How $32,000 of Credit Card Debt Became My Ticket to Liberation

How $32,000 of Credit Card Debt Became My Ticket to Liberation

on Feb 5, 2013 in Livelihood+Financial Liberation | 11 comments

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons: Images of Money

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons: Images of Money

You may have seen me mention in other places on this website that one of my first and most significant journeys of liberation was getting myself out of a large amount of credit card debt. A number of people have asked me about this so I thought I’d share the story here.

In 2009, I completed the final step on an eight-year journey to pay off $32,000 of credit card debt. It happened the moment I mailed one last check to Citibank to pay off my account with them. I can’t begin to tell you how great that felt.

While $32,000 might not seem like a lot for some folks, it was a huge for me given that when that eight-year period started in 2001, my annual income was $19,000.

If you had told me back then that one day I would actually be grateful for this experience, I would never have believed it. I would have thought you were crazy.

But facing my debt — and getting myself out of it — turned into a vehicle for waking up to some deeper truths and building strength in areas of my life that I had carefully avoided.

Some of the gifts gained during what I now call my “Debt Liberation Quest” have included:

  • more mindfulness of my resources
  • learning how to ask for help
  • valuing my time and skills
  • practicing generosity, persistence, and patience

How I Fell Into the Debt Hole­

In January 2001, I was in the middle of a perfect money storm: a combination of bad financial decisions from the previous years, a large student loan from graduate school in the 90s, several thousand dollars of medical bills during a time when I was uninsured, and several years of low-paying jobs.

My debt hole, as I called it, was pretty deep. Definitely deeper than my annual income.

It was so bad that I couldn’t bring myself to figure out exactly how much I owed. I only knew that the total of the minimum monthly payments for each of my credit cards was almost half of my monthly income.

I took a deep breath and braced myself to add up all my credit card balances:

  • Card #1: $10,096
  • Card #2: $9,798
  • Card #3: $7,174
  • Card #4: $2,984
  • Card #5: $1,896

There it was, the cold hard truth: a total of $31,948 of credit card debt. And then there were student loans from three years of graduate school: another $52,000. Total debt: nearly $84,000.

My savings account? I didn’t have one.

I knew it was bad but I didn’t know it was that bad. I stared at the numbers for a long hard while and felt sick to my stomach. A feeling defeat came over me, as well as disgust that I had let this go on for this long. What was I going to do?

Then something happened.

Maybe it’s a survival instinct, like the adrenaline that kicks in when you’re chased by a hungry bear and you run faster than you ever thought possible. Something similar rose up from deep inside me as I looked at those numbers. I promised myself that I would pay that money off and never let it happen again. Denial was no longer an option. For reasons that I’ll share next week, I didn’t want to go the route of bankruptcy either.

I vowed that I would never add another penny of interest to my debt. And with one exception (more on that next week), I’ve kept that promise to myself.

How I Found My Way Out

On that January day in 2001, I was 39 years old. I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, one of the most expensive housing markets in the U.S. My monthly take-home pay from freelance editing and a part-time job was about $1,800, if I was lucky. The journey out of that amount of debt seemed impossible, but I knew deep in my heart that I had to find a way to do it.

So how did I get from there to where I am today, finally having zero credit card debt and a much healthier personal financial situation?

The process was both spiritual and financial. I learned that it wasn’t enough to read books about money, and it wasn’t enough to recite prosperity affirmations. I had to find out how to bring both those threads together in a way that made sense for me. Ultimately, I developed 10 steps that helped me to find my way out of credit card debt. I’ll write about these in next week’s post.

Being in debt is not only a financial reality, it’s an energetic state. When we’re in debt we owe our energy to someone or something outside of ourselves. The years that I had credit card debt weighed down on me like a physical sensation, like carrying a heavy burden. Now there is more lightness to my being and when I use the word “liberation” to describe it, that’s not a stretch.

George Sand once wrote, “One changes from day to day…every few years one becomes a new being.” In those eight years, my passage from debt to solvency gave me a chance to birth a new “me.”

As I learned how to be more goal-oriented with my finances, this translated to other parts of my life.  I learned the deeper meaning of “investment.” Where was I investing my energy, time, and love? What was the return on my investment, and was it worth it? I began to apply these questions to every part of my life, not just my finances.

And now, four years later, I am still credit card debt-free. Although $30,000 of student loans remains (down from the original $52,000), the difference is I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. And it’s a light that I turned on myself.

Part 2: 10 Steps to Freedom from Credit Card Debt

I’m guessing some of you might have a similar story. I invite you to share in the comments below if you’ve had an experience like this with your finances, and how you got yourself to a better place and found financial freedom.


I’d love to stay in touch with you! When you sign up for my mailing list, you’ll receive my monthly newsletter with reflections on life and liberation, as well as my e-book, “9 Keys to a Liberated Life.”



  1. Awesome post, Maia! Thanks for your authenticity and courage in sharing your struggle, and the way you moved through it not only financially but spiritually. You grew from it, and that’s a great gift to yourself, and to us!

    Ursula Jorch

    February 11, 2013

  2. I am glad you are focusing on this subject, Maia. My financial hole was created by similar circustances and a big dose of lack of awareness…a health incident ended my work of 25 years and my 10-year relationship which also meant my losing the home we’d just bought together. Start from scratch at 52.

