The Art of Getting Into, and Out of, $15,000 in Credit Card Debt
After overspending the advances on my books, I needed a strategy
Just looking at this title makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my stomach roil. That said, merely wanting to puke when I declare my debt is progress. Six months ago, I couldn’t have typed that sentence, especially not for publication. I wouldn’t have even said it to myself, let alone to others. My debt was something I stared at in horror every time I opened my bank’s online interface, before I averted my eyes.
Out of sight, out of mind, right? Of course not. My debt was always there, like a funky mole between my shoulder blades that I ignored because it terrified me. I was afraid to get it diagnosed, to deal with it, and to face the consequences. How had I let it get to this point? What was wrong with me?
In other words, the story of my debt is a shame story. And like all shame stories, it’s not really about the concrete fact of owing money. Credit cards can be paid off. Debt can be erased. Facts inform me that I am not alone in having debt, either. And yet, in my inability to confront this issue, I demonstrated that such facts didn’t matter. In my mind, my debt was unique and personal. It proved terrible things about me (weakness, stupidity, and naïveté, to start). Conversely, if I were smarter and better, I’d never have gotten into debt. My debt was my fault, and my faults wrapped together to prove I was not only “bad with money” but maybe a bad person, too.
I based these thoughts on my assumption that I, of all people, should not be in debt. I have no student loan debt because my parents paid for my (many) degrees. I have a good job as a professor. I have no children, nor a partner, so my money is all mine. No one in my life suddenly needs braces, crashes cars, or gambles the farm after a three-day bender. In turn, this means my debt is also all my own. There is no one else to blame.
It wasn’t earning money that got me in trouble — it was everything I believed about money and myself.