Updated on 06.05.14

Realize That You’re Not Alone on This Journey (2/365)

Trent Hamm

When I first reached my financial bottom, I felt desperately alone. I wrote about the pain of that financial bottom a while ago:

In short, even though my mind kept searching for a way out, another saving grace, part of me began to realize that there was no way out this time. I began to feel completely sick to my stomach and disgusted with myself, so I walked back home. My wife was there on the couch, flipping through a magazine, and my son was in his room taking a nap.

I went into my son’s room, closed the door behind me, and sat down in the rocking chair across from his crib. He was so tiny laying there, less than six months old, and he was sleeping so peacefully there without a worry in the world.

At first, I envied him. I wanted so badly to be in a situation without responsibility, to have my life in a place where I could just lie there in innocent sleep, without a worry troubling me.

But as I watched him lay there, gently breathing, another set of emotions began to take over. Guilt. Shame. Embarrassment. Pain. I was failing this wonderful little boy, this child who had already brought incalculable joy into my life. He looked to me and relied on me for everything, and because of my poor decision making and my selfishness, I was throwing it all away.

I closed my eyes and imagined the future I wanted for him, and then watched it dissolve into the future that he would have if I didn’t change things immediately. And I cried, almost uncontrollably.

I had my son that I loved so much. I had my wife, too. In the end, though, I felt alone. I felt like I had let everyone down because of my own inability to handle my money. I alone knew how bad the financial situation really was, and I alone knew that it was largely my own fault.

Realize That You're Not Alone on This Journey (2/365)

The thing was, I wasn’t alone. I’ve never really been alone.

For one, there’s God. I’m not going to enter into a debate about what that means, whether it’s really a spiritual force or just my subconscious talking, but I know that when I spend time meditating and praying, I find answers to the questions I seek, or at least directions to those answers. There’s something there, something I have always been able to rely on, and whether it’s a deity or my subconscious or something else, it’s a real thing that has consistently been able to guide me.

My wife, Sarah, has been by my side as either my steady girlfriend, my fiancee, or my wife for the last sixteen years. I can talk to her about anything going on in my life and get a sensible, steady, reliable answer.

I have three children that bury me in hugs every time they see me. Their good cheer is a constant mood lifter and their requests for help make me realize that I am of value to the people around me.

My parents have been around since the day I was born. Both of them have offered me help in almost every way I could ask for throughout my life.

My extended family is constantly supportive and willing to offer advice and assistance to me whenever I ask.

I have a circle of friends who provide constant good humor, companionship, and help, no matter what I’m going through in life.

I participate in several online communities, full of people who are always willing to share advice and encouragement.

I am not alone on this journey – or any other journey that I have in my life.

You are not alone, either. Your sources of strength may be very different than mine, but you are never alone unless you willfully choose to be. There are always people who are concerned about you and want to help you. There are always people who will step up to the plate alongside you and walk with you on any journey that you may take.

Often, all you have to do is ask, and that’s often the hardest part.

The one thing to keep in mind is this: almost everyone respects and wants to help someone who is trying to make a positive change in their life, particularly when they already care about that person. If someone in your life doesn’t do that, then that means they only valued you for the negative trait you’re leaving behind, and that’s not a good foundation for a relationship.

You are not alone.

This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),” in which I’m revisiting the entries from my book 365 Ways to Live Cheap,” which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Images courtesy of Brittany Lynne Photography, the proprietor of which is my “photography intern” for this project.

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  1. kristine says:

    Wow. I had stopped reading this blog, then bounced back to see if it changed after the switchover, and found this: “you are never alone unless you willfully choose to be.” What is the evidence?

    Nice sentiment, but it is not a universal truth. Hundreds of kids die every year in foster care. Kids trying to do their best, be their best, lift themselves up. They ARE alone. Girls are raped everyday, by relatives, close friends, and families turn a blind eye. If they try to make it stop, and make their lives better by speaking up, or ask for help, they are often ostracized, or told they are lying. They ARE alone. Terribly, horribly, alone, when it matters. Would you fault a young child for not researching her “help” options?

    When I was pregnant, I had a stupid mishap that left me with 2 black eyes. It was astounding to me that when I went out, people averted their gaze, and treated me like trash- completely differently than the week before. I was amazed! I cannot imagine what an actual battered woman feels when she encounters this, or who she would expect to help her, when everyone she sees turns away. I was truly blown away by this.

    The people who find themselves alone are often the most vulnerable among us. Every single civil rights advancement was met with harsh resistance, and those pushing for better way, and trying to improve their lives, for themselves and others, put their lives at mortal risk. The first were alone, and suffered dearly for it.

