This is my story of life as an addict. I have an addiction to money or rather spending money. The definition of addiction is ‘the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity’. My activity is spending money, is doesn’t really matter what on, just spending money. It has far reaching consequences for me and my family. Like all addictions, it results in destructive behaviour, shame, guilt, disappointment and ultimately self-loathing. The purpose of this story is two-fold: to help me understand the root cause of my addiction and to help others with the same or a similar addiction to find a way through theirs’s too.
Mark Manson writes this about Charles Bukowski, an German-American writer and poet, womaniser, alcoholic and gambler “The genius in Bukowski’s work was not in overcoming unbelievable odds or developing himself into a shining literary example. It was the opposite. It was his simple ability to be completely, unflinchingly honest with himself – especially the worst parts of himself – and to share his feelings without hesitation or doubt”.
Well, I guess this is my attempt to do just that, to find a way to accept my failures and therefore be able to live to my real potential not that as dictated by a world full of false truths and unrealistic measures.
Today – My 5th Decade
The story starts in the present day. I am 46 years old, a mother to 3 wonderful children, wife to a kind and caring man, sister, daughter, auntie, great auntie, writer, management consultant, fashionista and general all-round eccentric. To the outside world my life looks pretty rosy, and so it should. I have been blessed with a charming and healthy family, beautiful home, inquisitive brain and loving friends. But beneath the surface of this life lies a big, fat and ugly secret. My addiction to and consequences of spending money, irresponsibly without care or thought for the impact on my nearest and dearest. That is not because I do not love my family, I love them beyond measure but in the same way, that many years ago, I smoked a cigarette knowing what it was doing to my lungs, I have continued to spend knowing the impact it has on our life.
So, why, why is that? At this point in the story, I honestly do not know. I am therefore embarking on a journey back in time, to unpick the threads, identify the clues and find the secret that drives my addiction – to stop this addiction and change the next chapter of my life. To regain my financial freedom, self-esteem and confidence. To set my family free from the consequences of my addiction and live my life fully and truthfully – perhaps for the first time ever.
I am in the 5th decade of being on this earth. This decade, has been, by far the most challenging to date. I stepped away from my career, to spend time with my children, run the home, support my husband in his career, support my sister whilst she cared for her husband dying from motor neurone disease and help care for my father as he battled cancer. I lost my professional identify, my income and two people who I cared for deeply. I experienced grief, depression and entered the perimenopause. I kept and continue to keep my GP busy, challenged and, at times, amused.
Alternatively, I also grew as a person. I discovered a creative streak I had not known existed before. I learnt and am still learning how to be a parent. I discovered a love of gardening, interior design, crafts and writing. I indulged my intellect – I went on a spiritual retreat, I started to meditate, I met new and interesting people, I read widely, I learned to see the world differently and I finally found the courage to look at myself, really look at myself, to seek out the truth.
My addiction to spending money has grown the most during this period. I have spent money for many different reasons: to distract myself from the harsh reality I was facing at times, to take the family on adventures as the reality of how short our time together maybe has dawned on me, to feed the unhealthy greed and need I have for things (clothes, soft-furnishings, make-up, shoes etc), to mask the guilt I feel for not being able to afford the things that we really should be able to, by providing other, meaningless stuff which I can afford instead. I have lied, over and over again to my poor suffering husband. I have taken money from his account without his knowledge, I have taken out a credit card that he does not know about, I have spent on credit cards that he does know about but thinks we are paying off, I have cleared the savings account, I have sold high value jewellery and spent the money, I have never once in the last 7 years, ever stuck to the very generous monthly budget that we have been through, analysed and set together at least a 1,000 times. And every time, I turn, like a spoilt child to my husband, with my hand held out to ask for more. My husband doesn’t buy himself treats anymore because he has no money left to do so, he has given it all to me.
Thankfully my husband is, unbelievably, not intimidated nor manipulated by me. He has gone into financial lock down. I have no access to accounts, funds, cards or anything else for that matter. His words to me were, “I am saving you from yourself”. Initially I hated him for this, I ranted and raved, threatened divorce, cried, begged and then tried to hack his account. He remained steadfast, as he has always been and indeed, this is one of the reasons I fell in love with him. So, he is keeping the show on the road and keeping the family safe from the damage I could so easily inflict on them and myself. I refer to him as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, saving the country from bankrupting itself. It’s a shit position to put someone in that really loves you. I know that, just like I knew that cigarettes would make my lungs black, just like I knew that this is the one and perhaps, the only thing that my dad would ever had have been truly disappointed about. I remember his words to me one day, “Nik you are the kindest person ever except when it comes to money, then you can be selfish”. I choose to ignore it at the time. But not anymore, the only way forward is to face the truth.
