How to Live Your Vision and Not Drown in Debt

By Kiki Baxter 04/19/16

At the close of tax season, The Fix looks at the benefits of Debtors Anonymous.

Living your Vision: Finding Sobriety around Money

How are you with your money? How is your earning? Do you love what you do? Are you living your vision? 

I started going to Debtors Anonymous when all my Al-Anon artist friends were telling me how much it was helping them. Their enthusiasm was palpable so I went, accompanied by my constant companions: shame, despair and denial. Denial told me that I wasn’t ashamed. It propped me up and said everything was fine, even though I felt like I was spinning my wheels, constantly trying to make ends meet and behind in paying off my growing credit card debt. I spent one summer actively getting in debt by doing summer theater and living off a meager stipend from the theater company and credit cards. At another point, I cashed in my retirement account to follow my dreams. This is what artists (and non-artists) do, right? I once spoke to a prominent artistic director of a reputable theater about my worry that if I went to grad school, I’ll get further into debt. He said impatiently, “You’re an artist. You’re going to be in debt!”

Now I know that doesn’t have to be true, and that the starving artist mythology has flushed more artists down the drain than I care to count. Debting to live is not sustainable for an artist, or for anyone for that matter. Since I’ve been in DA, I have worked with my creditors to create a manageable repayment plan, I have slowly increased my income, and I have moved more fully into my vision. Is DA the only way? It was for me. I’m good at math, I’m organized, and I read many books on money management—but it didn’t matter. As I spoke to other members of DA, there were some common themes—whether they were an artist, a business person, or a health care professional. These are their stories. (Their names have been changed to protect anonymity.)  


Mark has worked since he was fourteen years old and has had a steadily increasing income and promotions. Despite this fact, he was always struggling to make ends meet by spending more than he earned. He came into Debtors Anonymous in 2014 after trying other ways to manage his money.

“I tried budgeting many, many times and then I wouldn’t follow it. I tried leaving the credit card at home, but then I’d go back and get it or use it again later. I remember feeling not normal. I had a roommate a few years back who was a very successful guy and we’d talk about money, and he seemed to have this logic and all the facts. I knew the facts too, but he seemed to be able to implement them. For some reason, I couldn’t.”

Mark had been complaining about his debt to a friend of his who was in another program and his friend told him about DA. “I was really excited about it at first,” but then he had to “get down to business,” as he put it. “There are significant changes. Significant spiritual changes. You have to peel back the layers and do the work and find out why. I had all the facts but wasn’t able to put it into practice over and over again, for years. That’s been the heavy lifting, but I will say I’ve had a tremendous amount of relief.”

Mark grew up in a wealthy town but his family was not particularly wealthy. “My family’s relationship to money was skewed. My mom’s strategy was to work. ‘We’ll be happy when...’ My dad had a really hard time just dealing with life. He declared bankruptcy a couple times. He had a lot of earning capability and started a few businesses, but ultimately he didn’t want to work or felt he couldn’t do it.”

Mindfulness, meditation and prayer are some of the tools Mark uses in his recovery.

“The root cause is basically not feeling okay and then doing something to distract myself, so I think mindfulness is the best thing for me and that includes meditation. I don’t do it for hours and hours, but it’s a buffer so I don’t get too high or low. I do have a higher power in my life. I pray to see the truth and not run away from the situation as it’s presenting itself to me. Prayer is personal. It doesn’t have to be a big deal. I’m very experiential in my life. I’m scientific. The question is, did it produce a result for me? I’ll stand on my head if it produces a good result for me. That’s why I don’t resist the prayer thing anymore, because it produces good results.”


Roger is an artist who came into DA when he was using credit cards to build a one-man show. “I was in a lot of pain because I was not living my vision and I was using credit cards to fast forward myself to get there.” Roger’s actor friends told him about DA and, like Mark, he was inspired. "It sounded very ‘follow-your-dreams,' like a live Oprah show."

