Friday, January 27, 2012

Victim, rescue thyself

I was reading back through my posts about my credit woes and my work to get out of debt. I was pretty disappointed in what I wrote because it didn't convey the way I felt going through this stuff. It definitely didn't capture how I felt when I was getting started down this road.

I was scared. Petrified. Paralyzed with fear. Consumed with doubt.

I didn't know what to do and didn't know where to start.

I felt sorry for myself. I felt like a victim.

I found myself fantasizing about magic solutions to my problems. I dreamed of lottery jackpots, or finding a rich girlfriend. I wanted it to just go away. Immediately. If not sooner.

It got really scary as the economy turned sour. I knew people who were losing their jobs. I knew even a brief period of unemployment or a major mechanical breakdown of my car could spin my life out of control and leave me homeless. I already felt helpless.

The most insidious and dangerous feeling, though, was that feeling of victimization. I blamed the banks and credit card companies. I told myself that if they would just lower their interest rates, I would be OK. And it was their fault for extending so much credit to me. They should have warned me. They should have educated me. They should help me. Never mind the fact that they had helped me for decades by giving me money to spend that I had not yet earned.

It was their fault, not mine, that I was in this mess.

I really wanted a quick fix. For a while, I thought maybe that would be bankruptcy.  Maybe all that debt could just go away and I could start over. Start fresh.

It all felt like a very bad dream. If I could only wake myself up, I would realize it was only a nightmare, chased off by an alarm clock and the light of day.

Of course, there has been no magic. Fortunately the problem is going away, but it was not immediate. It's more like a slow-melting than a flash fix.

In a strange way, the paralysis I suffered saved me from doing something stupid. It kept me from grasping as some of the crazy options which actually seemed viable at various points in time. It kept me from running away. It kept me from trying some dumb debt forgiveness program. The banks, my "victimizers", actually did me some favors too, but not the ones I thought I needed. The companies that raised my interest rates finally got me to stop using my credit cards altogether. My personal bank also favored me by turning me down for a debt consolidation loan.

The work began. It started slow. It has improved slowly. The work has been incredibly hard and yet startlingly simple. The hard part is sticking to it, day after day, week after week and month after month. The simple part comes from doing, well, nothing, really, certainly doing nothing that costs any money I don't have in cash.

I know that a job loss would still be a major problem, but I also know that I could get through it because I wouldn't be using credit cards to try to maintain a lifestyle an unemployed person can't have. And I wouldn't worry about not paying the credit card bills for a period of time if necessary, because I wouldn't be trying to keep in their good graces so I could keep on using them.

I thought I was a victim. I felt sorry for myself. But I wasn't a victim. I just wasn't very mature financially. I had learning and growing to do.

The victim's fear and anger has been replaced by motivation to get through this as quickly as possible. Life is not great, but it's better. To put it into context with the early theme of this blog, that of getting over the grief of a relationship breakup, it's a lot easier to tell what progress you are making to get out of debt than it is to figure out how close you are to healing a broken heart. The progress against debt is measurable, you can track it on a spreadsheat. It's a simpler equation to calculate.

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