How Getting Sober Changed My Life — and My Money

by Guest Author - Published October 15, 2019

deanna - recovering women wealth

[Good morning!!! I want to share a powerful story by a friend of mine, and new(ish) blogger on the scene, Deanna from Recovering Women Wealth, who’s not only found her path towards financial freedom, but freedom from the devil’s work too. A beautiful, and positive!, person putting herself out there in hopes of inspiring others! Thank you Deanna!!! And huge congratulations on it all!!!]

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I’m looking at the graph of the pivotal money moments in my life, and it’s clear to me the life-changing events that occurred at each stage.

The story told by my money also tells of my recovery from drug addiction/alcoholism. Since getting sober, it’s not surprising my net worth has gone up.

For this girl, sobriety is sexy.

money chart

My First Relationship with Money

I started doing odd jobs like babysitting and working at the family golf course around the age of 12. My relationship with a steady income started at the age of 16 when I began waitressing. Everything I made went right out of the door on clothing, entertainment, and alcohol.

You see I grew up in a two-parent, Christian, middle/upper-class household where all of my material needs were supplied. Any money I earned was just for play.

I did not learn the value of savings, but I did recognize that money correlated to freedom. However, my desire for freedom was short-sighted as I only wanted to get out of the house (and my skin) in the moment.

When Emotional Stability is Lacking, so is Money Sense

My relationship with my Dad was not healthy growing up. He was doing the best he could and I now understand that, but he was a stressed-out salesman with a short fuse. He wanted to (and did) provide for his family, but his career became an obsession. Furthermore, my Dad grew up in a critical environment and these things have a funny way of being passed down. He didn’t have the patience for kids. I learned to get attention by getting into trouble.

My Mom was loving, kind, and nurturing. Regardless I was scarred by some hauntingly, temper-filled, memorable encounters with my Dad. As a result, I grew up believing some very incorrect things about myself.

I found solace in alcohol in my teen years. When I took that first drink, I became everything I thought I wasn’t – funny, pretty, and smart. I found the courage to be the fun-loving extroverted gal that I am. However, that courage was smoke and mirrors.

When a person is exerting all of their energy to cope with chronic stress and extremely low self-worth, money, at best, is an escape mechanism, and, at worst, used for mere survival.

The Start of Debt as a Lifestyle

Interestingly enough, my parents have always been wise stewards with their money. They saved for retirement and their children’s college education, pay cash for cars, and have no debt. Due to my rebellion against them, I learned none of this growing up.

At the age of 18 I bought my first new car with financing and you can see that dip on the graph. I ended up selling that car at the age of 21, moving to Colorado, and getting a small sum of money. For the first time, I was slightly above the line. This hippie used that money to fund a backpacking trip to Europe. #NoRegrets on that.

However, with an unreconciled past and little money sense, I quickly got back into debt and kept drinking/drugging.

Due to my ability to be high functioning, I went undetected as having a problem for many years. I wanted to appear normal so I maintained an outward appearance that prettily covered up the pain and suffering I was experiencing.

Bigger Debt

I got married at the age of 25. We bought a house, financed two cars, and used credit cards inappropriately. You can see the graph going way below the line in my mid-twenties. My marriage ended at the age of 27 and I was left with a mountain of debt. I filed for bankruptcy but was able to keep the house. Unfortunately, I didn’t really learn any money lessons at this stage.

My drinking/drugging waxed and waned and I even managed to have some healthy years. I kept paying the minimum payments on my debt and vowed to never go back into bankruptcy.

In my 30’s I made my way to graduate school to become a high school mathematics teacher. While my parents paid for my undergraduate education, I funded graduate school 100% with student loans.

The Beginning of the End

I excelled in graduate school but in the process, a man from my past walked back into my life and I unfortunately got back into drugs. While I graduated with a 4.0 and a promising career in education, I walked away from it to pursue a life that allowed me to use these drugs. It still pains me to write that last sentence.

