Money, Identity, and Integrity

My creditors and I divorced in 2014. I prefer to say that I “divorced” rather than “I filed for bankruptcy” because of the societal stigma involved in stating the latter. In a lot of respects, they are the same thing: a decision to break a promise between two parties.

I was married into debt early. I got my first student loan when I was 19 and entering university. I got my first credit card soon after. Because I’d entered this arrangement so early in life, I didn’t know much about budgeting and I hadn’t yet lived on my own. The tools in my financial information toolbox were inadequate at the time. Yet I stumbled into the relationship hopeful and determined.

I did try to learn, cope, and make the most of my relationship with money and my debt. However, in hindsight, I got in way over my head way too early in life. Nothing I did nor knowledge I exercised managed to help the floundering relationship.

I went through a long period of counselling and attempts to make my relationship with my creditors and debt work. Many counsellors, in fact, said it really wasn’t so bad; many people had it much worse. I was only $60,000 in debt, after all. But after ten years, I hadn’t made a dent and I wasn’t living; I was a slave in a loveless marriage. I was giving and not receiving. Now I realize I had entered into a submissive relationship; I’d agreed to live for my creditors and give nothing to me. I hadn’t realized this until, at the behest of several financial books, I tried to live for myself. I tried to save, to spend on something small for myself, to preserve my dying identity. I couldn’t. I was beyond the point of giving to myself. Everything I did was for my debt. I was my debt and my excellent credit score. There was very little Yvonne left.

Filing for bankruptcy was an act of self-preservation for both my present and my future self. It was a tough decision, one that took a couple years to make. I did not take the decision or the action to follow-through lightly.

What was the tipping point?

It wasn’t that I wasn’t living.

It wasn’t that I was a shell of a human being.

It was the prospect of still paying my student loans while only living on Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

Just before I filed for bankruptcy, my dad turned 65 years old. I then discovered how much CPP pays out. It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Without any other pension or retirement savings, trying to live on CPP alone is difficult enough. Paying down any sort of debt while trying to live on CPP would not be possible.

At 41 years old, I could easily see myself still paying my student-incurred debt when I was 65. I would have no savings, a pile of debt, and be creeping to a day when I wouldn’t be able to work. Just when I thought I was barely living now.

This was a reality-check like no other.

Whichever way I looked at it, bankruptcy was in my future. I could file now and spend 20 years or so rebuilding my finances and living life, or I could do it then and have no chance of rebuilding anything. I made a business decision to cut my losses sooner than later.

Like a lot of people who’ve gone through divorce, I felt a sense of bewilderment and freedom once the paperwork was signed. I was so far in debt that as soon as I signed the bankruptcy paperwork, I suddenly had cashflow. Everything I’d had was being funnelled to my creditors; that stopped immediately. There was suddenly money for me and my needs.

This was both a relief and a bit bewildering.

It took a couple years to learn to live with myself, by myself for the first time….ever. Being married to creditors and debt from teenagehood prevented me truly engaging with my own financial needs. Hell, I didn’t even know what my own financial needs were.

I’ve often thought that bankruptcy is much like depression (something else with which I’m familiar): it isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy, but you learn a TON about yourself in going through it.

Six years later, I can now say that filing for bankruptcy was the best thing I ever did. I am now able to save money. I have an emergency fund. I am able to pay off my credit card in full every month. I am able to treat myself to small luxuries without dark, consuming guilt. I am able to buy the groceries I need. In short, I now have the freedom to exercise fiscal responsibility and integrity.

But please understand these qualifiers, if the above story hasn’t made it clear:

  • nobody should strive to file for bankruptcy. It isn’t an easy way out.
  • learn about yourself, your finances, and how you view money. The mess you’re in is a learning opportunity. If you don’t learn your lessons now, you’ll likely be doomed to repeat this situation. Do you really want to repeat the sleepless nights, the gut-churning stress, and the emptiness of denying yourself all for the sake of paying your creditors and maintaining your credit score?

Filing for bankruptcy was an act of forgiving myself. I had beaten myself up for not knowing enough, not knowing better, not giving enough, and not sacrificing more. In filing, I opened my arms to my past self and said, “I understand. You did the best you could at the time with what you knew. And that’s okay.”

This forgiveness was the best gift I could give myself.

What are you beating yourself over? Why can’t you give yourself a break? What would it take to allow you to move on?

 

Further Reading

J.D. Roth – Get Rich Slowly

David Chilton – The Wealthy Barber

Julia Cameron & Mark Bryan – Money Drunk Money Sober

Gail Vaz-Oxlade – Debt-Free Forever and Money Rules

Suze Orman – The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom

George Kinder – The Seven Stages of Money Maturity

 

 

 

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