I went to my first 12-step meeting in May of 2011. I was tired of having the same type of relationship over and over again and thought I could benefit from checking out a recovery group.
As the months went by, I began to fall in love with the 12-step approach to life and began to look at new groups for help. I figured that if this was an area of my life that wasn’t working, perhaps the reward center of my brain weren’t working right and I might have an addiction. For instance, I really like feeling full so I over-eat because a stomach stuffed with food takes away my anxiety. I’m fairly disciplined in what I eat, but I definitely eat too much. I weigh 180 pounds on my 6′ frame, about 30 pounds more than I weighed in high school. I could benefit from going to Overeaters Anonymous. I’d love to drop 10 pounds.
One thing that long blocked me from checking out 12-step programs is my conviction that I am strong, disciplined person who can accomplish anything I set out to do. Now at age 47, I have to accept that this self-image of mine isn’t always true.
I’ve always thought of myself as careful with money and yet I have $45,000 in credit card debt and $20,000 in other debts (while I have only $2,000 in the bank). Something is not right here.
My first instinct is to tell you that my financial problems are a result of my devotion to my art (writing) and that’s why I’ve never earned more than $50,000 in a year. But that’s not the full story. I think the core reason I have financial problems is the same reason why I’m a bachelor and the same reason I don’t have as many friends as I’d like — fundamental systemic character flaws.
My earliest memories of money revolve around my strong desire to get it and to spend it (mainly on things like books, toy soldiers, and candy). I drifted through many hours fantasizing about what I’d do if I had gobs of money (just as I similarly day-dreamed about achieving power and prestige and popularity, and later those dreams took a more sexual turn).
I think I started getting an allowance in second grade. I spent most of it but saved about a third. On a couple of occasions, I stole money from my parents and splurged on candy, wasting much of it.
When I came to America in 1977, I spent most of my money on stamps for my collection. I started working jobs after school in seventh grade and was fired from my first six of them for lousy performance.
Most of the patterns above are still in me today. I spend hours of time fantasizing about what I’d do if I had money. I never excel at jobs I’m not interested in. I find most work tiresome. I don’t like taking orders. I think I’m smarter than most of the people around me. I just want to do what I want to do and I will make enormous sacrifices to have a maximum of freedom to do what I like, but I often misjudge on this score and find my freedom severely constricted by the poverty that stems from my unwillingness to work regular jobs at regular pay for as many hours as I can. I like to make money in big steaming gobs for very little effort. Frankly, I prefer to be given money as a reward for doing what I like.
My favorite coping mechanism for getting through work in my early days was the radio. I loved news radio and talk radio and sports radio and music radio. I needed some distraction to get me through pulling weeds and paperwork and cleaning and filing and other nonsense far below an intellectual of my stature.
I’d prefer to think I didn’t steal at work, I simply rounded my hours to my advantage. To this day, I won’t take any more than I can maintain my image of myself as essentially honest.
As the son of a famous man, I got a lot of things given me and I really liked that. As the youngest child, I perfected my manipulation skills. I learned that if you just told people what they wanted to hear and went along with their enthusiasms and let them be in charge, you could get a lot of stuff gratis.
My parents had many concerns about my character. Good thing they didn’t know about how often I’d cheat in school.
In eighth grade, I found betting a wonderful accompaniment to my sports fixation and over the next five years, I tried to play bookie to my friends as often as possible. I found that betting got my adrenalin racing and time went by quicker and sporting events became more meaningful when there was money on the line.
On my first day playing with the neighbor’s kid in the summer of 1982, just before the start of tenth grade, I won $10 off him. I was appalled that he asked his dad for the money and I quickly said that’s ok, I forgive the debt.
“Better to forgive the debt and save the friendship” my friend’s dad said in effect.
I didn’t get into much trouble with my betting. I think I stayed about even. My high school journalism advisor wouldn’t let me play bookie in his classroom. He said it wasn’t good that my friends and I were learning to take advantage of each other. So we had to make our bets outside.
