“She goes from one addiction to another. All are ways for her not to feel her feelings.”
Ellen Burstyn, Actress
I secretly charged $28,000 on our credit cards…
Geraldine was a tall, statuesque, business woman dressed to the nine’s in fashionable, expensive clothes and radiating a confidence which seem to ooze from every pore of her being.
But when she closed the door and she sat down in my office, her eyes filled with tears before she had even said a word. I waited for her to regain her composure than I asked her what was on her mind.
“Bert is so angry with me…I don’t know what to do!” she replied wiping the tears from her cheeks.
“Why?” I asked.
“I secretly charged $28,000 on our credit cards in the last year!” she said looking distraught and guilty at the same time.
“Is Bert upset because you spent the money or because you didn’t tell him?” I asked.
“Both!” she replied.
“Geraldine, what upsets you the most about your situation…is it not telling your spouse or spending the money?”
“We do just about anything to escape the habit of living in pain until the anything becomes
the habit of living and our addiction.” – King Ayles, Author
Yet, I feel I have nothing to show for it except Bert’s anger
“Ken… I spent the money on clothes…my closet is full…and yet I feel I have nothing to show for it except Bert’s anger..I wasted the money…and I created a huge debt we don’t need right now.”
“So you think you have lost $28,000…is that correct Geraldine?
“Yes, that’s how I feel!”
“So if you could understand how you gained as much as you lost, would that be useful to you right now?”
“But that’s not possible Ken, I blew twenty-eight grand and filed up my closet with clothes which are already going out of style.” She blurted out in frustration.
I just abused my husband’s trust…our financial plan…and…myself…
“That is not how the world works Geraldine. We live in a balanced system with every loss counter balanced with an equal gain.” I said.
“How can that be…I don’t see any gains from my spending all that money…I just abused my husband’s trust, I abused our financial plan and I abused myself with my spending habits.”
“Do you want to check to see if that is all true Geraldine?”
“Sure…because if I can find any gains at all…maybe then I can face Bert!”
“Let’s start first with the financial part. You think you lost $28,000 in the last year correct?”
“I sure did Ken and I have the monthly credit card statements to prove it.” she replied.
“Remember I said losses always equal gains…so how did you and or Bert gain $28.000 in the past year?”
I don’t see any financial gains…
“Ken, we didn’t. I work in government and he has his own business and we both had typical years…no better or worse than the previous ones…so I don’t see any financial gains.”
“I want you to look more carefully…review the year in more detail and find where either of your increased your financial income in any way…in any form.”
“Well, I did get a very small pay increment…I went up the next step in my pay scale. The total increment was $4,500 but it ended up being a small difference in my actual biweekly paycheck.”
“So, this past year your income went up by $4,500…OK, that leaves $23,500 still to be accounted for over the year. I appreciate you are skeptical but I want you to keep looking for the rest!” I urged her.
“I don’t know where else to look Ken!” she replied getting frustrated and teary again..
“You mentioned the debt is in both your names…on credit cards with both your names on them…is that correct?”
“Yes, that’s why Bert is so peeved!” Geraldine replied.
“So, did Bert receive any additional income during this same time?”
“His business, he is in auto parts, is pretty consistent so I don’t see any increase there?” she said.
“Keep looking, it has to be there somewhere!” I said.
I had forgotten about that!
“Well, I don’t know where….” Then she paused in mid sentence and looked over at me with one of those ‘ah ha’ looks people get but still mixed with a hint of confusion.
Then she said, “Ken,…last April, ….Bert was doing his taxes and selling some of his old stocks to pay his bill when he found an unexpected $22,000 on a stock he had in his portfolio for years…I had forgotten about that!”
“That doesn’t surprise me at all, it is just the balance law in action…so now you have found $26,500…that leaves $1,500 still outstanding. Let’s find it, too!”
Now Geraldine was more convinced about what I was talking about and looked even deeper. It was soon after she remembered she had received a painting, a gift from the estate of an aunt who had died. It had an assessed value of over a thousand dollars.
Her biggest concern was not actually the financial part.
Once Geraldine was convinced she had gained in exact relation to her perceived loss we moved to the other kinds of gains losses and gains she had experienced. Her biggest concern was not actually the financial part. It was the damage she perceived it had done to her relationship to Bert.
So our discussion focussed on the gains to her in her marriage and beyond. Again she struggled to find any but as she persisted they soon started popping into her mind. The biggest one by far for Geraldine was how spending money on clothes enabled her to feel more successful and powerful,…like she thought Bert was already. Spending money was a way to also feel mentally more free and emotionally less lonely. She talked about how busy Bert was and how much time she spent alone.
Geraldine went on to redefine her sense of self and her future. I often ask clients to go around ‘the circle of life’ and identify their gains or losses about a specific perception or situation. So, near the end of our work I asked her to asses her gains in the seven areas of life: mental, vocational, financial, social, familial, physical and spiritual.
She had renegotiated her relationship with Bert…
Paraphrasing her comments, Geraldine responded with this. Mentally, she had started noticing the credibility and authority which she had…but had not been noticing before. Vocationally, she had been reminded of how successful she really was in her work… which she loved. Financially, she had learned how she had been using shopping as a way to control her frustration with her marriage. Socially, she realized how much she depended upon and valued her two closest friends. Familially, she had renegotiated her relationship with Bert so they had more time together. Physically, she had leaned other ways to manage her stress instead of cruising the sales at Sears and Walmart…now she was cruising on a treadmill regularly and feeling better for it.
“All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor
I noticed she had forgotten the spiritual domain so I said, “Geraldine, you didn’t mention what you gained in your spirit from abusing money…what about it?”
“Spiritually, I feel stronger now, more in control of me, more in control of my life…Ken, its’ a whole new ball game now!” she replied with enthusiasm.
“Can you see how abusing your credit cards was a way for your to learn to grow yourself and your life?”
“Yes I can…I needed to do that to motivate myself to get a handle of several things which were spinning out of control besides my spending.”
“So let me ask you…was it a fair trade…$28,000 to get your life back and get your self worth back?”
“It sure was…in fact I am worth much more than that!” she responded with a smile.
“Indeed you are Geraldine!” I replied.
“Every addiction arises from a refusal to face and move through your own pain!” – Eckhart Tolle,Writer
March is a new focus and a new topic. Watch for it! If you have any specific questions about abuse or any mental heath issue, feel free to contact me.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- Every behavior you use has value and serves you.
- Abusing money a quite common human learning tool.
- You can’t lose anything without gaining something of equal value.
- Every behaviour is your best attempt to cope with your life at that point.
- Your addictive behaviors are used to mask other unmet needs.
- Once you uncover the benefits to the abusive behavior you can replace it.
- Abusive behaviours are tools to raise your self worth.