I have not reached this stage easily, I have spent an enormous amount of energy blaming someone or something else for the situation, excusing my behaviour on the grounds of difficult circumstances and then covering the true depth of my addiction through humour and trying to normalise my behaviour to others.
This is the reality of being an addict. It’s not pretty and I’m not proud. But I have hit rock bottom and I am left with two choices – to spend my time sabotaging myself, excusing and lying about my behaviour and feeling guilty for the rest of my life or I can take that energy to try to find the ‘secret’ and change my behaviour once and for all. So, for better or worse, I’m going to share my story – judge me as you will, it cannot come close to the level of shame and guilt I carry inside my soul on a daily basis.
The 4th Decade (My 30’s)
So, now to the 4th decade of my life – my 30’s. A truly wonderful era from a professional and personal perspective. My career was full steam ahead, earnings were high as was spending and I was having a ball. I brought Armani, lived in Chelsea, ate out every night and really didn’t give a shit about money. I looked important, I was important, I could afford to pretty much go where and do what I wanted. I had arrived. The fact that I ran a £10k overdraft at all times just didn’t matter – I really didn’t care. It was during this period that I met my husband. He scared me, I dumped him – offering a casual relationship only as I was someone on my way to somewhere. An empowered career woman who didn’t need a man or god forbid children. But somehow, he instinctively knew me better than I knew myself. He patiently took it all in his stride and we fell madly in love. We had the most amazing courtship ever. We travelled, we drank, we danced and we lived life to the full. We met and married within a year. I took him to Armani and Kenzo to buy suits, he took me to eat oysters and introduced me to Meursault and fine wine. He held my hand and took me on safari to Kenya whilst I held his and took him to meet my sister in Spain.
My husband had a shrewd business approach to his finances with significant savings when we met. I didn’t make a big deal about my finances – why would I? It didn’t matter, I was successful, earning good money with more to come. When I did tell him, he was gutted. He used his life-time of savings to bail me out. That hurt him deeply but I took it anyway – it was just money, right? He just needed to chill out, right? Life is for living, right? And then I got pregnant, it was not the time to analyse the why’s and wherefores’ – he thought it was a one off but I knew differently, I just didn’t say.
During this decade I started my own consulting company and built it up whilst being newly married and giving birth to our 3 beautiful children. My husband came on board for a couple of years to help me run the company and we were the classic successful couple complete with nanny, au-pair, executive assistant and housekeeper. But the cracks were beginning to show. My addiction was rearing its head, driven by an over-zealous ego and desire to show the world just how successful we or rather I was. The financial crisis hit, post-natal depression hit and I completely lost my bearings. My husband took control. He left our company, went back to the City with the sole aim of creating financial stability for the family. We slowly but surely made our employees redundant, moved to an associate consulting model and eventually I stopped running the business altogether apart from my pro bono charity work. We got rid of the nanny, au-pair and housekeeper. We moved back to our small but beautiful cottage – we had been renting the classic 5-bedroom, 5-bathroom executive home with a view to buying it. We started living a very different life. And this is perhaps the only period in my life that I can remember, where I actually lived to a budget. All debt was repaid, we built up some savings and drastically simplified our life.
But it wasn’t to last, towards the end of this decade, I or rather my ego, started to get restless. I missed the work, the intellectual challenge and being ‘someone’. I resented my husband for having, what I saw, as my career and felt trapped with no real plan about where I was going. Ironically as the post-natal depression passed, I became conscious of who and what I now was. I had lost my identity, my confidence was slowly being eroded and the spending crept in as a comfort blanket, distraction or something. Towards the end of this decade I remember my husband asking me what the balance of the savings account was. It was £0 and I never looked after the savings account again.
The 3rd Decade (My 20’s)
My third decade was a game of two halves. The start of the decade very much focused on getting through University, surviving on very little money and getting over a traumatic relationship with a guy who was quite a bit older than me. In all honesty, I disliked University. I hated having no money, living in a shit-hole of a house, eating crap food and socialising with people who just seemed so immature. I spent my time at University studying or travelling to see my friends who were not at University. I am the youngest of 4 girls, I had been socialising in bars and nightclubs since I was 13 years old – I didn’t need University to give me the freedom to do that. Equally, by my early 20’s, I had got used to having money. I worked from being 15 years old. I waitressed, worked in a bar and during the holidays was a temp for companies based in Nottingham. At 15 years old I earned £30 plus per week and was already buying designer shoes by the Swiss firm Bally. Going away to University severely limited my ability to earn money – I could only do so when I came home in the holidays and I genuinely hated that.
