All Hail $$$: My Hoard and Savior
pussy paparazzi — punched out like a nazi — at my bat mitzvah we all got real sloppy — my drive to succeed’s more like a jalopy
I come from an upper middle-class, Jewish family, and was brought up in an affluent New York suburb. I know that I am extremely lucky — “blessed,” even — and that I am not truly at risk for imminent financial annihilation or homelessness. This is part of the reason why I almost don’t want to write this, but because it feels important to do so for me (and my cognitive distortions), I am. As with every single one of my other writings, I am speaking entirely for myself here, and do not intend any of this to be construed as a representative statement for any group or party outside of Maidenfed, LLC.
I am obsessed with the balance in my savings account.
I check in on it, making sure it’s still there — pure and untouched as fresh snow — several times a day. I use the bank’s website, the bank’s phone app, and even the bank’s many brick-and-mortar locations. The precise amount is irrelevant and need not be noted here. Pertinent data points: it is several times my monthly rent; it is largely comprised of the residue from my bat mitzvah earnings; it is sneering at me; it is hardly ever withdrawn from, even for necessities; it is my closest friend; it is my arch-nemesis.
I now understand that my firsthand witnessing of the upheaval prompted by mental illness and substance abuse is what activated — very surreptitiously — my extreme money anxiety. The relative in question was sent to a succession of therapists and facilities before I had much of any drug knowledge, and absolutely zero personal experimentation or experience. At some nodule on the timeline of their nascent recovery, I began to fret that all of my family’s money was being spent “fixing” them, and that there would be none left for me, should I ever need it.
And, heh, I did…eventually.
I don’t remember being consciously aware of these origins when they were taking root. A similar in-the-moment ignorance is true for several other fundamental motifs stemming from adolescence that have ended up molding so much of my current personality and life. The most glaringly obvious and over-referenced of these being: skater boys ignored me all throughout my adolescence, so I am presently seeking vengeance for this unjust snubbing. But in that 20/20 hindsight, the sources of my money mania are just as clear to me as the fact that my complete lack of pubescent male attention rendered me pathologically disposed to chasing comparable validation now — when it’s a little too late to be endearing.
I was never a spender. Yet like so many other thought-action linkages, the behavioral pattern of compulsively stockpiling money — even when I had “plenty” for my age, at least by others’ standards — was entrenched long before the psychosis beneath became discernible.
What I was and still am is a hoarder — of both things and money (in that order, originally). When I was little, I would insist on carrying around a battalion of dingy toys — largely-undressed Barbies with crude haircuts, the-once-collectible Beanie Babies, minuscule action figures from gumball machine-like contraptions at Pizza Hut — to arrange in various formations wherever I went. This solitary activity (if others wished to join in, they were usually met with an incredulous glare) predictably inhibited the full extent of ideal socialization. When I got a bit older, I went full-on klepto and pilfered whatever I could — rhinestone jewelry, clothes I was not nearly old enough to know what to do with, drugstore makeup, specks of lint — from my sister, then piled up the loot in my closet. I think it was the thrill of accumulation and excess and possibilities that made me continue this pursuit, despite there being no ambiguity that I was the source of the petty thievery.
Simultaneously, I began to amass a now-sprawling, completely unmanageable collection of printed matter, including books, magazines, playbills, catalogs, those real estate brochures in the supermarket, and comics. Upon purchase, I would often just superficially peruse them rather than actually read them. The appeal lay more in their potential for display, either in their original form (rarely) or torn out and pasted on a wall (frequently) to — hopefully — impress others with my mature aesthetic sensibilities. This speaks to the performative aspect of my ceaseless acquiring; I must have hoped that ensconcing myself in items of intrigue would, by osmosis, make me in to one.
Although my [cursory] research has been inconclusive, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a correlation between being excessively uncomfortable around people or within reality and being overly attached or attracted to particular non-sentient things. The comfort of being tucked away somewhere ostensibly safe with a legion of items of my own choosing — which, by design, lack the ability to stir up my ever-proliferating insecurities — stands in stark contrast to the unrelenting anxiety I feel out in “society.”
