October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In recognition, Femme Frugality is running a series on the topic every Monday. This series includes a mixture of factual pieces and personal stories.
Today’s post is contributed by Michelle Bobrow — the Chief of Cha-Ching at The Weird and Wealthy Podcast.
As a self-proclaimed recovering personal finance addict, Michelle focuses on money psychology to integrate healthy and balanced financial habits into our lives. Through strategic planning and mindful coaching, Michelle turns numbers into a work of art as she designs holistic budgets and sustainable systems for you to pay off your past, save for your future, and enjoy the present.
Please use the hashtag #DVAM2017 when sharing this article on social media.
Note: This post may contain triggers for survivors of abuse.
Personal finance is so important to me because the factor of money is often what keeps us from pursuing truly autonomous and authentic lives. Personally, I’m no stranger to choosing financial stability over jumping into the unknown of my self-sufficiency.
But it was an abusive relationship that pushed me to make the leap. Running from my ex meant running into debt. Although this is frowned upon in personal finance circles, I can guarantee it was a safer option than staying in such a toxic relationship.
While I can certainly empathize how staying in an abusive relationship can seem like the only option at times – financial and otherwise – leaving such a relationship can be a positive move, even if you can’t immediately see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Today I write to you as a survivor of debt and domestic abuse and I would like to take this opportunity to share my story in the event that speaking my truth can help someone else.
Taking on Debt to Escape an Abusive Relationship
Earlier this year, I called off my engagement and moved 1,500 miles across the country to escape months of narcissistic abuse that had a devastating impact on my psychological health. I never understood quite how resilient the human spirit is until I summoned the courage to get out.
I’m still working on forgiving myself for letting that relationship go on for as long as it did, but leaving it was the greatest act of self-love and self-care I have ever committed. However, it didn’t have quite as positive of an impact on my financial health. (Well, not yet. It will pay off in the end because financial abuse is no joke either but that’s a story for another time.)
I am writing to you now with $5,566 of credit card debt and $2,813 of medical debt that I am scheduled to pay off in 18 months costing $479 in interest. With the interest-free credit options available to me, I assure you I’m getting off easy.
I’m sure there are plenty of ways I could have started this new chapter of my life more frugally – six separate households offered to take me in indefinitely and I lost count of all the hand-me-down furniture offers – but I accepted as many favors as I could stomach while also rebuilding my sense of independence and self-sufficiency.
Debt Bought My Freedom
Debt isn’t quite synonymous with freedom, but for me it most definitely is.
The debt I carry now is directly related to that traumatic period of my life. It is the cost of leaving and the cost of surviving. It is symbolic of being both a victim and a survivor. And because of that, I am proud of my debt.
See, in the months before I left, I thought I had to fake being happy until one of us died. Because there was no other way out. My life would be intolerable if I stood up to her and walked away.
Writing that seems petty now that I’m on the surviving side but I was so traumatized by my ex’s erratic behavior – the fear of the financial mess it would create, of the violent retaliation and public defamation, and of losing everything I had worked so hard for over the past several years – that I just didn’t think I was capable of watching it all come crashing down.
I Became My Own Hero
The break-up was just as messy and painful as I anticipated it would be but I got through it because I knew I had to prove to myself that I could be my own hero. And as someone who coaches women on economic empowerment, it would be hypocritical of me for financial matters to stand in the way of a healthy and safe life.
Let me be clear: If you don’t like where you are, you can leave. Your safety is more important than the price tag, the stigmas, and the messiness. I’ll never say that it is easy, but it is attainable. And we all deserve to be safe and to be treated with kindness.
NOTE: Before you make any moves, be sure to set a safety plan in place for your specific situation as leaving can be the most dangerous time—even if your partner hasn’t gotten physical to date. You can get help making this plan by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
I am writing this now with a HUGE bittersweet grin on my face because I have been the happiest and healthiest I have ever been in my entire life these past few months. I am very, very, very grateful I am here right now to experience this.
I don’t remember when it clicked, but now I see my debt as a trophy of survival. I make a $500 payment every month as my big middle finger to the stigmas of debt, domestic abuse, and psychological trauma.
Your Net Worth Does Not Define You
There are times when I feel like a fraud in my industry because I am simultaneously ashamed and proud of my debt. This industry still does a good job at debt-shaming which is ridiculous because our entire economy is built upon debt: Businesses have it, banks have it, the government has it. But I digress.
I try to speak to myself as I would speak to anyone else who would come to me with a similar situation. And I said, “Your story is not over yet. Your debt will not define you. This struggle will not be as permanent as death.”
Debt is not the end of the story.
Debt is not defeat. Debt can be resilience.
I can tell you this with certainty because I have debt and it feels like both a horribly traumatic mistake and a modern financial tool that has saved my life.
