For Love or Money, My Struggle With Control

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

control

What’s the old adage?  A Fool and his money are soon to be parted?  Author Kurt Langner once said, “Love is a gift.  You can’t buy it; you can’t find it, someone has to give it to you.  Learn to be a recipient of that gift.”  Cliché as it sounds, there is a reason some sayings are considered cliché:  because those words hold truth.  My personal truth concerning love, money and control took a while to uncover.  I might have love; I might have money; I might appear to have control; or sometimes in our lives we might be lucky enough to acquire just enough of each.  The greatest lesson of money management and emotional fulfillment I’ve ever encountered and came to accept was that finances and attachment worked totally independent from one another and not in conjunction.  For too much of my life one became interchangeable currency for the other.

(Read part one here.)

controlAs most adolescents do at some juncture, I couldn’t wait to leave home, almost obsessively so.  I spent hours alone in my bedroom planning my escape, and the day that adulthood would make its arrival.  While I should have been extremely grateful just to have a place to lay my head at night, I, instead, was dreaming about doors that locked showers that ran hot for more than five minutes at a time, clothes fresh from the dryer instead of stiff from a clothes line, and most importantly a thermostat that I alone controlled.  Looking back, control was the common thread that ran through the fabric that pieced together my life.  I felt as if there was very little I could control at the time, so I was determined to control my future.  We all know that thinking is quite flawed.  Although our choices mostly determine our future, there are outside forces and other human being in which I would never be able to control, but I fooled myself into totally believing the latter, while totally abandoning the notion that my future could be best foreseen by my own personal choices, instead of the actions of external forces. I convinced myself that the more money I lavished on someone, the longer they might stick around.

controlI felt in control because I controlled the purse strings. This mindset attracted all the wrong people. People interested in my ability to pick up the tab.  The truth was I felt as if my internal struggles were so far beyond my skill set that my best option was to live with the constant chaos of my poor choices and to focus on the exterior.  A recurring theme for me during this period of time was this: If everything appeared well and good on the outside, then it really didn’t matter what was going on as long as everything looked perfect and no one uncovered the truth.  The truth was I was an emotional mess.

controlWhat’s the best way to help a lonely young girl with no idea who she is?  Give her an inheritance.  That’s exactly what happened.  The money left after the death of my parents had lain in an account growing healthily over the years.  At the ripe old age of 21, I gained unfettered access to a lump sum of cold hard cash.  It, by no means, was a fortune, but it amounted to far more than I should have been able to get my hands on anytime I pleased, either.  That money nearly destroyed my life. I engaged in high risk behavior with many people who didn’t deserve my company. I drank too much. I was vulnerable before the alcohol….. With the alcohol I was a train wreck. The morning after was filled with shame, hence the need to numb myself further.  I could have done something productive, like invest it I suppose, but at the time I lacked the ability to plan for the future.  I find this fact completely ironic, because I had indeed spent the majority of my adolescence planning for the future, for control of my life, and then when the time came to be an actual adult; my impulsivity demanded I live for the here and now.  What became so dangerous was that I actually had the means to act recklessly without any consequences, at least temporarily.

controlAt first, the money gave me a sense of security.  Not having to worry about finances was the safest I’d felt in years.  I was safe to do as I wished.  I worried obsessively about appearances.  I had the funds to buy the best of everything; I had to have everything now, as if it were a matter of life or death.  The fuller my closet became, the emptier I felt.  I traded in my ability to value myself for things.  I figured I had earned this inheritance by being unwillingly burdened by grief from an early age.  All of the stuff that I bought was the consolation prize for being an orphan more years of my life than not.  Since I equated the spending of a dollar with love, I spent so much time and money trying to convince myself I was worthy of love.  Most people work hard for their money, so choosing to spend it on another is an act of selflessness.  The same mentality didn’t apply to me.  Up to that point, I hadn’t earned much, so I didn’t respect the freedom money brings.

Because I lived only for the moment I did anything required to make myself feel safe and relieved of any emotional discomfort, if only for a little while.  I would’ve rather spent my money on people that never loved me, or even cared about me just so I wouldn’t have to be alone.  Eventually, these people would disappear faster than dew on summer grass.  I was abandoned even though I had been generous.  I used this as evidence to add to my internal stockpile of belief that at my core, I was innately unlovable.  No matter how many pizzas or purses I purchased I remained to feel desperately deprived of unconditional love.

The irony during this period, was that, for the majority of my young life, I longed to be financially secure and stable, and to enjoy the small luxuries that such stability brings, but from the moment I had the funds to take care of myself nicely if I was wise, I used it to create chaos and self loathing.

controlOne day in 1999, I woke up to the realization that I was broke.  The truth was I was broke and broken.  It’s strange how I began to build a life of substance when all I had to offer the world was myself, in the imperfect package I was.  I discovered I possessed a few other resources along the way to adulthood: like intellect and wit, with a little dash of humor.  I found myself working on myself because I had no more windfalls to use as camouflage.  I began to see myself for who I was, and I liked that girl.  So did many other people.  All the frills had been stripped away and what was left was an actual human being with an iron will, a big heart, and a self awareness I’d never before known.  It was then, I knew, I would never trade those things for all the money in the world.

Read more of Miranda’s work.

Miranda
Miranda Cipkowski
Miranda Cipkowski is a teacher in a small town in Mississippi, working with at-risk children. Miranda has written for a local paper, contributed to the blog Think Through Math, and she has participated in the This I Believe Project. She has won many awards for her poetry and her teaching. Miranda loves to participate in her community with her husband and three children.
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