Trustee = NOT Your Buddy
Filing bankruptcy is like being tossed in the ocean during a hurricane and you don’t know how to swim. If you have ever heard that government employees don’t care, the bankruptcy trustee is the poster child for this saying. They are in place as the administrator of the account and they are not interested in helping you navigate the system, modify your payment plan, or even have a conversation about the intricacies of the process. They are 99% about the law and how it is carried out. When I called, name, rank, and serial number were what we covered. Nothing more but sometimes, less.
Your “friend”, if you can afford one, is your attorney. Even with this, the attorney may work for a large conglomerate where each attorney is working 50-100 cases. Again, there is no time for much personal care. My final attorney was fine but she obtained the case from my previous conglomerate and therefore, was not in the same county so she had to learn about the rules of my trustee.
The paperwork to file seems straightforward but it is not. You need an attorney and even they have to resubmit documents multiple times because each jurisdiction is different and the court does not accept “close”. Each filing has to be 100% correct.
Bankruptcy is not for the “do-it-yourself-er” and definitely not for the faint-hearted.
No Credit Cards, No Credit
The day I paid my attorney to begin the process, credit was no longer available to me. Every purchase had to be made with cash. The court does not even accept a personal check for the monthly payments. I had to go to the bank and get a certified check each month.
I could have petitioned the court for modifications if I needed to finance something but that would have cost more money and it was not something that I wanted to do. I did not have any more money.
During the first year of the bankruptcy, I focused on how I would restore my credit. I checked my credit score frequently and was thrilled when it dropped very little, into the low 700s. With such a minimal drop, I knew that I would have an easier post-bankruptcy experience than most.
I was thankful to know that I had maintained credit in such a way that I would come out of this with very good credit in five years.
Swiping to Happiness
During the first three years of the bankruptcy, I maintained my old habits. I was an emotional shopper. Not that I was sad and spent money (I did that too but not often). Instead, I would go to stores and get caught up in buying. Sale and clearance stickers were like beacons to me. If an item was priced at a “discount”, it almost jumped into my cart!
Without credit cards, I used my debit card in the same manner. I would start the weekend with $600 in my bank account and by Monday morning, I would almost cry when I realized I had spent all but $150. How could I get through 2 weeks with only $150. Trust me when I say, “It was much harder than I ever imagined!” But, each pay day, I repeated the same cycle.
Even though I had filed bankruptcy and could not use credit, I knew I was still in control.
I believed that the ability to buy whatever I wanted made me invincible. Buying what I wanted enabled an autonomy that could not be achieved if I had to ponder a purchase or put it off until I saved the money. During the first three years of the bankruptcy, I maintained all of my old patterns except now, I would cringe when I view my bank account instead of crying when I opened the mail.
I believed that not having what I wanted at my fingertips meant that I was not very good at managing my life. If the carton of milk was half empty, I would immediately go buy more. If I thought I needed a light next to my bed, I purchased the light within a few hours. I made purchases with no thought to how each would be integrated into my current home setup or if I already owned something similar. Yes, I continued to do this while making a $2750 monthly payment to the bankruptcy court and continuing to pay my household bills on $1200/month.
I was still holding onto the belief that being able to buy whatever I wanted, gave me status, while still dying financially.
Spending and acquiring defined me, to me. No one around me expected it or came into my life because of the things that I could buy. I, needed to be able to please me. I needed to be able to go to the store and buy things to make me feel satisfied and happy. Things made me feel complete. In some ways, being able to buy things gave me a high.
Spending was my addiction.
For my entire life, I have insisted that I would never allowed myself to become addicted to anything. Nothing would ever have so much control over me that I could not stop if I wanted to. Writing this post has made me realize that, until 2 years ago, I spent all of my adult life as an addict without even realizing it.
Spending money even when I knew that I did not have any was my way. I would not have labeled it as an addiction because I never paid late fees, creditors never called me, I had a great credit score, and right to the end, I was never turned down for credit. But isn’t that the true thinking of an addict? All of those statements say, “I am controlling this and I can stop whenever I want.” The truth is, I had no control. As the years progresses, I struggled like hell but never stopped. Even in the bankruptcy, I kept doing the same things because I was in control. If I had been asked, I wasn’t spending money because I had to, I was doing it because I wanted to. Not true.
THE RAW TRUTH
Everything that I have said in Part 2 comes down to:
- I needed a way to define myself.
- I needed to be in control.
- Spending gave me definition.
- Spending gave me control.