Then late in 12th grade, my friend Oscar took me to the cleaners on the horses. I was up about $300 on Oscar when he said he wanted to bet on races in San Francisco. I always preferred to play the bookie and I thought I had the angles and that the odds suggested I should come out ahead, but Oscar knew something that I didn’t know, and quickly I owed him about $2,000. I was leaving the country for a year in Australia after high school, so I paid him $200 and we called it quits.
I was so shaken by the experience, I resolved to never bet again (with my own money). I’ve kept this resolution.
This disaster was a bright red flashing light in my head that I had an addictive personality. I started using that phrase at times, “addictive personality” and I would tell people that’s why I wouldn’t drink or try drugs.
I think the first money I earned on the books was in the summer of 1983, just before my Senior year of high school. I worked in the custodial department at Pacific Union College. A friend got me the job. I was feeling quite low looking for work. I found the job hard and I was always looking for the easy way out. I often found this through baiting people. One of my supervisors was a medic in the Vietnam War and I’d ask him how many babies he killed. Many of my co-workers hated me and picked on me in return and one day, this little Mexican, being a good Christian, stood up for me and told people to leave me alone. I’ve never forgotten it.
I went back to Australia after graduating Placer High School in June of 1984. I lived with my brother. After a couple of months looking for work, once I stopped telling potential employers I planned to return to the United States in June of 1985, I got a job at GJ Coles. For the next four months, I hated my job.
I loved to read the newspaper every day and whenever I could, I dipped into my brother’s change jar to buy it. Part of me said this was stealing but I ignored that voice.
Then I caught a break. A friend of my brother got me a contract cleaning and maintaining the Boyne Island Shopping Centre. As long as I kept everything spic and span, I was good to go. I’d manage to spend a couple of hours or more each day just reading books and the pay was about $20 an hour. I reluctantly quit halfway through my contract and returned to California in June. I saved about $10,000 from that year.
I worked as an intern at KAHI/KHYL radio, eventually getting hired for 16 hours a week at minimum wage. I bought my first car — a 1968 VW Bug for $1,500. In September of 1985, while tuning my car radio, I ran my Bug into the back of a parked school bus and received about 40 stitches to the cut between my eyes (from my head smacking the steering wheel at about 30 mph). The accident was 100% my fault.
I was so depressed by this disaster that I waited two months before spending the $900 to repair my car. Instead, I caught a ride with my mom to and from Sierra Community College.
In the summer of 1986, I began a job in landscaping. The first two days were killer. Most people would quit because the bosses always gave the new guys the most difficult work to sort them out. People thought I’d quit but I hung in there. On the third day, we went to work at the home of Doug and Sharon Hanzlick. I met their beautiful daughter Rebecca and I fell in love with the whole family. Suddenly, I loved my work, no matter how back-breaking, because I got to be around the Hanzlicks and even when I wasn’t working around them, I could talk about them with my bosses.
By early 1988, I had saved about $30,000. I’ve always been good at saving. I’m not a spender by temperament. It’s just that on occasion, and many years may go by before such times, I’ll just get obsessed with something and make irrational spending decisions on my latest kick and they will leave me in the hole for many years afterward. It’s like I get drunk and binge and regret it.
In February of 1988, disaster struck in the form of disabling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I had to reduce work and eventually quit it entirely by December.
By June of 1989, poor health also forced me to quit UCLA. My life had fallen apart. I began looking into Judaism. In the summer of 1990, I spent about $4,000 buying all the newsletters and tapes that Dennis Prager had for sale and sending them to my friends, even though I knew most of these people would have no interest in what I was sending them.
Somewhere inside, I knew that I was unhinged. Rationally speaking, I should’ve spent my money seeking to ameliorate my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but I badly needed meaning in my life and Dennis Prager seemed to provide it and so I gorged on his materials, bought his radio highlights back to 1986, and was his top overall customer through 1994.
