“Andy Dufresne: You know what the Mexicans say about the Pacific?
Andy Dufresne: They say it has no memory. That’s where I want to live the rest of my life. A warm place with no memory.” (Shawshank Redemption, (1994)
I am now free of a debt that had been hanging around my neck for longer than a decade. I paid my last instalment on 1st October. It was a double digit K figure that I completed. And I wasn’t alone in getting into such a debt mess, my bank had played me for all that time.
Earlier this year I wrote a 10,000 word letter to my bank, ****, and I told them exactly what I thought of them. And it felt good.
When I started at Warwick University, in October 2000, the bank threw overdrafts at me to the point financial annihilation. I had been with the bank since June 1993. They took my hard earned pocket money. They took the money that I made as a waitress when I was 15 through to 18. They took the money I made working in factories through the Summer holidays to scrape together extra cash. Until I went to University I never spent more than I earned. And I worked hard. I was also the only one on my block that had a job whilst I studied. They saw me coming.
And I was financially wrecked and ruined through all of my University days. I never stood a chance. My graduate account came with an overdraft – I’d never had one before and I didn’t know how dangerous they were. Overdrafts are like quicksand – they are hell to escape. And I never pulled myself out of mine. I spent the night before my last exam sweating awake knowing that I had only £5 to pay for food and petrol to get me through it. I could not afford to pay for my graduation photos, the gown hire was all that I was able to spare. I was financially trashed and this shaped the rest my twenties. I spent the decade running away and surviving. Every time that I thought I had turned a corner, it all came crashing down. I became distant, manipulative and cold because my dire finances left me with an unmovable, heavy, heightened sense of fear and loathing. I self-harmed hard and I thought that I was responsible for the fact that I never had any money. I had been bent over and fucked by my bank, abused. I was savaged by their loose lending right up until the credit crunch – by which point I was in a very lonely, very bleak black hole.
So, I wrote them a letter at the start of this year and I unleashed a decade of the mental pain that I suffered as one of their customers. The letter was mad, bad and sad. It made no sense in parts because I felt so insane thinking about all of the ill-times I had with them over those years. I also thought that a measured, sensible and polite letter didn’t fit the task. I wanted to show them how much they had hurt me. I felt accomplished and proud of myself posting it – somebody else could live my nightmare for the day it would take them to read it.
The credit crunch is my broken home.
I did not hold back when I wrote my bank a letter. And this felt good. Over time, after the redundancy, I had tied my emotional and physical wellbeing to my financial health. I believed that two things these went hand in hand. I felt that without financial sanity, I would never be all that I had dreamed to be. I swallowed that belief hard and I made a pact with myself at the start of the year – I told myself I would not prosper until I had paid back my debt for good.
**** did not acknowledge me, to begin with. They ignored me point blank. And when they finally got around to replying to me, they told me to hush my silly little mind and to fuck right off. I enjoyed writing back to them and telling them that I thought that they were a bunch of abusive scumbags. And I only used the ‘eff’ word once when I had to speak to a customer services advisor and I am proud of the fact that I didn’t smash up my phone with a kettle bell after the call had ended. My emotive associations with **** are all hatred and rage. I hate them. And I will never be ready to make nice.
On 1st October, 2015, I paid my last £283 to them – I still cannot believe that I got myself into £17K’s worth of debt with them. I wiped that slate clean. And I am proud of myself. Six months earlier I had also cleared an old malingering credit card debt that had been blown up due to missed payments and then sold onto another company. And I squished and pulverised my overdraft like I was a spade and it was a sticky, sour clementine. I had wanted it OUT OUT OUT of my life and I slammed the door on it a few months back now. I also picked up on my Student Loan and have been re-paying this now, like the good clever little graduate girl that I am. I have £15K to go on this but I feel like I can crush it. Because I am stronger now, eye. Tiger. My £3K overdraft is now set at £0. Go team me! I feel invincible. And this is dangerous as it could lead to mistakes. I need a mad, wild ferocious energy and belief that I can be crushed like a bug in the ground at any moment by debt hell. I need to keep me on my toes.