I eventually came to view a bloated stash of money as the ultimate incarnation of this, because a sack of cash is essentially a symbolic representation of all the possible things I could gather in my little kingdom. I find this to be preferable, because I tend to inevitably be left disappointed and unfulfilled when I do acquire those things that I thought would so dramatically ameliorate my unremarkable life. The first scrap of this evidence I can recall was the sad high school realization that turquoise eyeshadow doesn’t fix all your problems — even if you smear it all the way up to your eyebrow. Boys still passed me over for my gregarious friend Nina; I still couldn’t get Isaac, my guitar teacher, to fall in love with me; I still walked around with shards of popcorn kernel lodged in my braces.
And I still had no fucking idea who I was, who I wanted to be, or what I wanted to do with my life. Some things don’t change, am I right!
Another major aspect of this funds frenzy is the quest to redefine the meaning of “success.” My parents are not of the hard line that making money is all that matters; in fact, my mother swapped a lucrative career in law for the far humbler vocation of public school teacher. Still, I was reared in a town in which thriving within an academically competitive setting was rewarded with a college worth name-dropping, to be followed by the paradigm of a prestigious, remunerative career with a stereotypical nuclear family.
Now, I am tasked with the daunting hurdle of de- and re-programming my conception of what fulfillment and prosperity truly mean. As I write this, I am “celebrating” — aka gorging on blackberries following my weekly semi-public, tear-filled meltdown — exactly eighteen months and one day off drugs. Unfortunately, any such checkpoint serves primarily to remind me of all the years I spent in a state of stubborn somnambulism, not getting closer to anything worth reaching, including answers to the Big Questions.
Since getting sober, I have become more obsessive than ever about locking my money up in a checking account chastity belt. Rather than direct my savings towards worthwhile soul-searching and healthy pursuits — travel, classes, gym, “cultural activities” — I have instead convinced myself that it should all be stowed for some hypothetical future need. Often, I’ll deprive myself of what are arguably necessities (you should see what I generously designate a “bed”) in favor of the vague comfort provided by knowing I have some money — somewhere — for something — at some point.
Clarity is the double-edged sword of sobriety. After years upon years of avoiding facing the reality of my heretofore ineptitude in dealing with life, I can now see clearly — painfully so — how much I have to address in order to become a self-sufficient, adult Human Being. And since that already seems like a full-time job, the prospect of also ensnaring a reliable income appears rather impossible.
Aaaaand here’s where the sex work comes in.
Just today, I was at a women’s AA meeting, and we read “Listening to the Wind,” a Big Book story about a Native American woman’s drinking history and eventual recovery. I’ve always remembered this particular story because the woman discusses her double life as a “super-mom” during the day and a “drunken hooker” by night. Although it’s the only personal history in the literature (that I know of) to discuss engaging in sex work at length, it is predictably packaged as a major aspect of this specific woman’s bottom.
(Aside: Without fail, whenever sex work is mentioned in the rooms, I get incredibly revved up, and feel like it’s somehow my duty to “educate” everyone. The instances that have especially jolted and bothered me are those in which people refer to sex work as “selling themselves,” and that it’s the one icky thing they would never stoop to. I fully respect everyone’s personal limits and respective comfort levels, particularly on a subject as embattled as this. But it’s when sex work seems to be depicted as something practiced solely by an alien species, or — more often — as an activity assuredly symptomatic of “hitting bottom,” that I become extremely uncomfortable, especially considering the transparency valued in the program.)
When it came my turn to share, I once again found myself vocalizing my constant conflict with the role sex work plays in my life. After the usual blustering, I eventually heard myself say: “…if I decide to transition out of sex work, that doesn’t mean that I’m agreeing with the trope that this kind of job is necessarily self-destructive or immoral. I’m just making the best decision for myself, based on a huge number of factors.”
The fact is that, as with any other occupation — because that’s what sex work is: a job — there are endless pros and cons that I enumerate and mull over on a daily basis. Because this has been my primary source of income since college, there is a comfort level involved that is extremely cogent. Also, my lack of confidence in my abilities and qualifications for “above board” work is a key factor in my sticking around. As for the work itself, sometimes it’s genuinely rewarding; sometimes it’s exhausting and miserable. But — as you might assume from this article’s brilliant title — my focus right now is the money, the dough, the coin, the loot. It logically follows that if I am in a state of continual fretting over my suspected, irreparable shortcomings re: figuring life out, I want to have as much capital as possible to carry me through this — hopefully not indefinite — stage of Reality Integration.
I have been working on some amateur self-hypnosis, along the lines of the following incantation: Money is not a cure-all. Money comes and goes. Money does not make you happy. Money is an illusion.
But until that starts to have an effect: http://www.cash.me/$Maidenfed