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There is nothing noble about poverty and struggle and dissatisfaction.
So many people seem to be afraid to choose happiness and ease for their lives because such a choice seems too risky when struggle is idealized as noble and the basis of so many of our relationships is commiseration.
I think I believed there was a righteousness and a lack of responsibility that came with being impoverished.
It was hard for me to undo that thinking.
The belief that true artists struggle, live poorly, and drink excessively was deeply ingrained in my psyche without me realizing it.
Deep down, I didn’t want to grow up. And by grow up, I do not mean to sellout, settle, or choose stability over adventure, but rather, to live within my means, pay my bills on time, commit daily to writing, and take out my empties each week.
If you have the means and the privilege to get out of poverty (which, though it took me a while to admit it, I did), I believe you owe it to those who don’t have the same opportunities to do so.
It is really, really scary to look at the areas of our lives we wish were different and ask ourselves, “Am I truly a victim of circumstance here? Do I have any control that I am not executing here?”
We need good, smart, kind people who know what it’s like not to have money, making good, kind, smart decisions with their money. I didn’t want to have the responsibilities of someone who made money. I didn’t want to have to use my money well, make ethical decisions about where to put it, or bear some responsibility for the state of things in my part of the world.
When I started to realize that I made enough of a salary to live easier than I had been living, I had to start looking at why. I needed to understand why, even though I was earning decent money, I still never had any more money than when I’d been a student. (I wasn’t wealthy, but I certainly made enough money to live more easily than I had been.)
What I saw was that when the end of each month came, if there was still $100 in my account, I would feel myself start to panic and get overcome by the need to get rid of it.
Initially, I didn’t try to stop myself. I just watched the panic come up in order to try to figure out what it was all about. I sat with my feelings and I tried to imagine what I would feel like if I didn’t throw it away but instead, let it sit there and roll over into the next month.
The idea made me feel uncomfortable, kinda itchy, almost like the pants I had on were too tight and I couldn’t find what the best way to sit was.
When I looked further at that discomfort and what was behind it, I saw that there was a part of me that felt like I’d lose some of my friends if I was no longer poor, or that I’d lose my position of “baby of the family” and not be taken care of anymore. (Even though I’d been financially independent of my family for many years, I still had an idea that I’d be severing some tie to them if I was financially stable).
I’d been in debt and clawed myself out multiple times. Once I was even so arrogant as to say (aloud, to people), “I will never let this happen again.”
But low and behold, I was right back there again. I could see that nothing was going to change if I remained too scared to look at the underlying issue: I was deeply uncomfortable with the idea of having and holding onto money.
When I finally sat down and crunched the numbers and really looked at what I made versus what I owed, versus what the interest payments each month were alone, I finally had to admit that the hole had gotten too big.
That I couldn’t keep going at the rate I was going, nor could I right the ship without help. I had to admit I needed help, and I had to (and this was the most important part) decide I no longer wanted to live this way.
I was paycheque to paycheque, with no emergency fund and a solid reason to decline anytime a non-profit called looking for donations. I believed that somehow this was more moral than its alternative (having money).
I was behaving like a coward.
I wasn’t ready to look at the facts of my life up until that point. The continuous spending beyond my means, the rebuilding of debt as soon as one mountain was paid off—this was not rotten luck.
I had privilege and education that I was squandering in order to not have to take responsibility for my own life.
As soon as I was ready, like really ready, I remember saying aloud from the floor of my basement apartment: “I don’t want to live like this anymore. I need help.”
And that was all it took.
The next day, I received help before I had even taken time to think who I could ask it of. Completely unprompted, I was offered an interest-free loan from a family member. I was aghast and humbled and so, so grateful.
I was ready to receive help because I knew I was ready for a major change in lifestyle and mentality.
The luck of this is undeniable. I had gotten myself into a hole too big to climb out of, and help arrived because I was finally ready to show up, become an adult, and open my eyes.
It was a slow climb.
I got a second job, I sold my car, moved into an attic the size of a decent-sized closet, rode the bus, and shopped thrift.
I was lucky, extremely lucky, but if I hadn’t decided to address the unconscious beliefs that were motivating my ignorant behaviours, then I wouldn’t have been able to ask for or accept help.
The offer like the one I received would have resulted in no change whatsoever, and truthfully, without having been on my knees the night before when I realized that I couldn’t solve this on my own, I probably would have been too proud to accept it.
I first had to make the mental shift before I could receive the help, and that was the only way I was able to avoid repeating all of my past ways.
When I was finally ready, with humility and acceptance, the universe was waiting.
As she always is.