It was about 20 below outside and the roads were very icy and there was snow everywhere. It was a Saturday morning, I remember, as I got in my trusty little old Chevy that I leased for $US50 per week (I couldn’t afford to buy a car outright, even though they were cheap as chips in MN compared with back home). And driving on the wrong side of the road, I made my way across the border into Wisconsin where there was an AA meeting I’d been to a few times before.
It was a big meeting and after the preamble, the chairperson announced that this was a topic meeting and, guess what?, the topic was ‘letting go of fear of financial insecurity’. I was gobsmacked. I was also very anxious and could feel that tears weren’t far away. We broke into smaller groups and spread out through the big old house that some grateful person had left to AA. There were about six of us in my wee group, a mixed bag of men and women, none of whom I knew at all. When it came my turn to share I got a bit teary explaining that my own fear of financial insecurity was deeply rooted. Both of my parents lived through the Great Depression and they passed on to us kids a respect for money that for me turned into fear. I made up in my tiny mind that most things dysfunctional stemmed somehow from filthy lucre. For instance, my first experience of seeing a friend’s family torn apart by divorce, to me started with the fact they were wealthy . . . I translated their big house into ‘they must be rich’ and therefore when their divorce happened I somehow came to the conclusion that it was because they had pots of money. Or perhaps an offhand remark by my mother became translated into ‘money makes you unhappy’.
So, anyway, there I was in a Minnesotan winter and while the snow fell outside, I sat beside a stranger on a big old sofa and cried as I told my story about being caught up in this WFC and how I was worried that I might not be able to stay to finish my studies because I my funds were so limited. Fresh food in winter in Minnesota gets very expensive because it has to be brought in from far-away warmer states. I remember paying $US7 for a cauliflower.
I got lots of hugs and warm wishes from my fellows and drove back through the wintery landscape where the lakes freeze to such a depth you can drive a truck on them. The message I got from the reading at the start of the meeting, and other people’s sharing, was that I had to let go of the need to control my own financial crisis. No amount of white-knuckling it was going to change what was happening. I kept hearing the names Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and it seemed to be their fault somehow. Eventually I looked up these names and figured out the whole thing started with greed and dodgy financial deals to do with mortgages. People all over America were losing their homes as a result.
I turned on my laptop when I got back to my little basement flat and found an email sitting in my inbox from some people back home who wanted me to edit a book. I chuckled to myself. OK, God, I thought, I’ll play your little game. I was already working a 70-hour week, what with attending lectures as well as working as an intern at a big treatment centre. I found the time to edit the book and got $NZ50 an hour for my troubles. It was a help, but more than anything, I began to understand that if I did the next right thing, things may just work out.
I wrote to a mate back home, asking if he could help somehow, not really believing anything would come of it. But a couple of weeks went by and I got an email from him saying the Guardian Trust had granted me $NZ18,000! I was gobsmacked and immediately wrote to this charitable trust in Auckland to thank them. I remember wondering what I could do to celebrate and went to one of the upmarket grocery stores and bought myself a very expensive jar of English marmalade. Americans don’t really go in for this delicacy and I was missing it bigtime.
The grad school where I was training announced that in the third and final semester we had to find ourselves an internship. Luckily, I had a Kiwi connection with a very good treatment centre in Minneapolis and took a risk and asked if I could live in as well as working as an intern. These warm-hearted Minnesotans welcomed me with open arms and I spent three months there. This included a very happy Christmas and New Year living with a group of women who were in for treatment for their alcohol and other drug problems. I had a ball and got fed three times a day. The treatment centre’s kind chef would even pack me a lunch to take to school each day.
I came back to NZ with a certificate in addiction studies, a new career, and a very small debt.