    I started new work but it did not pay the bills, and down the rabbit hole I went, ignorant of how serious a glitch thinking that buying food and gas, etc on a card is OK…the debt built up at a frightening rate, and I eventually realized it was time to let go of believing that the work I was doing would pay everything off and bring prosperity

    I no longer use credit cards, and have lived on what I receive for 4 years now…it has caused some sleepless nights, but I continually learn to keep moving forward and trust that all is well, and am focusing on the deeper essence and meaning of money as a spirit-based energy. That is a big focus for me this year, and many gifts are coming with that.

    I just received certification as a Soul Art Guide (celebration!) and am enjoying a journey that is true to my deeper self. As I walk myself through a money transformation year, I look forward to being able to share what works.

    I look forward to more of your story and what is working for you…




    February 7, 2013

    • Hi Stede,

      Thank you for sharing your story here. You know, I think part of our collective healing around money is to do exactly this, to talk about how we have related to money in our life and where we are at now. It is often a taboo subject (one of the few left!), but I believe that by naming it and talking about the lessons we’ve learned, we do help to shift our relationship to money to a healthier place.


      Maia Duerr

      February 11, 2013

  3. Thank you for writing about this, Maia. For many reasons, money has always (in my adult life) been a source of anxiety and stress for me. I am getting to a more empowered place, but I still have to fight the feeling of hyperventilation that starts building when I work with my finances. I am working to pay off the last of three credit cards of debt that I acquired when faced with enormous vet bills in the fall of 2011. Although my precious dog Andy and I lost the battle we were fighting, I will never regret trying to save him. Paying off the bills through serious self-discipline and determination is an important part of my healing process from one of the most painful (for many reasons) experiences of my life. I am not there yet. The bill that remains is my largest of the three, but to have paid off two of the three in just over a year since Andy died feels like an accomplishment. I know that I will get there. I look forward to the liberation that I will feel. I admire what you have done, Maia, and I truly appreciate your sharing your story. I am sure I can learn from you.

    Sheri E Barnes

    February 7, 2013

    • Sheri, I can really, really relate to what you shared here. I went through a similar experience with my beloved 17-year-old cat just a few months into starting to repay this debt. I write more about it in the post that will come out tomorrow. But I hear you — absolutely no regrets about using that money to help your beloved friend, Andy.

      Maia Duerr

      February 11, 2013

      • Hi, Maia,

        I have gotten behind on email this week, so I actually read your post last night, before I just now read your reply to me. When I read your post about your experience with your much-loved cat, of course it resonated with me, and I realized that you would understand the absolute necessity for me of spending the money I did to try to save Andy. Some people don’t understand, so I really appreciate those who do. If I am ever in a situation where I can share my life with an animal companion again (which I have done for my entire life until after Andy’s death), I hope that I will be somewhat more financially prepared for any veterinary crisis that could occur–vet insurance, more savings, higher personal income, etc. But, you are so right, no regrets about the money spent. I know I would have them, however, if I had given up on Andy without giving him every chance I could.

        Thanks for your understanding and for sharing your story. It gives me hope and encouragement.


        Sheri E Barnes

        February 16, 2013

  4. In a word: self-discipline. It felt so burdensome to carry thousands of dollars in debt that despite being a single mother with about $1400 a month in income, I vowed that I would pay the absolute maximum towards my credit card debt each month before I spent money on ANYTHING unnecessary (beyond shelter & food). It took three years, but my debt was “only” $15,000. Still, it really was the decision to discipline myself, and every month it got easier because it was so empowering to make that decision and stick to it. Good post, Maia.

    Naima Shea

    February 6, 2013

    • Naima, I can really relate to what you wrote here. I also found that self-discipline was the key to getting out of debt, and I’ll write more about that next week and how it manifested in detail. The desire to free oneself from debt has to take precedence over almost anything else during that period of time, but I think the key is to tie that desire to a vow to empower ourselves around our financial reality. Then it is fueled from a positive place, and that to me is much more sustainable over the long run.

      Maia Duerr

      February 7, 2013

  5. P.S. During a previous experience with debt (several years ago) I used Jerrold Mundis’ book, How to Get out of Debt, Stay out of Debt and Live Prosperously to good effect: it is still on my bookshelves, although I have not achieved prosperity yet. Two of the most useful exercises are tracking my income and making a monthly spending plan.

    Sharyn Dimmick

    February 5, 2013

    • Sharyn, thanks so much for sharing your experience here, as well as the recommendation of Mundis’ book on getting out of debt.

      It’s been an honor to watch you make progress on some of your financial and livelihood goals while you took the “Fall in Love with Your E-Course,” and beyond… anonymous angels are wonderful, aren’t they!

      Maia Duerr

      February 5, 2013

  6. I am looking forward to reading more of your story, Maia. As you know, I fell into debt in the fall by making a decision to put some dental work on my credit card. Bad move — at the time I had next to no income. I went into a flurry of garage sales, selling books and then started singing on the street. Each week or two weeks I would send whatever I could spare to my VISA account, chipping away at it. Then, in December, an anonymous angel sent me the balance due on my card (about $240).

    I am once again debt-free. I use my credit card as little as possible and pay the balance by the due date — if it doesn’t look like I’ll have the money, I don’t use the card. Meanwhile, I’ve continued busking: the most recent decision I have made about that is if I don’t make at least ten dollars in my two-hour morning shift I will go out again in the afternoon for a limited second shift. I did a writing practice presentation in December that garnered me one writing student so I now have two sources of income (up from none in September). Baby steps.

    Sharyn Dimmick

    February 5, 2013


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