“What do you want to do for a living?”
I was sixteen years old when this question first had weight behind it. In my head, it had been translated to “What do you want to do for the next fifty years of your life until you retire?” I didn’t know. All I knew was that I wanted to see the world, explore and learn. All of those were forgotten until twenty-one years later. When I finally regained my freedom and started following my dreams.
The question, “What do you want to do for a living?” was the start of adulthood or as I like to think of it “The signing of a social contract.” That social contract came with proposed security, promises of reward for hard work and happiness. In exchange for, servitude, social conformity and getting in debt. I didn’t know this at the time I just lived my life, paid my bills and drank alcohol on the weekend to have fun.
The anxiety-inducing question that sent shock waves through me. Once I had a job, could afford to cover my basic human needs were met and could afford some unnecessary items. Now what?
“Replace the things you have with newer things!”
That was the solution that was offered to me. Nobody really knew the answer. A few people had dreams but those dreams had become unachievable due to them not having time or money. Usually down to the fact they had a car they couldn’t quite afford or a mortgage larger than they really needed. Because when they got to a position of asking “Now what?” they realised it was time to step up to a bigger house. Rinse and repeat.
“If you do what everyone else does, you will get what everyone else gets.”Stephen Richards
My solution was to try and not think about it. Alcohol switched off the part of my conscience that posed those questions. I was blissfully ignorant to my life being pointlessly, pissed away. The real kicker is that I was miserable as fuck but had no idea how to get out. I would spend my evenings drinking and talking about a life I wasn’t living. Endlessly talking in childlike awe of wondrous places like Machu Picchu, Angkor Wat and the Taj Mahal. These places that were visited by other people but not by me. I would bemoan my life. I would blame everyone for my situation. I would say that it wasn’t my fault.
When I stopped drinking, I stopped passing the blame and started taking responsibility for my life. I wasn’t happy because I wasn’t being true to myself. I wasn’t being true to myself because I was scared of living. It was easier to drink my woes away in a bar than to face them, deal with them and move past them. Drinking numbed me to my worries but it also numbed me to life. It washed away my woes but it took my joy with it. When I hit rock bottom I had no other choice but to step up to the plate. My problems came pouring back. Magnified and demanding their pound of flesh.
(I’ve written about the early years here and how I got through it. https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/05/31/quitting-drinking-and-staying-sober/)
Sobriety was not the end for me. Sobriety was the awakening to the reality that I needed to change in order to live a life more in line with how I wanted. It was the clarity to plan the changes needed and the courage to go through with them. Giving up alcohol was the freedom to focus my efforts towards a better life.
First, I needed to clear my debt. A UK politician once said “A man in debt is a slave to his manager,” and I have to agree. Once the shackles of alcohol began to loosen I noticed the other shackles that were holding me back. My debt was keeping me financially unstable which caused more anxiety and fear. It was also limiting my freedom.
The plan: I owed £4500 on a credit card and £15,000 on a loan.
To give you an indication of paying back that £4500 credit card debt:
Paying £70 a month off the credit card would mean that it would take me approximately sixteen years to pay of the debt and it would have cost nearly £9000 extra in interest.
Or another way of looking at the crippling affects of credit card debt; £2500 of credit card debt paying off the minimum repayment would take 25 years to pay off (https://themoneycharity.org.uk/money-statistics/)
(There is a reason why financial education is so atrocious/non existant in schools)
I moved my credit card debt to a 36 month, interest-free credit card. There was an initial charge for moving it over, of about 3 % and one on purchases but no interest on the £4500 I moved over. I continued to pay £70 a month at first and a bit more where I could. I saw the debt coming down with every repayment instead of paying a huge amount of interest. It was good to make progress. https://www.moneysupermarket.com/credit-cards/balance-transfer/?goal=CC_ALLCARDS&purpose=AllCards&from=Calc_CardsCalculator&transferAmount=4500&monthlyPayment=110
Next, I took out a £15,000 loan over five years. The interest rate was higher then than it is now. It was about 10% then. Now it is about 3%, it is a perfect time to get out of debt. Many people think “Ohhh debt is cheap I’ll get more.” Which is fine if it is used wisely but I had turned my debt into alcohol and drank it all. I refinanced the loan after two years when the balance was lower and decreased the number of years to keep the repayments the same.
Spending money is a habit
Working a job to buy shit I didn’t need in the hope of finding happiness wasn’t working for me. The more entrenched in that life I got the more miserable I became. The more miserable I became the more alcohol I consumed, the more sugar, fat and salt I ate and the more shit I bought. Something had to change.
Every Friday, I would think “I have worked hard this week, I deserve a treat,” and would order a takeaway. Usually, after eating the takeaway, I would feel bad. Not guilty just uncomfortable from the sugar, fat and salt. Eventually, it dawned on me that it wasn’t a treat all. I had just been using a reward system that had bestowed upon me. The same reward system that kept me drinking every night under the pretence “I’ve worked hard I deserve it.” I should buy shit because I’ve been good/worked hard/feel down, the approach is the same to them all. I had to rewire those habits (I’ve talked about changing habits here https://fromthebarstooltothebeach.com/2019/07/13/my-sobriety-health-and-well-being-toolbox/) by doing something different until the feeling to treat myself was no longer there. The same with spending money; I had to resist the urge to buy shit I didn’t need. I got into a position where I could choose what I bought. Did I need it? Or did I want it? Could I afford it? I did this by setting goals and reminding myself that the choices I’d made previously hadn’t worked.
It took me a year to start seeing real financial improvements. Enough that I could go on a holiday to Italy without having to borrow money to go. A great feeling. The clearing of debt for me was cathartic. Closure on a previous life. I needed to get rid of the debt because I had planned to take some time off work to travel. A dream I’d had for years. So I needed to minimise my outgoings. If you want to be free from debt then you have to retrain your spending habits.
“Less is more.” It took me years to realise by buying less I would have more options. It also took me years to pay off the debt and liberate myself from the consequences of following a path to self-destruction disguising as liberation. I had chipped away at my debt, made sacrifices and stuck to the task. After five years, I was free of personal debt.
Quitting drinking, stopping borrowing money and stopping over consuming allowed me to reverse the problems I had encountered. It also gave me the financial and mental freedom to choose a path of my own creation. To create a life that was more of a reflection of my inner desires. A life that allowed me to feed my spiritual, creative and physical pursuits instead of shutting them down.
You can have anything but you cannot have everything.
Alcoholism took my freedom of choice away. Debt did the same. Now, after five years of sobriety and finally clearing my debt. I have visited many of the places I used to talk about whilst propping up the bar; Angkor Wat, Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and many more. I am on course to take six months off work and see the things I used to dream about; The Grand Canyon, Teotihuacan, Chichen Itza, The Great Pyramid of Giza and Petra. It has taken perseverance and sacrifice but it has been worth it. It truly has become a life beyond my wildest dreams.
Thanks for reading,