  2. kristine says:

    “You are not alone” is a Hallmark platitude. Do others share a similar circumstance? Sure. But like the abused foster child, that number of like others, and those good-hearted people wanting to help, are of no practical, real assistance in time of need. In the moment when it counts, we are often alone. And if god is standing idly by while a child screams, then his presence is of no practical help to that child either.

    The will and desire to lift oneself up are not universally rewarded with a helping hand. That is the naive assumption of someone with a narrow experience who has never experienced true vulnerability, danger, or real suffering (and I do not mean lamenting buying too many DVDs thus living paycheck to paycheck in relative comfort.)

  3. Barbara says:

    Thanks. I needed to hear this today.

  4. kristine says:

    When I was in therapy, to overcome a very abusive childhood, I learned that the difference between the ones who “make it”, and the ones who don’t, was almost always whether or not there was a lifeline, one single person who gave a sh_ _, and mentored/befriended/ helped the child succeed in some way. I was an odd case- I did not have such a person, but I was born with high intelligence (purely luck of the draw) and that is how I survived. There are many, many children who become the walking wounded, not out of weak character, but because when it counted, they were truly, utterly, walking alone.

    I hate hallmark platitudes like this. They cast a negative pall on those who really, truly try, but never see the sun, feel a drop of rain, or get enough love to grow. Conversly, I do like that in some areas of the world, like middle class suburbia, it might actually ring true.

  5. Amyk says:

    You watched him LAY there? And you call yourself a writer?

  6. Andrew says:

    “I hate hallmark platitudes like this. They cast a negative pall on those who really, truly try, but never see the sun, feel a drop of rain, or get enough love to grow.”

    Very well said.

  7. valleycat1 says:

    I have to agree with kristine that there are a lot of people in the world who are truly alone. Even if one assumes that “There are always people who are concerned about you and want to help you”, finding those people (or that person) and reaching out to them or having them find out you are in need, not to mention at a time they are able & willing to help you in a meaningful way, is often very difficult, if not impossible, due to a long list of factors affecting the person in need, the potential helper(s), and society in general.

  8. El Flaco says:

    Trent thank you for writing, and keep it up.

    Kristine, I’m sorry you experienced such situations and I can see how your views would be influenced by them, but most of what you say actually affirms what the article’s point. Kids are a special case as they are usually not in a position to exercise their own free will, and no one is assigning blame to them. Yes, Trent didn’t point out that he’s speaking strictly about adults, but a reasonable assumption is that it speaks to those with a degree of autonomy – this is a financial blog after all. That aside, he also says “Your sources of strength may be very different than mine” and that may well be the case. Not everyone is necessarily going to help; it may not be the people you meet everyday, it may not be exactly the moment when/where you need it or you think you do, but there are those of us well-meaning people who will actually do something to help. The issue is, connecting those in need with those willing to help. Abuse is an extreme behaviour, not an ordinary one… but there ARE extraordinary people who want to make a difference.

    Also, “almost everyone respects and wants to help someone who is trying to make a positive change in their life” – this is quite true. There are lots of stories out there of strangers helping others in ways you least expect, why is that? We are social creatures, and (most people) feel some kinship by helping another on their way. It’s humanity at work.

    The point is: no matter your circumstances, there is hope. People have triumphed over great adversity every day, and will continue to. It IS possible.

  9. AnnJo says:

    Kristine, I often find Trent’s platitudes jarring, and I can’t disagree with your point that there are many people who in fact ARE alone in their peril and unable to easily find help. But Trent is, after all, speaking to his readers, and the people you describe are unlikely to be among them. I’m not sure Trent’s writing would be strengthened by even more qualifiers than he already uses.

  10. Johanna says:

    AnnJo, why would people in abusive family situations be any less likely to read a personal finance blog than anyone else?

  11. Monterey says:

    You have all that—wife, kids…Then you’re rich. Very rich.

  12. kate says:

    Well, I liked this post a lot. I am independent, self-reliant, and hate to ask for help, but this last summer I had huge cancer surgery with a long, painful recovery and have since undergone many months of difficult chemotherapy. People I barely know have been extraordinarily kind and helpful to me, and though cancer is a lonely, horrible experience, I have found comfort in their kindness. I have had to make myself ask for help – and in some cases I have been refused, which is devastating, but more times than not, people have been kind and generous.

    Kristine – years ago I was in a bike accident that left with a black eye and horribly bruised face. I also experienced people giving me strange looks and avoiding me. It was horrible – as if I didn’t exist. Even people I knew didn’t ask what had happened…because they were afraid it was a case of domestic abuse. It was very lonely. But! A few people did reach out to me – one simply said “that looks like it hurts” which opened the door to talking about the accident. My friend’s feisty old Italian aunt said, “Kathy, who punched you? I hope you punched them back!” They acknowledged me as I was, and it was so healing.

