The Financial Effects Of Trauma: How An Assault Completely Changed My Relationship With Money

Disclaimer: This post discusses sexual assault and suicidal ideation. Please only continue reading if you feel it is healthy for you to do so.

In the age of #MeToo, there have (thankfully) been countless conversations started about the impact of sexual assault. But one repercussion is often overlooked: the financial impact of experiencing trauma.

Last year, that impact became a personal reality for me. When I was sexually assaulted last spring, my entire life was up-ended — including my relationship with money. From my emotional state to my impulsive spending, everything fell apart. Now, I’ve suffered from mental illness since childhood. So, when I got assaulted, I was already actively in therapy, on medication, and regularly practicing self-care activities. I’m grateful for that fact, because many women (and other victims of sexual assault) struggle to find timely treatment.

But, despite this robust support system, my entire life was still in pieces. Fresh trauma throws a wrench in even the most intensive of treatment plans. After getting sexually assaulted, I desperately tried to feel better using all of my usual coping skills. I sought specialized trauma counseling, which I attended in addition to my regular psychotherapy. My doctor increased the dosage of my medications. I ramped up my personal meditation practice. I was hospitalized on psychiatric units — multiple times. Still, nothing seemed to help.

Frustrated with my lack of progress, I began spending impulsively, racking up thousands of dollars in credit card debt. I spent money on anything that could make me feel better — stays at lavish hotels, shopping trips at the mall, and way too much alcohol. None of these were long-term solutions to my trauma (especially not alcohol abuse), but I didn’t care. I had tried everything I was “supposed” to do — the therapy, the meds, the self-care, the hospitalizations. And still, there I was — distressed and suicidal — with seemingly no way out.

Deep down, I knew that I was digging myself into an even bigger hole: massive amounts of debt. I should specify that I didn’t have the money for any of those expensive purchases — I am low-income and largely survive off disability support. So, not only was my impulsive spending not really helping anything — it was getting me into even more trouble.

I’ve never been great with finances, but before the assault, I was at least not horrible with money. Sure, I wasn’t great at budgeting, but I knew the difference between the money in my bank account and the “imaginary money” I could spend using my credit card. But after the assault, all of that went out the window. I threw caution to the wind and justified any ridiculous purchase with the fact that I felt horrible, so I deserved to do something nice for myself. It was the “treat yourself” mentality on overdrive. My logic was, Who cared if I dug myself into tons of debt? I didn’t plan on living much longer, anyways.

Eventually, after months of reckless spending, I decided that I had to do something about my money situation. It was only getting worse, and I seriously needed to get my act together. I wandered into my local bookstore, searching for some kind of book to help me learn about money.

I perused the finance section, skimming through a few different titles. Eventually, I landed on The Financial Diet. The cute, pink cover caught my attention, and a cursory glance at the style of writing seemed enjoyable to read. So, I spent the $20 or so, and went home to read it. Over the next few months, I dove into The Financial Diet and eagerly learned what Chelsea had to say. Again, I wasn’t horrible with money before the assault, but I definitely had a lot to learn. For the first time, I started to understand the principles behind budgeting, debt repayment, and the building of an emergency fund.

I didn’t magically become good with money overnight. This was a process that took many, many months. But, gradually, the impulsive spending slowed down, and I made a comprehensive debt repayment plan. I seriously thought about my credit score for the first time in my life, and I made a real effort to improve it. I also started budgeting. I’d always used Mint for an overview of my cash flow, but I actually started making a real effort. I experimented with methods like the envelope system and the all-cash diet. Eventually, I landed on an app I liked (Daily Pay). I began setting monthly and weekly budgets, which I mostly stuck to.

And today, I’m in a radically different place with my finances. I’ve learned the basics of money. The book made the whole concept easy enough to understand, and I heavily related to Chelsea’s own story of dealing with anxiety and an initial lack of education about finances.

I’ve gotten to a point where budgeting actually feels fun to me. I enjoy digging into my financial situation, recognizing issues, and solving problems. I find it empowering to take hold of my money and actually spend it in a way that’s responsible for me. Much like that satisfying feeling you get after giving your home a deep-clean, cleaning up your act financially is extremely relieving. I finally found my way out of irresponsible spending habits. I’m not perfect — I still spend impulsively from time to time, and I’ll occasionally go a bit over my weekly budget. But when that happens, I take stock of those mistakes and re-evaluate my budget for the next week, cutting back accordingly to make up for the extra expenses.

My mental health didn’t change overnight, either. I’m still in therapy, on several psychiatric meds, and meditating regularly. But through lots of hard work on that front, I’ve been able to come out of the worst of it. Thankfully, I never ended up attempting suicide, and I haven’t been in the hospital for almost an entire year (which is a big deal for me).

Getting better with money takes hard work, and so does improving your mental health. And it’s not fair that we, as victims of sexual assault, have to deal with these huge upheavals of our daily lives. Frankly, it sucks. But, thankfully, there is a way out. Putting in the work — in both areas — will eventually pay off.

I’m grateful that I stumbled upon The Financial Diet. And I’m grateful that, as a Canadian, I was able to receive medical care which was covered by my government health plan. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had access to those resources, and I’m happy that I used them in a timely manner. So, if you’re dealing with trauma, going through a rough time, or simply struggling with your finances, know that help is out there. It will be difficult, it will be time-consuming, and it will often feel uncomfortable. But putting in the work is worth it, and you really will get better over time.

*****

If you are dealing with thoughts of suicide, there are resources to help you. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 in the USA. More info available here

If you have been a victim of sexual assault, you can also contact RAINN at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) within the USA. More info available here.

If you so choose, you can also contact your local authorities using 9-11 emergency lines for both mental health crises and reports of rape/sexual assault.

Mercedes Killeen is a Toronto-based professional author and editor. You can purchase her book of poetry, tulips, at greyborders.com and order her freelance services at fiverr.com/killeenm.

Image via Unsplash

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