It was during the early part of this decade, when I was home for the summer break from University, that I went to temp for a large company in Nottingham. The manager (Mr X as I will refer to him) who I was working for, was to become my first serious relationship – so serious we became engaged to be married. He was 15 years older than me, a professional and earned, what I thought was a fortune. In fact, for many years my measure of success was to earn more than him. He was perceived as ‘middle class’ as opposed to my ‘working class’. I sub-consciously believed that I had done well to ‘snag’ him. Of course, it all went ‘tits up’ and that hurt me enormously. It was a truly awful time where I suffered from depression and believed I had lost my one and only chance at being ‘someone’. My belief was that by marrying him I would be stepping up a ‘class’ and that mattered to me. Looking back the reality could not have been further from the truth. He was a weak, selfish man who damaged my University career, took away my self-esteem and left a vulnerable, emotionally unstable 21-year-old girl sobbing at the side of a road late one night as he turned his car around and drove off. He took back the engagement ring, no doubt to sell or re-use. I took a year out of University to re-group and re-cover. I returned to a different University, to complete my final year, disliking it even more – I had less money, less friends and a much harsher view on life. But I got through it, I graduated and was finally free to get out there in the big wide world to make my mark and make my mark I did.
The rest of this decade was completely and utterly focused on my career. Nothing but nothing else mattered. I worked hard, played hard and started to earn great money. I got into debt quickly. I was in debt because I wanted all of the things that a kid from a council estate couldn’t have. The banks were queuing up to lend me money – I was young, ambitious and by 28 years old earning significantly more than Mr X. I had the bit between my teeth and I was on a roll.
I remember being truly delighted when I was able to buy one of the houses that I used to look at as a kid, where I thought only ‘posh’ people lived. To this day, I still have dreams about owning that house, it was truly beautiful. I pulled out 3 times when I was selling it – at a £200k profit made within 4 years, all of which got spent and I have no idea on what. This whole period was about making it in my career, earning the money, spending the money and making sure people could see that I had the money. I worked hard, every hour god sent – I was so determined to be someone and I thought that meant having the big career, the big house and the big life.
My 2nd Decade (The Teenage Years)
My early teenage years were difficult. I was badly bullied in the first year of secondary school – by a girl 5 years older than me. It was mainly physical resulting in me having to access school for months across the playing fields rather than via the school gates to avoid yet another black eye. In addition to this, girls can be bitches, real bitches and some of them were, myself included at times, I am not proud to admit. I vividly remember returning from a trip to Gibraltar where my sister lived. Upon my return, I went to school to meet my mates, excited to be back, tanned and full of stories to share with them. The ring leader came out of the school and point blanked ignored me, followed by the rest of her gang. I remember running after them, asking, begging to know what it was that I had done, why were they ignoring me. To this day, I have no idea – maybe they were just jealous, bored or didn’t really know why themselves. Either way, I was ‘sent to Coventry’ for months and had to start afresh and build a whole new set of relationships which turned out to be far healthier in the long run but initially it meant many lonely nights sat at home with no friends. Interestingly, I have recently connected with the ring leader on Facebook – I wonder if she will ever understand the deep hurt she caused or recognise herself in this story.
During these early teenage years my sister’s marriage also broke down and she was left penniless to bring up three very young children on her own. I clearly remember one day shopping with her in an electrical store. In those days, if you were on benefits and needed some basic goods you were issued with vouchers to purchase the goods. My sister had a voucher, although I cannot quite remember what for – probably a washing machine or something of the like. Anyway, what I do remember is the appalling treatment she received in that shop simply because she had to pay with benefit vouchers, because through no fault of her own, she had been left with no other choice. That day sticks in my head and I remember thinking, no one but no one will ever get the chance to treat me like that. A belief was hard wired into me that day, money = respect and a lack of money = lack of respect. What a shit message for society to be giving out but it lit a fire in me, I was determined that I was never going to be poor.
My latter teenage years were much better and great fun. I earned loads of money for my age though waitressing and bar work – but mainly by being very good at my job and earning good tips. I was free, I had no responsibilities and I partied hard. My life was about friends, going out and getting pissed, loving work, snogging boys and just having fun. I hit a snag with the A levels – my GCSEs had been plain sailing so it was a bit of a shock to all but fail my A levels. Not one to be deterred, I sat on the phone in my parents’ front room for 2 full days, working my way through the UCAS book until I eventually found a University with a place, on a totally obscure course, that were willing to take me. Now, it’s interesting as to why going to University was so important. It was important because it meant I could access the higher paying jobs and I could align myself with really brainy people because that’s who went to University. I really didn’t care where I went or what I studied, I just needed to go – it was a means to an end.
