Yesterday was a big day for me.
After two decades of carrying the burden, I finally paid off the last of my student loans.
I have to say, I was a little disappointed in Discover’s response to the zero balance. I wasn’t expecting anything too major, maybe just some balloons dropping down from the ceiling, applause coming through the speakers on my computer and a moderately-sized parade in front of the house. As it was, I had to make do with a sentence sandwiched between the ads for a credit card and a personal loan: “Congratulations. The balance on your student loan account is now zero.”
It’s been a long journey getting to this point. Much longer than planned-for or anticipated. Life is funny that way. And in so many ways, this slog back to financial health mirrored the emotional healing from divorce.
I don’t know what my credit score was on the day my world exploded. I refused to look. The last time I had checked, it was just above the 800 mark. But that was before my then-husband maxed out my credit cards, stopped paying my student loans and took out additional credit lines in my name.
I considered bankruptcy. The financial counseling session that I was required to complete as part of the pre-qualitification for the process left such a sour taste in my mouth. The advisor kept questioning my claims about my budget, unable to understand how I ended up in such a mess with a relatively frugal spending pattern. No matter how many times I explained what my husband had done, she didn’t seem to get it.
She blamed me. And I blamed me too. Not for spending the money, but for being so stupid as to allow it happen without my notice.
So I hung up and took out a pad of paper to work out how I could pay back the money on my teacher salary without resorting to filing for bankruptcy.
I had to be strategic. I wanted nothing more than for all of those debts to be instantly reduced to zero (and for my checking account to rise above sea level since he had left me with a negative balance). I yearned for my credit score to again be solid, instead of the shamefully low number that I knew I carried as a virtual scarlet letter, branding me as someone who didn’t have it together.
Over the next five years, I slowly and steadily paid off his parting gifts – a sum total of $80,000, if you include the legal fees that he was ordered to pay and never did. Three years after he left, I finally summoned the nerve to check my credit score. It wasn’t good, but I knew it was better than it had been. I understood that this wasn’t a quick fix. It may have been destroyed in an instant, but rebuilding was a long game.
But even then, with the bulk of the debt resolved, it wasn’t over. The foreclosure (yet another gift from my ex and a legal system ill equipped to deal with manipulators), still pulled down my credit score, an anchor to the past. And the student loans, which were supposed to be paid off (according to the financial plan I had with my then-husband) in 2012, had instead been relegated to minimum payments in order to focus on the accounts with higher interest rates first.
Last year, the foreclosure dropped off my record, instantly catapulting my credit score almost 70 points. And then yesterday, I wiped out the student loans, which should bring me back up to my starting place of just over 800.
It’s taken 9 years and 51 days to get here (But who’s counting?). There were certainly improvements along the way, some major and some so small that they were barely noticeable. But until yesterday, I didn’t feel as though it was “done.”
And that’s how the emotional work felt as well. I wanted it to be resolved quickly. I told myself that once the legal process was over, I would refrain from looking back. Yet just as the foreclosure pulled down my credit score, the divorce still weighed down my heart.
It was a long, slow climb back to emotional health and stability. Some days brought great improvement. Most heralded imperceptible improvements. And still others sent me tumbling backwards, leaving me bruised and fearful that I would never make the climb.
Yet, at some point, it happened. Unlike with the financial health, I don’t have a single event that I can point to where I was informed, “Congratulations. The balance on your emotional trauma has now reached zero.” But I can look back at my writing and see a difference. In 2016, there were still posts where I was struggling with trust and abandonment and vulnerability. In 2017, those are absent. And that continues. That doesn’t mean that life is always easy, but it does indicate that I am no longer responding to the events from the past.
Healing from anything requires taking the long view. It demands patience and persistence, especially in those times when progress feels sluggish and uncertain.
Keep at it. One day you’ll be able to look back and realize that it’s no longer a reality, simply a memory.