“Hi. My name is Britni, and I’m calling because I’m an alcoholic.”
I wasn’t at a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous — I was on the phone with a debt collection agency. There was a stack of bills in front of me, and a list of more phone numbers to call. It filled an entire sheet of notebook paper.
I had spent the previous three years throwing out all my mail without opening it because I didn’t want to see how much I owed. I knew I couldn’t pay it, anyway. I changed my phone number to keep the debt collectors from calling me.
When I made that first call, I was living in a sober house, only one week out of rehab and a little more than four months sober.
During my time in treatment, I began working the 12 steps of an addiction recovery program. I arrived at step eight, which required me to make a list of who I had wronged and become willing to make amends to them all. I made my list.
Many of the other people I knew had lists full of friends and family they’d stolen from, or stores where they’d shoplifted, but I didn’t think I had any financial amends to make. My list was long, but for different reasons. I had to acknowledge that I’d generally been a pretty crappy friend — I didn’t show up for people when they needed me, and I gossiped about people I cared about. I slept with people’s boyfriends.
But my sponsor told me I needed to dig deeper and told me that financial amends aren’t just about stealing. She asked me if I owed anyone money. The stack of bills in my trash can flashed through my head. I owed a lot of money. But I didn’t know who I owed or how much. I wrote “bills” on my list. I called my partner and asked him ship me all the mail I’d received since I’d been away, in treatment.
The mail arrived in three envelopes, and I felt sick when they came. I was afraid to open them but knew I had to if I had any hope of getting well.