In March 2012, I hit a rock bottom in my addiction to alcohol and pain medication. I was a shell of my former self and barely surviving physically and financially. After paying my rent, I spent most my remaining money on alcohol. Frequently there wasn't enough money for both. I paid few of my bills or debts, didn't open my mail, and watched the envelopes pile up. By the end of each month, I would search through pockets for change or take anything I could sell to a pawn shop. I lived to use and used to live. Addiction is such a powerful disease, it not only ravages your mind and body; it ravages your relationships and any semblance of a meaningful life. It was no existence for a 32-year-old woman. When I landed in recovery, I was not only broken, but I ended up in around $30,000 of debt. Today, I am debt free. I faced the consequences of my actions and climbed out of debt.
In the early days of recovery, I had become unemployed. Frankly, this was the best thing for me and my recovery. It gave me the space to process a life change. After leaving my job, I had a small amount of money that came my way, but this would only sustain me for a few months, so I needed to be smart about facing my financial consequences.
I did so in a methodical way and wasn't shy about asking for help. These are the steps that I took:
- I first got help with my addiction and established a solid support network. This was invaluable for facing up to the mountain of debt I was dealing with. I had someone to give me words on encouragement and to help keep me accountable and asked what I was up to on a regular basis. Whether you are in recovery or just facing up to a mountain of debt, ask for help with someone who can be a good sounding board.
- The next step was to open my mail. In active addiction, I didn't open any of my mail; it piled up and was just another mess to avoid. It was a difficult and critical part of the process: You cannot deny what is there in black and white.
- Having organized each bill into a pile of companies, I called each creditor and confirmed the actual amount of money I owed. I then had a definitive list of creditors, their contact details and a complete picture of my debt. I explained my situation, apologized and asked, where possible, to put the late payment fines on hold while I gathered information on the full picture of my debt.
- I then designed a budget of my income and outgoings. Therefore, I could take a realistic view on my disposable income. From there I defined an amount that I could repay. Having a second set of eyes look over everything helped a great deal.
- I researched debt and became aware that some companies allow partial settlements if you pay a lump sum. From my list of creditors, I made a list of those that would allow this. It is worth noting that in some cases, if you partially settle, this will remain on your credit file for 6 years.
- I called each creditor and explained the complete situation and what I could repay. I asked for their help in agreeing to a reasonable repayment plan to make things right. I asked those who would take a partial settlement and negotiated a figure with them. I settled where I could and made a regular commitment to pay off the remaining debts.
It took just over four long years, some weeks surviving on just $50. I kept reminding myself why I was doing it, and had a spreadsheet handy showing me the light at the end of the tunnel. I got there in the end and the benefits to my self-esteem made the struggle worthwhile. The universe has a weird way of rewarding you for doing good and the benefits have been very rewarding for my spirit and peace of mind.
Writer, blogger, nutrition and recovery advocate, Olivia Pennelle (Liv), is in long-term recovery. Liv passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site Liv's Recovery Kitchen is a resource for nutrition and recovery. In her probing interviews, she gives a unique insight into the lives of prominent figures in recovery. Liv is qualified nutrition coach, has lost nearly 50 pounds and shares her delicious recipes. She also gives a very raw account of her own journey in recovery and weight loss. For Liv, the kitchen represents the heart of the home: to eat, share, and love.