I became the wine sommelier at a country club where I had worked for many years. In case you are wondering, that’s not really the best job for an alcoholic/drug addict. ;-)

Sure, I kept up the facade but I was basically getting paid to drink. Additionally, I was addicted to crystal meth so, with the combo of uppers and downers, I walked that lethal tight rope until I eventually spiraled down.

My bottom occurred at the age of 36. It’s no surprise that I was also in the biggest amount of debt of my life. I was bankrupt emotionally, physically, spiritually, and financially.

It can be a beautiful thing when a person comes to the end of their rope and there is nothing left to grasp at. After some disturbing visions and the stark reality that I was going insane, I finally surrendered, admitted defeat, and asked for help.

I left the destructive relationship, quit drugs, returned to faith, and committed to a life of sobriety.

Digging to Get Back to Broke

The early years of my sobriety were really about reconciling with my past. Reconciliation includes looking at my part in things, making amends, forgiving others, receiving forgiveness, and healing relationships.

However, in remembrance of my vow to not file bankruptcy again, I made some financial changes. I was able to reduce my expenses, stop adding to the debt, and stay afloat financially.

About four years into my sobriety I wanted to gain complete financial peace. I had peace in every other area of my life, but not yet with my money.

A woman from my church helped me to get on a budget. Then I started listening to Dave Ramsey. He would tell me, over the airways, that I didn’t have to have to keep my debt around forever. I could actually get intense and pay it off, and for some reason, I believed him.

In the process, I did lose my house to foreclosure. The neighborhood where I lived was not bouncing back after the crash of the housing market. It was no longer a safe place for a single woman to live. I stuck it out until some major things broke, at which time I moved into a ministry home. All the while I worked with a realtor to short sale my house. In the end, the bank declined my short sale. Feeling defeated and facing foreclosure, I hired an attorney and it ended fairly well.

Once I bounced back from that, I humbled myself and asked my folks if I could move in with them. They were gracious and said yes. At the age of 43, I moved back in with my parents for further reconciliation of our relationship and to focus on paying off the rest of my debt.

All in all, I paid off $46,763 in about 3 & 1/2 years total on a $40k salary. Near the end of my debt pay off my salary jumped and it’s still jumpin’ today!

I shared my testimony on the Dave Ramsey Show on June 4, 2018 which you can see here ;-)

From Addiction to Investing

When I was in debt pay-off mode, some things shifted in my relationship with money. Firstly, I knew I never again wanted to pay for things of the past. Secondly, I realized I value relationships over spending money. This attitude has carried over into my investing life. If I value something, I’ll spend money on it, but I’ve found that spending time with the people I love doesn’t have to center around spending money.

As I was approaching that bright light of broke, I started listening to the ChooseFI podcast per a recommendation from a colleague. I read J.L. Collins’, A Simple Path to Wealth, and realized I could do this investing thing.

I started out 2018, maxing out all of the tax-advantaged accounts I could get my hands on and haven’t stopped yet. Today, I get to walk alongside women in recovery helping them with the same things I’ve gained freedom from. I’m spreading financial literacy to some of the women who need it most.

The Current Breakdown of My Finances:

  • Employer-Sponsored Simple IRA: $33,054.63
  • Health Savings Account: $5,233.65
  • Roth IRA: $6,089.26
  • Traditional IRA: $6,935.92
  • M1 Finance: $385.57 (just getting ramped up on post-tax investing)
  • Between checking & savings: $18,642.51
  • Total net worth: $70,341.54

Closing Thoughts

I’ve learned that it all goes together. Since getting sober I’ve wanted complete healing and transformation, but I’m learning it’s a lifelong process. Some wounds go deep.

I’m grateful for that time with my parents. I was able to finish paying off my debt and get a fresh launching pad. More importantly, I faced and slayed some childhood demons. As a result, my family bond is stronger. People can change if they are willing and able to be honest with themselves and others.

Finally, I’ve learned that valleys are where the real growth occurs. It’s the hard stuff that has chiseled me into the woman I am today, and I am proud to be in recovery.