My 1st Decade (My Early Years)
This period of my life was difficult at times, I have to say. I was actually a quiet, gentile child – very sensitive and emotional. I have clear memories from a very early time including being in a pram, in a white furry coat being taken to a party, being left by my sister at gymnastics and trying to navigate my way home but getting stuck at a road as I knew I wasn’t allowed to cross them on my own. Just as I was trying to solve the dilemma my dad drove up, he had been looking for me when he realised my sister had simply forgotten to get me. I remember my first day at school. I remember meeting my best friend called Kerry, who I sadly lost contact with when she had to move away with her parents. I remember being accused by the teacher of stealing Kerry’s dinner money – I hadn’t, I had simply put it down by mistake on the side when she had asked me to hold it for her and then forgotten where I had put it. The teacher never apologised, I was traumatised by the whole event and my mum made the school change the class I was in – I believe the teacher thought I had stolen the money because we had none. I remember being sat in a corner of the class room, given a book and simply told to read it. I remember hiding from the milkman behind the sofa because my mum didn’t have the money to pay him. I remember having to come home for school dinners some weeks because we didn’t have enough money to pay for them and that meant I lost friends as I wasn’t there to play with them. I remember burning the carpet in the front room after poking some paper into the gas fire to see if it burnt and then running off to my friend’s house for the day to avoid being told off. As the day wore on, I forgot about burning the carpet and panicked when I realised that it was 8pm and I always had to be home before it was dark. I ran home as fast as I could only to find my dad nearly in tears as they had been out looking for me thinking the worst – I didn’t get told off for burning the carpet. I remember getting our kitten called Wellington, we adored him. He ran away one year when we were on holiday and my older sisters were left in charge. I remember seeing him in the window of a house around the corner and the girl refusing him to give him back so my mum went round to get him back. I remember the hushed voices in the front room after seeing an eviction notice on one of the doors on our estate – they had got behind on the rent. I remember the shame of being in debt. People who were in debt were talked about in harsh tones, like they had committed a crime – if you can’t afford it you can’t have it, it was as simple as that. I remember my friend’s grandparents taking us out for a walk some days and buying us a crunchie from the corner shop. It would take me forever to eat as when I was very young, having money for expensive chocolate bars like that simply wasn’t there.
But most of all I remember money being part of the on-going battle for survival in the early years. I remember the miners’ strike and seeing the them at the bus stop as they could no longer afford to run cars. I remember my parent’s desperation every month to find the mortgage money after they had made the brave decision to buy their council house, only to have the interest rates go up to 13%. It was considered posh to shop at Asda and we only went at Christmas, Kwik Save was our weekly supermarket. Our clothes were mainly hand made by my mum and that included my dolls clothes. The early years were tough and money was tight. I used to look at other kids who lived in houses on private estates with a dining room, who had music lessons and breakfast at a table that was set the night before and dream that one day I would be rich enough to have a life like that – a stable and comfortable life.
We are now at the end of the story, has it been possible to work out the secret that lies beneath my relationship with money? I think it has. There are a whole series of beliefs and experiences that have been built up over the years, layer upon layer, resulting in where I am today. Could any of this have been avoided? I really have no idea. What I do know is that I have identified 7 beliefs/layers that I have allowed to lead me widely astray:
- Having money = respect and not having money = no respect
- Being in debt is bad, a place of shame and to be kept secret
- Money allows you to climb the ‘class-ladder’, therefore creating more opportunities and freedom
- Having money is not enough, it needs to be shown and bragged about in order for people to see that you are good, special and have achieved something
- Money can buy things that bring comfort, happiness and stability
- Money feeds the ego therefore you can be special, unique and successful – but ego also eats the money therefore an insatiable appetite is created
- Money drives a flawed sense a measurement against which our achievements are judged and pollutes the understanding of what is really of value.
Every single one of these layers are optical illusions and lies. I now know that the secret is ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ I have spent a fortune on trying to buy an outfit that does not exist, it never existed. I am more naked than I have ever been. I believed the lie, the illusion and have paid for it with money, my self-esteem, my freedom and that of my family’s. The truth is that only 3 things really matter:
- Being content with who you really are, warts and all
- Loving and being loved, unconditionally
- Making the most of the moment you are living in.
None of these things cost money therefore my balance sheet is far healthier than I thought. I am now free to work on my profit/loss with a real understanding of the value I am trying to achieve. A short-term recovery plan was presented to the Chancellor and signed off last week. A longer-term strategic plan is being worked on as we speak, due to be presented next week. Fingers crossed the Chancellor will sign that off to. Then it’s on to the operational phase, wish me luck!