library.

And then, I got an email from my other support friend. I want you to read her email before I tell you the rest of the story, because I think you’ll begin to understand why this molehill was really Mt. Everest in disguise.

First, she sent an email echoing the suggestions I’d already tried, and ended it by writing, “Bottom line is that I don’t ever borrow for someone else, no matter how much I love them. Because we have no control over other people.”


And then, the next day, she followed up with this:

“These are my thoughts – it took a day for processing. Don’t know the absolute right or wrong here. But here they are. As I said, I would never borrow FOR someone else, as I cannot control others and it certainly would be my debt if they don’t return the item. That is one lesson.

The next is codependency, as possibly the motive for taking such an action, which I will define as protecting someone else from having to take responsibility for what they want. So, since this already happened, and since this is your debt when it becomes overdue, the only action possible is something that will feel even harder in terms of codependency, which is to tell your husband that it is ‘your’ book, because you borrowed it, and you are returning it before the trip. Period.

You can apologize and explain you did not realize the ramifications of what it meant to take out a book for him; you had not thought it through to understand that you were risking your own solvency. I feel rage whenever I feel helpless, afraid to set a boundary.

Codependency. It has been amazing to me over the years how much calmer I get as courage replaces codependency. Once again, a possible suggestion is that you purchase the book, and chalk up the cost to a tremendous learning opportunity. In terms of relationship, it is perhaps wise to avoid your husband feeling “punished” because you had acted codependently by borrowing for him in the first place.”

Well, that was something to ponder.

But then, my friend went on to share a story about her own life that blew me away and shook me into knowing my truth on this matter. Before I read it, I need to explain one quick thing. She references something called a PRG. That stands for pressure relief group. It is a Debtors Anonymous term to describe a tool and process where two recovering compulsive debtors spend an hour or more periodically helping a third member with issues around spending by sharing their own experience, strength, and hope.

A Profound Reminder of the Truth

So here is my friend’s story:

“I was taught by a PRG man that if I am willing to debt once, let’s say motivated (in my case at the time) by deprivation/victimization thinking, then G-d will continue giving me opportunities to learn the same lessons, with increasingly worse consequences to pay.

Giving your husband money ahead of time as ‘collateral’ makes no sense, since he’s not the creditor.

I want to give you an example from my own life about paying a higher cost for the surrender not to debt one day at a time. My first semester of graduate school, I was 50 years old. It took tremendous work, emotionally, spiritually and physically, in terms of energy and time to take the actions, to actually fill out applications, and it would never have been possible without my 12 step programs.

I have ADD, dreaded the work, had felt inadequate and inferior in the past from ever reaching for such a goal. However, I did not have the recovery to say I would do this without debting no matter what. So I debted.

Over the years I sought scholarships, fellowships, work fellowships, to lower my tuition as much as possible. I worked full time as well, but I continued to debt to pay for school. I got married in the middle and my husband was able to gift me the tuition for a couple of years.

Now I am starting the last semester. I’m finally graduating at the end, at 54 years old. And then … my husband informs me after his own PRG that he could not continue to pay the tuition! My last semester!! 54 years old!!

I took suggestions from my PRG and halfheartedly pursued some of them, but my feeling was NO!! This can’t be happening! Surely a student loan has to be okay! A civilian [meaning someone who isn’t a recovering compulsive spender] said to me this is not a debt – it’s an investment in your career! Yes, I thought, yes, my addict cried.

During an historic conversation (in terms of my own story), on the phone with my PRG man, as I laid all this out to him, he explained the above thought – that the first price I would have had to pay to keep my solvency would have been to delay starting graduate school until I could pay for it.

But that is not nearly as hard as it is to postpone graduating after I have worked so hard for 3 1/2 years!! And if I debt now in order to graduate, I know with absolutely certainty that I will have another opportunity in the future to choose not to debt, but the price will even more painful than that.

I remember that moment of surrender. I heard him and breathed. And I said okay. I am willing not to graduate in order not to debt.

I went back to my list of suggestions from my PRG, re-approached a foundation that provides tuition to women for school. They had already rejected me before, but lo and behold, I was gifted $5,100 to pay for my last semester of school.”

Commitment … Not Convenience

Wow. What a story. What a well-needed bucket of cold water to bring me back to the truth. At that moment, I remembered that my commitment to solvency isn’t based on convenience or a dollar amount or someone else’s needs.

It is based on knowing that if I open that Pandora’s box even a crack, my compulsive spending addict mind now knows the way to get me to fling the door open eventually, maybe not today, this week, or this year.

But as the stakes ratchet up, and I keep finding excuses to give in, to rationalize and delude myself, in the end, being a gutter level drunk with money at my core, I’ll have eroded my relationship with whatever that Power is that is greater than me, who has restored me to sanity one day at a time with money, and I will surely end up lost in a sea of debt and despair.

When I went back to my husband, I was calm. He was sitting and reading the book. I stood there resolutely, and calmly, but firmly said, “I’m sorry, but you need to return the book to the library before we leave for the trip.”

And you know what he did? He smiled, and said, pleasantly, “Sure, no problem. I’ll be finished with it by then.”

It was over.

I won this round of battle with my addict mind. But I can’t stop being vigilant, because, being the sneaky monster that it is, that addict mind of mine will surely rise up to try to surreptitiously booby trap my recovery again.

I’d love your comments, questions, and feedback. Just leave me your thoughts below.

Spending Plan Training

If you’re fearful about incorporating a spending plan into your life, remember that it’s a tool to help you make sane choices around money, not a torture device designed to deprive you.

Though a spending plan will not cure compulsive spending, there’s no question that it’s an essential tool for compulsive spenders trying to recover from the addiction.

But if you’re stalled or paralyzed in your attempts to create a spending plan or feel lost and overwhelmed about the process, I can assist you. I’m an expert in helping compulsive spenders overcome the emotional obstacles they face around creating and living with a spending plan, and I work with you to develop your spending plan foundation and teach you how to track your spending ongoing. Most people complete the process within three weeks.

Plus, for those who already use YNAB to track their spending, I can troubleshoot and fix problems you’re experiencing with your spending plan and provide one-on-one training around any issues you may have.

To set up a free 20-minute call to see if I can help you or to learn more about my training program, go to ICantStopSpending.com/training, and sign up for my (very occasional) newsletter and receive a free PDF version of the Five Year Recovery Journal (a $9.99 value).

Inspiration from the Daily Reader for
Compulsive Debtors and Spenders

I’m so happy to be walking this path with you.

Resources Mentioned in this Post

Debtors Anonymous

Part One Pressure Relief Group (PRG) by Susan B. from the Getting Out from Going Under archives.

Part Two Pressure Relief Group (PRG) by Susan B. from the Getting Out from Going Under archives.

Music Attribution

“Life of Riley” (Intro and Outro), “Carpe Diem,” “Memory Lane,” “Slow Jam,” “Undaunted,” and “Somewhere Sunny” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

Help with Your Spending Plan

I can help you overcome the fear of looking at your numbers, create the foundation for your spending plan, and provide one-on-one technical help to teach you how to use your spending plan software. Click here to read how I can help you with your spending plan

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