**** did write to me, out of the blue, after lots of correspondence that said ‘ppppfffffffftttttt!’ to everything that I had been telling them about being financially rinsed by them on repeat for the past decade. **** wrote to say that they had overcharged me by £2K in loan interest. Yes, this was despite them telling me to back down earlier in the year. Who was I to know? I believe that this was only a very small fraction of what they took from me but you can’t argue with evil. My experience quickly slid from hellish into the ridiculous when they threw back £2K at me- they make up their own rules and do what they like. Again, this was a small amount of the cash that they had creamed from my salary each month. If they had mistakenly overcharged me £2000 in interest, I know that they also made countless, repeated unfair and unjust raids on my salary during our courtship. What an asshole of a bank! I don’t believe a word they say and trying to pin their misdemeanours onto them is like trying to nail jelly to a tree. I know that they have played me for a fool. Their customer hotline is always ‘experiencing a high call volume.’ Why? Because they want you to feel ignored. When they make you wait for fifteen minutes- they break you down. You’re not as spirited as you were when you first dialled in. They want you to know that you are insignificant and unimportant. You feel like a peasant when you reach an advisor so you act like one. This is how they do it. (I know that I sound insane talking about all of this because it has driven me to so much despair over the years, days, hours and minutes of this £17K sentence).
You see, I worked like a bat out of hell for that decade. I worked my socks off. I scrimped. And I fought long and hard for every ounce of pay that I could earn from all of my employers. I had an 18 month battle with one employer for a bonus that I had earned. I was the work devil herself. I was made redundant in 2013 and all of that cash was consumed by **** in fines, charges and repayments. It didn’t touch the sides of the financial black hole that **** had sucked me into. I felt like an idiot for the whole of my twenties. I felt like a fraud, trying to pretend that I was ok when really I was drowning in a dark red sea of debt. I was trapped in a system of financial oppression by the bank that I’d taken my pocket money to when I was old enough to have an account.
It took me two years to wise up. When my redundancy cash had been swallowed whole and I was up to my eyeballs, again, in a big fat overdraft that swamped me, I started to see the bigger picture. **** sent me a statement of the fines, fees and charges that I had been charged in 2013 – this figure was just shy of £1K. That’s food for 6 months. That’s clothing for the year. That was a life changing amount of cash. This had been going on for over a decade, along with the monthly repayments to a loan that way beyond my human capacity to handle. It was a consolidation loan, of a consolidation loan, of a consolidation loan, that I kept paying back. It broke me and I was broken by the realisation, too late, that I was being held down by **** and pinned to the ground by them. I could not break free. They had me exactly where they wanted me.
I wised up. I stopped feeling intimidated and ashamed of my debt. And it was Martin Lewis’s moneysaving website that set me free and gave me the understanding I needed to move forward. I also phoned a debt charity that finally put my debt into perspective – they told me that I didn’t need them and they showed me how I could clear through this with a staged approach. They counselled me through the change. At the start of the year I was actually in a position to get financially clean. And I moved mountains within me in the process. I sold my denial and I cashed in on my faith to face up to my debt. It wasn’t as bad as my broken down mind had imagined it to be. I just finished paying of £17K – that’s something.
My next step is to change banks. Although I am aware that I will effectively be hooking up with another ball bag ass hole scum monkey, I am now wiser. The clock is ticking on my student loan but I know that I can halve this next year, at least.
The fear and anxiety dissipates and a strange, brave new world of being (relatively) debt free dawns. The transition has not been easy. I always have credit in my account now and this feels uncomfortable. The anxiety of feeling helpless and desperate lingers. It will take time to heal and I am not out of the woods yet. Because of the dizzying, giddy highs of freedom I am in a dangerous place – I could play myself for the fool. The cycle repeats and I financially ruin myself, again. I need to keep a healthy, moderate and regulatory anxiety in place to make sure that I keep this all up.
In December I am going to Mexico, to celebrate my freedom. Because, as the debt charity told me, I have a good job and it pays well. And this year I passed a course that will lead me into a higher paid profession after a few more years of study and practise – yes, I am on the road to future proofing my life by increasing my earning capacity through studying. Unfortunately, Zihuatenejo is a little too far off the beaten tourist track to visit, to touch. Cancun, Tulum and Puerto Aventuras will do. For me, my twenties were like a large tunnel of shit that I crawled through day-by-day like Andy Dufresne out of Shawshank. I made it out alive on the other side. My experience with **** has made me tougher and resilient but it also made me very desperate too many times. That was a dangerous, hopeless way to be that I will never forget. I am conscious that I am damaged by this and I will be always watching the sides of the road for monsters to jump out at me.
For anybody that is lost in debt, there is hope. You can conquer mountains and you cannot do this alone. You have to accept your debt first. And then you have to break it down and chip away at it as ferociously as you can. It will not pass. It won’t just go away. It will not end without your word to yourself that you have taken back control. Keep your word and the rest will follow.
Financial health is holistic – you are the problem and you are the solution. Once this is embedded, mountains can be moved.
I have a Shawshank tattoo, as shown above, because debt felt like a long prison sentence. And, we are all innocent in here.