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If you stop to think about the reasons why people get into debt, the culture of instant gratification first comes to mind. Thoughts of “we can’t afford it but we want it now and must have it dominate the psyche of many”. Whilst this may be true, I believe that for many, the reasons run far deeper further complicated by the shame and guilt many carry with their debt.  That was my story.

My Debt Story

Between 2004 and 2007 I had an accessories business which I really enjoyed running and it did well for a time. However, I tried to grow the business too quickly, thinking I could compete with the big players. And then there was a massive let down from my manufacturer. By the end of 2006, I had been defrauded of £20,000 from one manufacturer, supplied over a thousand faulty leather handbags by another manufacturer, I had spent all my savings, maxed out all my credit cards, had two unpaid loans, and owed money to an investor.

To say the situation was dire was an understatement!!! At the time, I thought my life was over and could not see a way out the mess I had created. Thankfully I reached an agreement with the investor to take over the business: the name, the stock, and my buyers list. I couldn’t file for bankruptcy because it would have affected my ability to go back into the finance profession.

At the time, when I told people my debt story I always liked to paint a picture that put me in a good light. “I’m in debt because my business went bust”. “I had a thriving business which grew too quickly and I couldn’t cope”. Saying that made me feel less shame and responsible for my downfall. But deep down I knew truth. My relationship with debt began years before I started my business, as far back as my university days.

I’d left home to study at university, taking with me a well hidden secret and disorder bulimia, which then spiralled into a vicious pattern. As well health threatening, this became an expensive habit funded by student loans and an overdraft. By the time I left university I had a combined debt of £6000 comprising of a £3000 overdraft and student loan debt of £3000.

Entering the workforce, my debt habit stretched further afield into spending even more money on designer clothes and luxury goods. I now had access to more funds to cause myself increased financial heartache. The worst place for me to work was for an Advertising Agency in Knightsbridge across the road from Harrods and Harvey Nichols, need I say more?  I was well and truly set up!  Retail therapy became a way for me to feel better about me, not because I like shopping.

Actually, I hated it, but I was addicted to how much better I felt every time I wore something new, something stylish, something that made me stand out. New clothes, new shoes, new bag – New me. This, of course, meant tireless hours of shopping, spending and racking up debt.

Debt is usually a symptom of deep unresolved problems in your life

So I knew that the real cause of my debt wasn’t my business. However, the business going bust was the catalyst for me lifting my head out of the sand it had been buried in for so long. I finally had to look at me. It was very painful, but extremely releasing and liberating to say, “I am in debt for £45,000 because of the choices I have made over the last 15 years. I had to own this, say it out and look myself in the mirror.

I realised that the debt in itself was not the root problem. It was the symptom of my real problems.  Of course I had to deal with practical side of handling my debt situation. But I knew that I had to seek help to explore the other issues. That was the start of my journey of change, self-discovery, growth and owning my stuff.

The liberation of owning my debt story in black and white

I also sought help with Consumer Credit Counselling Service, now called Step Change. They were an absolute God send.  I wish I could describe the relief I felt to be able to talk about every debt I owned, big and small and to see it all on paper, in black and white. £45,000!!! Wow, that is a deposit on a house!  It was painful to acknowledge, but it also felt like a noose taken off my neck, so I could breathe. My biggest fear was getting red letters from creditors and people hounding me for money. But they dealt with all of that.  They reached a payment plan with all of my creditors and I am now close to paying it off. 2007 will always be a defining year for me because I believe my destiny changed that year. I turned 30 that year and also got married.  It was great to be able to start marriage on an honest foundation. “This is me, are you sure you want to marry me and my £45,000 debt?” Actually call it £50,000 as I had also lost Gbenga’s, (my then fiancée’s) £5000 investment in my business!  But it was important that he knew all the facts.

Secrecy is the breeding ground for shame, fear, condemnation and enslavement

Having said all this, if you can relate to my debt story, know that there is hope and help out there. Perhaps you have been carrying this secret, along with the shame and guilt. Secrecy is the breeding ground for shame, fear, condemnation and enslavement. In that place it is impossible to see a way out. But power, liberation comes when we speak out in truth and then we are given a new perspective, and what seemed insurmountable becomes possible. Usually debt is the manifestation of deeper issues which need to be addressed by seeking help, but it starts with choosing to lift your head out of the sand.

If you need help and support to face up to your debt and underlying problems, please feel to get in touch. You do not have to do it alone. I am also a debt counsellor and can help you practically.