    Here’s another platitude: the glass is half-empty or half-full. I choose to focus on the half-full – the people who are willing to be present when you are in need. For instance, cancer sure sucks, but the silver lining is that I have discovered help, kindness, and generosity in unexpected places. And I have discovered great strength and resilience in myself. And I’m still alive. I focus on that. Call me shallow, but I’m happier for it.

    Thanks, Trent, for a good post.

  13. Kate says:

    kristine: first of all, it is obvious that this post hit a nerve for you. I, too, come from an abusive childhood and have spent many hours in therapy. In this post, though, Trent was not speaking to children. He was speaking to adults. And adults have the ability to choose to bond with others…they have the ability to listen to others when they voice their concerns. A close relative who hit that “oh, no!” financial bottom that Trent writes about recently shared with me many of the same feelings that Trent voiced and I felt so badly that she felt so alone when there were so many around her that could and wanted to help.

  14. Kate says:

    That aloneness is a familiar feeling to me, too. I have reached a point, though, where I realize if I am feeling alone I need to reach out in some positive way to other people. I hope that there are those who may find themselves in the same situation as Trent was who can read his words and find comfort so they don’t continue spiraling downward to the bottom.

  15. kate says:

    AT #11. Kate, that is such a good point about trying to reach out in a positive way when feeling alone and spiraling down. It is SO hard to do, but it really helps. Your post also reminds me to reach out to others when I see them spiraling down….

  16. Nick says:

    Technically, it’s 2/366. This is a Leap Year.

  17. kristine says:

    I think the post would been much more effective if the repeated sentiment was “do not be afraid to reach out” , instead of you are only alone because you will it that way. The reach out part was not the emphasized thought at all. The judgmental bootstrapping tone came across as naive and harsh. This blogger is prone to black/white thinking and self-flagellation, and often transfers his personal truths into universal truths. In this case I found it hard to stomach.

    As for the comment it was not meant for kids- certainly it was also not meant for the old and abandoned in nursing homes as well. Or some adults. Not sure if qualifiers are the answer, perhaps just less indulgence in self-realization-turned-self-righteous-declarations. I am sure it was not even meant this way- it was meant to be uplifting. I think the writer truly has no insight on how his tone comes across at times.

    Anyway, thanks to those for the kind words. I think I am leaving here for good, and going back to wisebread and others.

  18. Tom says:


    See the last italicized paragraph regarding the title.

    This post is part of a yearlong series called “365 Ways to Live Cheap (Revisited),”

    (I had the same thought too, yesterday)

  19. Johanna says:

    @Nick: He started the series on January 2nd. So this was the 2nd of the 365 days remaining in the year.

  20. kate says:

    #14 – Kristine, I wish you well on your journey. And you make a very good point about “do not be afraid to reach out,” as well as the danger of indulging in “self-realization – turned-self-righteous declaration.” I guess I better watch out for that in myself. I don’t think the writer means to be offensive and I don’t tend to be bothered by his tone. But, I can see how it could be offensive, and I appreciate learning from you. Thanks also for the mention of wisebread. I’m going to check that out.

  21. Claire says:

    Like Kristine, I also stopped reading this blog sometime ago because I disagreed with the underlying conservative political message, which is often subtly buried (platitudes are a useful disguise). For some reason the title of this post appealed to me, but, once again, after reading I felt discouraged rather than uplifted. I am disappointed that Trent doesn’t see our government as one of the entities to which people can turn when they are truly alone. There are plenty of us who cannot rely on our families, and while God may be supportive, he is not always able to put food on the table. Soup kitchens and food banks are seeing unbelievable demand right now, while their resources are dwindling. This is not a motivation for us all to reach into our pocketbooks and donate. (And make sure we deduct our tithing from our taxes, natch.) This is a wake-up call. We cannot, under any circumstance, survive without strengthening the welfare arm of the state and the nation, without restoring it to what it once was. If that means paying higher taxes, so be it. Consider it a donation to those who, like Trent and Kristine, once found themselves in dire need of help and thought they had nowhere to turn.

  22. Wow, the article is pretty positive and uplifting and the comments are not…

    I really don’t think we are alonge BUT you have got to look for help my brother!

    I have felt similar failure and desperation when having been layed off twice and the worry about finding another income to provide for your family is just as overwhelming. But from those experiences I know you are not alone.

