When I was a young boy, not much older than my own oldest son, there was an adult male in my life that I looked up to a lot. For a time, he was my role model. He was a quiet fellow with an incredible work ethic. Even though I was a lot younger than him and he didn’t have any real reason at all to take me under his wing, he did. I have fond memories of going on walks in the woods with him (he had a tremendous eagle eye for spotting unusual things in the woods), going miniature golfing with him, and even playing in the sandbox with him. He was an adult, but he would get down on his knees and help me build elaborate car tracks in the sandbox, and then we would race our cars through these tracks. He had a bright future ahead of him, with a ton of opportunities.
Over the course of about two years, I watched everything I loved about this guy change. He stopped spending time with me. He stopped going on his walks in the woods. He stopped working much at all and eventually tossed his career down the drain. He didn’t seem to have a moment to spend with me any more. He often got really angry when I would try to talk with him like we used to. Within two years, I had reached a point where I was actually scared of him and avoided any situation where I would have to be near him.
Unsurprisingly, drugs were the culprit here. He had become addicted to a number of substances and, after a while, the focus of his life was finding more sources for the drugs.
He lost his career path. He lost a woman who he dearly loved and who loved him (she still was asking around about how he was doing a decade later because she loved him so much). He drove away a lot of the people in his life who cared about him.
Today, he seems to have some level of order in his life and has put at least a few pieces back together, but he’s not interested in making any sort of career advancement and seems to have little passion for anything at all.
It was very hard to write those five paragraphs. In writing them, I had to retrace a path where one of the best people in my life – someone that I loved and cared for and respected and emulated – was torn away from me.
Later on, I became very good friends with someone in college. We had the same major and many of the same interests. We spent a ton of time together.
During a single semester in college, he became addicted to drugs. By the end of that finals week, he had skipped all but one final and the one he did show up for involved him drawing doodles all over the test. He failed all but one of his classes, lost his scholarship, and dropped out of college.
Three years later, I received an email from him. He was working in a factory and had gotten himself clean (at least, at that time). He said he was hoping to get back into that college in the next year.
Six months later, I read a newspaper article where he had been arrested for stealing prescription narcotics.
About a year ago, I saw him again. I would have never recognized him had he not introduced himself, but he immediately recognized me. He was as thin as a rail and had lost all of his teeth. He said he was hoping to find work. He eventually asked me for money.
Over the last year, I’ve witnessed people in my life start to go down similar paths. They’ve allowed something in their life to take such control over them that they’re no longer making good decisions. I’ve seen careers lost, homes lost, families torn apart.
At some point in each of their lives, they had a choice. For each of them, there was a point of no return. They could either recover the life that they had with minimal damage done to it, or they could continue to follow a path that led to something else being in control and making the choices for them.
I have witnessed the pain of addiction. I have seen people I care about very much make incredibly self-destructive choices simply to feed their addiction. Having known some of them both before and after those choices, I can only conclude that many of those choices were made when they were not really in their right mind and, at some point, they had ceded control to whatever that addiction was.
The single worst thing you can do for your finances – and much of the rest of your life – is put yourself in a position where you no longer have full control over your decisions. When an addiction or an overwhelming desire that you can’t quite control has taken ahold of you, you’re no longer making decisions that are truly in your own best interests.
If you ever feel like you’re not in complete control of your decisions, seek help. I don’t mean financial help, either. Seek out professionals who can help you reassert control over your life. Your doctor is a good place to start, but so is a truly trusted friend or family member. Lay out everything and ask for their help. Do not let pride or a desire to keep up appearances matter here.
It is incredibly hard to admit to yourself that you’ve messed things up. It’s almost as hard to openly admit that to others and ask for their help in fixing things. Yet the strength shown by someone who can do that and who is willing to actually help themselves is worthy of respect. The people in your life that matter will step up and help you if you’re willing to work to help yourself.
There are many people out there who have seen this situation before. They will not hate you for the mistakes you’ve made, and they will listen to you and support you if you’re willing to try to fix what is broken. Don’t be afraid to start.