There is always something else on the other side of that debt or depleted savings. It does not appear out of nothing. Maybe it’s something tangible that you own like a couch or an education. Maybe it’s just a story, a lesson, or a personal growth experience.
That is not to say that my debt in the past wasn’t shameful, that a big number of negative dollars didn’t feel like it would follow me for as long as I lived, that I didn’t consider I was worth more dead than alive once I had life insurance.
Debt can feel like a heavy burden to drag along. Debt can represent a mistake, a bad call, a distressing period of your life. It can be another big thing you have to worry about when you’re already worrying about so much.
Whether it’s medical debt for a false alarm or a life-saving surgery, whether it’s a destructive shopping habit or daily life essentials on your credit cards, whether it’s a mortgage-sized amount of student loans for a degree you never used or one that led you to your dream job…
Whether that debt is your escape route out of a relationship that is destroying your mind, body, and soul…
Know this: You did what you had to do with the means and mindset available to you at the time. You are here now. And you are breathing.
Debt is Not Permanent
If your debt does not represent a personal triumph, if your debt is the trauma itself, I promise you it is not permanent. I promise you will have other wins. I can easily name 50 things I am grateful for now that I am still here to write this article.
I still cannot find the words to express how liberated I feel these days that I still have a voice. I am still afraid to use it at times, especially being a public figure on the internet, knowing my livelihood can be destroyed in a very public way and I will have no power to stop it.
But I have faced this beast before and I will let my body decide when my time is up before my mind does. I hope you continue to stand up to your beasts, too – debt or otherwise.
Related Domestic Abuse Content
To learn more about domestic violence or abuse, or to find more ways to get help, check out other articles in this series:
Applying for Health Insurance as Domestic Violence Survivor
As a domestic violence survivor, you qualify for a special enrollment period at any time of year thanks to the ACA. Apply on the marketplace today.
The Intersection of Islamophobia and Domestic Violence
Nour Naas shares her important story and perspective on domestic violence and how marginalized groups face additional barriers when it comes to reporting.
Economic Effects of Sexual Assault: A Case Study via Dr. Ford
What can we learn about the economic plight of sexual assault and domestic violence survivors from Dr. Ford's testimony? As it turns out, a lot.
Economic Abuse: Silent Epidemic of Abused Children
Survivors of childhood abuse encounter unique challenges, even in the realm of economic abuse. Read Dr. Kenisha Burke's story of overcoming identity theft.
The Silver Lining Behind My Debt
There is a lot of stigma around debt. There is a lot of stigma around domestic abuse. But debt is a useful tool that can help you become a survivor.
8 Signs You May Be in an Abusive Relationship
Many abuse victims don't realize their relationship is unhealthy until it is too late. Here are red flags to watch for from a domestic violence survivor.
Unique Economic Obstacles for LGBTQ+ IPV Survivors
While intimate partner violence happens at a comparable rate in the LGBTQ+ community, survivors face additional financial barriers.
The Long-Term Financial Effects of PTSD
PTSD affects combat veterans and survivors of domestic abuse alike. Learn what it can do to your finances, and what you can do about it.
Getting Help: LGBTQ+ Domestic Violence Survivors
Domestic violence does happen in the LGBTQ+ community. Here's how to get help if you need it, and how society can better help survivors.
Financial Abuse: My Partner Nearly Drained Me Dry
Financial abuse doesn't just happen when a partner tries to limit your income; it can also happen when they try to take over the money you're bringing in.
8 Ways to Help Loved Ones in Abusive Relationships
Having a friend or family member who is in an abusive relationship is hard. This article gives you tips to help from a domestic violence survivor.
What is Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse is something many go through, but not all recognize it even as it's happening. Read on to learn how to identify this type of abuse.
I Have No Money: Leaving an Abusive Relationship
Leaving an abusive relationship is difficult, complex and nuanced. One major hurdle is finances. Lessen that problem with these resources and grants.
Wow. This is one of the most powerful posts I’ve read on debt.
In the PF world, we get so focused on bad debt, escaping debt, avoiding debt. We forget, it’s a tool. Like a chainsaw, debt can hurt us if we are careless with it. But if trees have fallen in the road of life, we need to use the scary chainsaw to chop them down and get them out of our paths. And some people even use the chainsaw to create something beautiful, as you’ve done today.
Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s an honor to hear your story.
When you said “Know this: You did what you had to do with the means and mindset available to you at the time. You are here now. And you are breathing.” – YES. I 100 percent relate to this. Much of my debt reflects my reaction/response to mental health issues I’ve had for the vast majority of my life. There were times when – in my mind, anyway – the choice was between not going on and booking a trip to somewhere distant just so I could get away, have a new experience, and reset. It’s always worked, at least temporarily – so in a sense, my debt reflects my coping mechanisms. (I’m trying to develop less expensive coping mechanisms now.)