Mark paid off all his debt last year. “Basically I paid minimal payments to the credit card companies, maybe a little more. It took a long time. Ten years, maybe twelve years to pay it off. My credit score got really good, even better than my partner, who doesn’t even have credit card debt but was sloppy and sometimes paid a little late. There’s no liposuction for debt, no sucking it in. It’s a long-term lifestyle.”

When I asked Roger if he considers debting and underearning an addiction, he explained it this way:

“I know how to find drama. I can obsess and fight for a low-paying, shitty gig and complain about douchebags drinking and talking during my gig, or I can book another college gig that pays $2000. The addiction would rather get high on resentment. It makes me emotionally vulnerable to earn money. Getting into an argument with a drunk douchebag is easier. It gets me high. That’s an addiction. But I’m not addicted to talking to strangers about getting a booking. I’d rather talk to douchebags. But I learn how to go where it’s warm. Go where there’s money. Keep prospecting. It’s easier to go into the Facebook rabbit hole than pursuing your vision.”

Roger “keeps his numbers,” which means he records his spending and earning in an app on his phone. From those numbers, he created a spending plan. “I have a minimal spending plan and an ideal, abundant one. He also works with an “action partner,” which is another tool of the program, where he checks in with them about the actions he’s taking towards his vision. “It’s a buddy system so you’re not alone.” He also works with a sponsor and has regular Pressure Relief Meetings (or PRGs) with two other recovering debtors who have not incurred unsecured debt for at least 90 days and who usually have more experience in the program.  

“I’m doing things I enjoy to do. I am becoming emotionally available to my vision. Old me was debting and spending time in unavailable relationships trying to get someone to love me. I didn’t know I was doing that to avoid my vision. Through program I saw I had to take care of myself and now I’m married to a man who is boring to my disease. No drama. The question is, can I show up for my vision? There are times I don’t want to. It’s very vulnerable to sit in what you love. I recently got a standing ovation from 4000 people but only 1000 stood up right away. My disease wants to say, oh, you didn’t really get a standing ovation. They didn’t jump up all at once. But I can really see that it was a joyous, successful event. My disease wants me to believe that my life isn’t good enough and I have to debt to get to the next place.”


Joy came into DA in 1986 when she and her husband were debting $2000 a month and cashing in their stocks and bonds. "Compulsive spending is using money to change your mood, to medicate. If you’re depressed or down, you can see how buying something can change your mood. Underearning isn’t so much an addiction but a repetition. People that are underearners are not able to esteem themselves, they’re not able to ask for or produce a salary or income that equals their expertise. Esteem is a more complicated form of money dysfunction manifesting in not knowing how to or not feeling entitled to take care of yourself prosperously."

Joy went to DA first and heard about not using credit cards but didn’t believe it was possible, so she went to BDA (Business Owners DA) because she was not debting in her business. She quickly acquired “pressure people” (the people who do your PRGs) who also sponsored her. They offered to work with her on one condition: that she’d meet with them once a month at the same time and day. “I did that for two or three years. We did two hours for my personal and two hours for my business.”

"PRGs are a mechanism where you take the pressure off the person and help them find new ways of perceiving things and doing things."

So how does one define sobriety in DA?

“Sobriety in DA is not debting one day at a time,” says Joy. “No credit cards, no borrowing money unless it’s guaranteed by something. It means paying bills on time and no late fees. You call all your creditors and get a moratorium on you credit cards and loans if you can, and you get current with your current bills and learn how to live without debting—and if you have to cut back, you do.”

Joy sums it up this way: “If you’re in pain about your money situation in any way, DA is the place to go. If you’re underearning or underspending or have deprivation issues, DA is a great place to learn how to deal with money in a healthy way and esteem yourself with money, to learn how to use it correctly and earn income to reflect you talent. And Underearners Anonymous is also very good. They have tools that are not found anywhere else. They also have great phone meetings.”

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Kiki Baxter is an experienced content creator with a demonstrated history of working in tech, non-profit, and hospitalityindustries. She is also skilled in Digital Marketing, Design, and Photography and is a yoga instructor. You can find out more about Kiki on her website or on Linkedin or Instagram.

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