I was so sick most of the time, I only had an hour or two a day where I could think clearly and I’d spend this time on Judaism and Pragerism rather than on seeking out a cure for my illness.
When I made a two-thirds recovery on my health and moved to Los Angeles in March of 1994, I had about $10,000. Living out of my car for six months and then bunking down with friends, I blew through my savings in a year on acting classes. I got my first credit cards and skipped work to concentrate on writing my first book. Eventually, my credit maxed out at $20,000 and I had to take temp office jobs. I got fired from three of them for inappropriate speech (sexual remarks etc).
I bought my first real computer July 3, 1997, and within six months, I was earning enough from my website lukeford.com to do it full-time. By the Spring of 2000, I was out of credit card debt.
In August of 2001, I sold lukeford.com for $25,000 and lived off it for a year while working on a book about Hollywood producers. Then I went back to blogging on the adult industry and that was my primary means of financial support until I quit in October of 2007. I then had $6,000 in the bank and credit cards promising me close to $100,000 in total limits.
I thought about getting a regular job but that depressed me, so I tried various schemes (spending $10,000 for courses and eventually earning it back) to make an honorable living online. This didn’t work. As each month went by, I fell deeper into credit card debt. I believed that I would soon find my sweet spot but that kept eluding me.
In July of 2008, I got a new credit card from Bank of America with a $10,000 balance. I used it to buy 30 lessons in the Alexander Technique at $75 per lesson. I loved the Technique and decided to train to become a teacher. This took me three years and cost about $24,000. During the first two years, I was so tired by my training, I didn’t feel capable of working a regular job on the side. I simply made do with little gigs I could do from home. Between 2008 and 2012, I borrowed about $30,000 from my family.
When I graduated from Alexander Technique training school in December of 2011, I had about $50,000 in credit card debt. For the next three months, I devoted myself to trying to build up a practice. I put up a website at Alexander90210.com. When I wasn’t able to get a sufficient number of students to support myself doing what I loved, I took an office job in April of 2012.
Since then, I’ve had minimum credit card payments of about $1500 a month and have been able to reduce my total credit card debt by about $130 a month (and I have paid off about $2,000 in other loans). I’m good at living inexpensively but I’m an under-earner. I’ve never liked to do work I wasn’t interested in or excited about the people around me. When I’m done at the office and I have enough to make it through the month, I then concentrate on my writing, my personal growth, and trying to make things happen in Hollywood.
The past few weeks, I’ve been listening to these lectures from Debtors Anonymous. It’s good stuff. One of these days, I’m going to a meeting.
In one of the lectures, I heard a recommendation that one write out one’s financial history as part of working the First step. That suggestion led to this blog post.
I start most of this type of writing by hand in my journal and then I sometimes put a sanitized version on my blog.
Perhaps my journey to financial sobriety will begin with this simple post.
I’ve often lived with a sense of crisis, desperation and despair and most of this is related to my finances. There’s a peace of mind that comes with money in the bank.
Most of the time, I make sober judicious choices with my spending. Only on occasion do I act drunk, but then those few binges drag me down for months afterward. I do under-earn. I’m glad when I get the day off work and instead of looking for gigs on craiglist, I spend the day reading books, writing in my journal, listening to lectures, blogging and trying to launch a career in something I love such as teaching Alexander Technique or doing a TV show.
I’ve often been a burden to my family. I have this great sense of entitlement that comes with believing yourself to be a genius. I expect the world to fund me to do my thing and I’m disappointed when that doesn’t work out. I’ll often wait until the last minute to take a real job.
On the positive side, I’ve always been scrupulous about returning borrowed objects, treating other people’s property with respect, and paying my debts to people (my family will give me time to get back on my feet and pay off my credit cards before I pay them back), while on the other hand, other people have stolen more than $50,000 from me. I’ve never denied or minimized my debts, I’ve rarely been late with my payments and never in default, and I’ve always been honest with my creditors. My credit score has always been north of 600. I think a credit score might be the single best number to assess somebody’s character.