Let me tell you about a 31-year-old Toronto native I admire. Let’s call him Brad D. Through struggles with alcoholism and credit card debt, he strode headlong toward an abyss that threatened to swallow him whole. But somehow at the last crucial moment, he found the strength to step back. Some might call that a blessing of grace from beyond. Others might characterize it as a simple instinct to survive. Whatever the case, something moved Brad to seek help from just the right people at just the right time. Thankfully, he’s now back on the right path.
His trials and tribulations make for instructive reading.
With a great job, a sweet living arrangement, and his first credit card in hand, he felt like he was on top of the world.
Trouble didn’t befall Brad all at once. It happened gradually over a number of years after he graduated from high school in 2002. Back then life was full of promise and Brad was determined to get out into the workplace and succeed financially. He soon landed an interesting job at a printing house that – thanks to opportunities for overtime – paid extraordinarily well for an entry-level position. At the same time, he lived happily with his parents in Toronto’s Scarborough district, paying just $200 a month for all the perks of a comfortable middle-class existence.
With a great job, a sweet living arrangement, and his first credit card in hand, he felt like he was on top of the world – secure, single, free to enjoy the fruits of his labour. For the next six years, he enjoyed those fruits fully. Trouble was, though, that as the money flowed, so did the alcohol in ever increasing amounts.
More and more, he frequented bars, spending lavishly on drink until the wee hours of the morning.
Brad partied enthusiastically with friends. More and more, he frequented bars, spending lavishly on drink until the wee hours of the morning, and usually getting good and sloshed in the process. During this period, there were clear warning signs of danger ahead, but he ignored them. He bought a car. He smashed it up. He got two more credit cards. His drinking deepened.
No problem. He had everything well in hand. Or so he thought.
“Back then I just blew through cash,” Brad says today. “It’s a funny thing, because my parents have always been good with money. At the same time that they raised me and my two sisters, they paid off their household mortgage by the time I was 20. This was with just one primary income. Over the years, they tried to teach me about money but it didn’t stick. I never thought of myself as spoiled kid. But in retrospect, I think I was.”
Physically and emotionally, his health suffered. Drinking only contributed to continuing cycles of pain and self-sabotage.
In 2008, Brad got the itch to explore new horizons. He decided to travel and find work that would yield even better pay than what he was making at the printing house. Financially, he was in pretty good shape. His three credit cards were paid up and he had managed to accumulate $10,000 in savings. So he set out from Toronto to Edmonton, Alberta, with hopes of scoring a good job offering big wages in the oil patch. It was not to be.
Soon drinking to the point of experiencing black outs, he bounced from job to job in Alberta and within months dropped all hopes of finding success in the province’s oil and gas industry. He tore through his savings, often spending $300 a night in the bar. Physically and emotionally, his health suffered. Booze seemed to ease matters, but of course it only contributed to cycles of pain and self-sabotage. For a time in Edmonton he took up work as a car salesman, but he couldn’t turn a decent buck for want of sales and commissions. He was fast reaching the end of his financial rope.
“Booze was consuming me. The bill collectors were on me like wolves. I felt like I was going right down the drain.”
Suddenly, though, in the midst of all the distress in Alberta, Brad’s grandmother came to his rescue by providing a loan that helped him settle all of his credit card debt. This came with a plan for his return to Toronto where he hoped to start anew with a clean financial slate. As part of the plan, he intended to cut up his credit cards before his return. But then he hesitated, believing he might need to use the credit cards minimally to get re-established back home. It was typical thinking on the part of an addict, and of course grandma’s bailout ended badly.
Upon his return to Toronto in 2009, he moved back in with his parents but failed to get a grip as his drinking continued to spiral out of control. He once more maxed out one credit card and eked out a living using the other two. As 2010 and 2011 rolled out, he faced free fall into what now appeared to be an inescapable abyss of financial and alcoholic ruin.
As he explains, “I was in terrible shape. I scrounged around. I got back into car sales, but again with no luck. I got work as a bartender – with pretty good pay – but I blew it. I ended up drinking on the job and drinking heavily off hours with my blackouts increasing. I got fired. Then my parents kicked me out of the house. I finally maxed out to the tune of $15,000 on my three cards, and I started missing my monthly credit card debt payments. After I moved in with a friend and got on welfare, I thought the game was over. Booze was consuming me. The bill collectors were on me like wolves. I felt like I was going right down the drain.”
He reached out to others best equipped to help him at the time, including Credit Canada and Alcoholics Anonymous.
Typically in stories of this nature, this is about the point when sorry circumstances at last end in tragedy or take a turn for the better. I’m happy to report that the latter is what happened in Brad’s case when after so much trouble he finally decided that enough was enough. He reached out to others best equipped to help him at the time, including our expert financial counsellors at Credit Canada, and the good people at Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
For our part at Credit Canada, we helped Brad through a Debt Management Program (DMP) that allowed him to get debt free in less than five years. We consolidated all his credit card debt into a package that made for one easy monthly payment that he could afford to make and still get by comfortably. At the same time, we provided financial literacy training to help him improve his personal money management skills. Part of that process included inspiration for greater self-awareness and self-empowerment in relation to money and personal growth.
Today life is looking up for Brad. He’s setting goals that are fundamental to sound personal finance.
I wouldn’t lay claim to the matter, but I would certainly hope that in some small way our counselling provided Brad with a little inspiration to eventually seek help for his alcoholism through AA, which also promotes self-awareness and self-empowerment to troubled souls, though in a more fundamentally spiritual way. I do know that a year before completing his program with Credit Canada, he joined AA, getting on the road to sobriety in the spring of 2014. So far he hasn’t strayed from that path.
Today life is looking up for Brad. He’s back working, and just as importantly he’s setting goals that are key to building a solid foundation for personal finance and for a life well lived. He’s determined to establish a career, and his heart tells him he’ll find it as a craftsman or a professional in the restaurant industry. Meanwhile, all is well now concerning family matters, too. His mom and dad are back on loving terms with him, the truth being that they always loved him and were only practicing “tough love” during Brad’s difficult time with alcohol. Grandma, of course, always had faith in him.
It’s no wonder his outlook towards life and others is so positive these days. But then, I ought to let him speak for himself about that.
“Credit Canada is awesome! AA is awesome! Life is awesome!” Brad declares.
I’ll raise a glass of pure, fresh water to those words – and to Brad – anytime.