  23. Angie unduplicated says:

    I got through the childhood of abuse and the adulthood of stigmatization by reaching out. You have to make the first move in life to get anywhere, even if it’s only the first step off the bottom. The bigoted and boorish are “human resources”- there to be used. In a situation where you know you’re inconveniencing someone, these are the kind you inconvenience. Few people are total isolates, especially in the age of the Internet.
    About “lay vs. lie”-this, like the rule of “rearing” children instead of raising them, makes me wonder what kinds of scoundrels made the rules. Jerry Sandusky, for instance, is accused of “rearing” a boy and telling a lie. Skeptics rule!

  24. justin says:

    Treent you screwed up. 2012 is a leap year. 366 days for those bad at math.

  25. David says:

    Justine, you screwed up. Just because there is an extra day in the year, that is no reason to put an extra “e” in “Trent” (or indeed in “Justin”, but there are those to whom points need to be made without subtlety). Moreover, as would have been explained to you if you could read, the series started on January 2nd. Hence, today’s is the second of 365 instalments.

  26. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, I wasn’t referring to all people in abusive family situations but to the subset who do not have free access to the internet to search out resources and aid for their situations – in other words, the subset who really are alone. Granted that some of them may be too psychologically damaged to effectively use that access, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

  27. Scarlett says:

    Thanks for this positive and uplifting post. I’m going through some financial hard times at the moment but trying to stay positive and working to make changes. I’m new to The Simple Dollar, and I have really liked Trent’s perspective and attitude about finances and life in general.

  28. Evita says:

    Trent, your are one lucky guy, I hope you realize it.
    (I hated the post like so many others, but loved the photo!)

  29. valleycat1 says:

    The series is based on Trent’s book, which is titled 365 ways, not 366.

  30. Johanna says:

    Well, it looks like somebody is moderating comments after all.

    I am still confused about what the comment filter does. Why have a filter if you are not going to filter the F word?

    Anyway, back to the topic…

    Something to consider is that you can be alone in one respect but not in another. You can be surrounded by people that you should be able to trust to care about you – and maybe who really do care about you – but when you reach out to them about some particular thing, they let you down badly. Maybe they want very badly to believe that your problem is not real. Or maybe they’re just incapable of providing the support you need.

  31. AnnJo says:

    Claire, could you specify what time frame you have in mind as the one to which we should return in our welfare programs? My understanding is that we are now at the greatest level of government spending to GDP we’ve ever been outside of WWII (federal, state and local).

    By the way, I think you’re way off the mark in attributing subtlety to Trent. You may feel there’s an underlying conservatism there, and I feel there’s an underlying liberalism, but whatever it is, I’m quite sure it is guile-free.

  32. Johanna says:

    Part of the reason why government spending as a fraction of GDP is high, of course, is that the GDP is lower than it would be if we were at full employment. There are other reasons, too, that have nothing to do with the government itself getting bigger (which it has not done), but all this stuff has been explained to death elsewhere on the internet.

  33. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, if spending as a fraction of GDP is not a fair way of measuring whether government is getting bigger, then that leaves us with spending in absolute terms:

    1996 $2.72
    2000 3.24
    2005 4.4
    2006 4.7
    2007 4.92
    2008 5.34
    2009 5.94
    2010 5.92
    2011 6.05 (state/local proj.)
    2012 6.22 (proj.)

    Aside from a trivial drop between 2009 and 2010, there’s been a 128% increase in government spending in the last 15 years. How can that possibly reconcile with your claim that government is not getting bigger?

  34. Johanna says:

    “if spending as a fraction of GDP is not a fair way of measuring whether government is getting bigger, then that leaves us with spending in absolute terms:”

    LOL! Please try again, with a serious suggestion this time.

  35. AnnJo says:

    Johanna, why so mysterious? If spending relative to GDP doesn’t work, and spending in absolute terms doesn’t work, what exactly do you contend IS the correct way to measure whether or not government has grown bigger? Spending relative to Johanna’s personal preferences?

    Government simply has gotten bigger, except, as I mentioned earlier, relative to the WWII period. Granted, probably nowhere near as big as you’d like it, but why pretend otherwise?

  36. Steve says:

    AnnJo – actually it’s a 228% increase. I thought it was Trent that specialized in Fuzzy Math ;)

    I speculate (without looking up any figures) that the majority of the $3.5T increase was on prosecuting the overseas war campaigns (60% of the increase was between 2000 – 2008).

    Welfare programs have no doubt increased since 2008 but with the dive-bomb in the economy what would you expect?

  37. AnnJo says:

    Steve, spending is now 228% of what it was then, or the original amount plus a 128% increase. (A 100% increase would be a doubling.)

    The increase in the defense budget accounts for 17% of the ~ $3.5T increase. Remember that the figures I quoted were total government spending, including state/local.

    The argument Johanna and I were having is whether government is bigger, not whether the growth was justified, whether by wars or economic woes.

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