At the age of 28 I was six months sober and I walked into the bank one day after a hard-day’s labour and deposited one hundred pounds sterling in cash. My balance as always was zero, and so now I was one hundred pounds in credit. The next day I went to the cash machine to withdraw money and discovered to my immense joy that Father Christmas had come early and by some miraculous turn of events I was now one thousand pounds in credit. Thinking on this, I surmised that the lovely lady in the bank had inadvertently tapped in an extra naught and multiplied my worldly worth by ten. Oh well…who cares? I thought.
Jubilantly, I informed my mentor Shay, of my good fortune. Pertinent to this conversation is the fact that I had been living for the last several years, in one room with a bed sheet that was so old that there was a massive worn out hole where my arse was.
Anyone who is familiar with the working philosophy of the average recovering addict mentor/sponsor knows how that conversation went.
“Give it back. It’s not yours!”
To say that that is not what I wanted to hear would be a considerable understatement. The circumstances I was living were bordering on destitution.
The week before I had taken a train journey with my daughter. It was Friday night rush hour and I was stressed because she was only three years old, and because I was caring for her alone (as her mother and I had now separated). I had been toiling in ditches all week. As we sped through the London suburbs, I realized that I had left my bag on a bench in the station. The bag contained my week’s wages. It was then that I experienced the most debilitating sense of dejectedness and self-pity that I had thus far encountered in my sobriety.
The thought of self-medicating with alcohol at the next available opportunity flooded my brain’s memory and reasoning centres. My self-pity was due not so much to the fact that I would be behind on the rent for months, and a number of other hardships, but simply due to the hellishly frustrating, unfair and immovable fact, that I had just toiled for fifty hours for free.
My daughter, sensing my punctured spirit, sat down next to me on the floor outside the toilet and hugged me, in that placatory way children do when they sense that their carer is wounded. The fact that we had been forced outside the main carriage and were on the floor next to the smelly toilet, due no doubt to my paint splattered and dusty countenance (I was a construction site labourer) seemed like another indignity designed just for me. In my paranoid, exhausted and dejected state, it was symbolic of my life: that I would forever remain in standing room only – outside the main carriage.
And so here I was, in poverty and with no sign of reprieve, when a free gift of nearly one thousand pounds had landed in my lap. Oh, how my reasoning faculties wrestled with that one. It was divine providence, of course it was, the ‘Universe’ had come to my rescue and it was just in time. So, when Shay delivered his unwanted piece of advice, my temptation was to reject him outright as a false prophet. This is what we do.
My first line of defence was something about banks being evil and therefore unworthy, and while I can’t remember the exact words I used, I can definitely remember my sense of total indignation. Shay’s response was this;
“Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”.
I understood the biblical reference of course. Caesar was a Roman Emperor. His name was stamped on the coinage. His taxes were unfair, and his occupation of Jewish territory was oppressive and humiliating to them. But everything is in the intention. To refuse to pay taxes, as Jesus rightly pointed out, was, most of the time, just an excuse used by greedy and resentful people to conceal their fear of economic insecurity and to manipulate a better financial outcome for themselves – rather than some dignified and principled stance. The principled and self-righteous stance – was a cover.
“Quite right too,” I hear you say.
My second line of defence what that I was poor. Shay’s response to that was complete silence. It was during that silence that I understood one of the greatest lessons I have ever received.
I contacted the bank by phone. “Hello, you’ve given me nine hundred pounds by mistake.”
Again, the exact words escape me, but in a very polite way their response was along the following lines, “You…are a lunatic…no-one contacts us to give money BACK.”
So I wrote to them, but after several months of no reply it was clear they really did think I was a lunatic. Shay agreed that I should keep the money. The lesson had already been learned. I had already assimilated the loss, and money was not the issue anyway, but rather, my attachment to it: my belief that bending the truth was justified by my lack of financial security.
The lesson was this: that the frustration, indeed the fear, of not getting what I thought I needed was bearable. In reality, I didn’t need it so much as want it, and wanting it was not a good enough reason to be dishonest no matter how dishonest the person I sought to deceive was. To do so would have damaged my integrity more than it would have benefited my existence. And that is a great lesson.
Thus, I found myself understanding in a direct experiential way, two more essential principles of life. Firstly, that living by a set of values that exists above our own self-oriented desires and passions, is an adaptive trait that we have never lived safely without. Incessant or overbearing self-orientation, even in the pursuit of understandable goals such as earning a living, somehow takes away from something else that is essential to us – that feeling of integrity or ‘virtue’. The fact that we know, even if others don’t, that our actions are just.
Secondly, I learned that it was only by ‘letting go absolutely’ and without reserve, that I was able to manifest real, practical power into my being. I was no longer a persona. I found that handing over my petty designs and manipulations made things go so much better in the long run, and I finally managed to overcome the elaborate belief system of ‘me first’ and gained a hard-won insight into how to stop feeding the life force of FEAR. Fear that there will never be enough – for me! That persistent, energy sapping, and ultimately useless fear of economic insecurity. And from that day forward I have been relatively fearless with regard to my finances.
Ironically, my fortunes changed for the better. But that was merely a by-product of my non-attachment. I learnt to love what I do and do what I love. In doing so I threw material concerns to the wind – and became successful anyway.