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Deanna blogs at RecoveringWomenWealth.com and writes specifically to women. If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, please send them her way!

deanna's recovery story

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Christine October 15, 2019 at 8:52 am

Way to go Deanna! What a powerful story. I listen to Dave, and will have to listen to your episode! Keep up the fight and keep slaying it!

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2 Deanna @ Recovering Women Wealth October 15, 2019 at 7:41 pm

Hey Christine, thank you!! I really appreciate your rooting me on :)

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3 Financially Fit Mom October 15, 2019 at 9:20 am

What an amazing fight; congratulations Deanna! I’m sure the struggles continue and I’m so glad to hear you found a network you can lean on when needed and get the positive encouragement to continue. Keep it up and thank you for your courage to share your story to help others.

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4 Deanna @ Recovering Women Wealth October 15, 2019 at 7:43 pm

Thank you!! Yes, life is full of struggles, eh? I’m a HUGE fan of accountability these days and it’s all about who we surround ourselves with.

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5 JB October 15, 2019 at 9:26 am

Great post. I am going to share this with a friend going through a similar time in his life. Way to go Deanna!

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6 Deanna @ Recovering Women Wealth October 15, 2019 at 7:44 pm

Thanks, JB. Please do as that is my motivation in sharing. Additionally, tell him to feel free to reach out to me via my site…

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7 Joe October 15, 2019 at 9:40 am

Wow, what a story. Great job turning it around. The chart is really helpful. It shows that the story will get better at the end. The first half was tough.

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8 Deanna @ Recovering Women Wealth October 15, 2019 at 7:46 pm

Hi Joe! Thank you :)

Yes, when I drafted that chart I was like wow, it totally correlates with my recovery. Just like the market, I may have some dips going forward but overall it’s up from here.

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9 Elise @ Financial Fitness Fanatic October 15, 2019 at 12:34 pm

Wow, Deanna. Thank for for sharing such an honest and powerful story. This really struck me:

“When a person is exerting all of their energy to cope with chronic stress and extremely low self-worth, money, at best, is an escape mechanism, and, at worst, used for mere survival.”

Whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or any other coping mechanism that we’re addicted to, your story is something almost all of us can relate to. Gaining internal strength, mental clarity, and a high self esteem are all critical components to not only finding genuine happiness but also achieving financial success. Truly inspired by your journey, and wishing you all the best.

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10 Deanna @ Recovering Women Wealth October 15, 2019 at 7:50 pm

Hi Elise, yesssss! I agree that whatever our coping mechanism is, to achieve fulfillment & financial success we need to identify it, uncover any wounds, and heal with the things you describe.

Thank you so much!

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11 kay October 15, 2019 at 2:16 pm

What an amazing story! Very inspiring!

I don’t know you but I’m super proud of you!

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12 Deanna @ Recovering Women Wealth October 15, 2019 at 7:51 pm

Kay, that means a lot to me and I thank you :)

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13 Baby Boomer Super Saver October 16, 2019 at 1:35 am

Your story is so inspiring! Thank you for being so vulnerable and sharing from your heart. It will help others see that it’s never too late to make a change, to get out of debt, or to catch-up savings!

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14 Kate October 16, 2019 at 5:49 am

Wahoo! Well done to you Deanna! Your chat actually looks like a chart of my mental health!
I’m 40 years old and 5y 10m sober and my life (and my finances!) have totally turned around too!
I went from waking up with receipts in my purse of bars I’ve never been to (!!) to a fully up-to-date YNAB account with savings for rainy days, the next few months bills, next year’s summer vacation, etc. I have no debt (in fairness, I’ve always been debt adverse even when partying all the time), and a totally manageable mortgage. Sober living is good living! Thanks for sharing!

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15 J. Money October 21, 2019 at 7:10 am

Way to go Kate!!!!!

What a beautiful new life you’ve created for yourself! :)

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16 Elizabeth October 16, 2019 at 6:16 am

Amazing story congratulations!

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