Hitting Rock Bottom


There I was, sitting in the bar, with Justin, my beloved best friend of almost fifteen years.

The tears were freely streaming down my cheeks and I didn’t care who could see me.

I knew, at that moment, that I was approaching rock bottom. Justin had just asked me the very hard question that needed to be asked. His ability to ask me those hard questions is the very reason I was sitting with him, on yet another Monday night, having margaritas.

I needed to hear the words he had said. I needed to open my heart and accept the very real possibility that he was right.

“And what if it all doesn’t work out Jess? What then?”

Two years ago, when my younger daughter was just three weeks old, my husband returned to work after his paternity leave. It was his first or perhaps second day back on the job after the birth of our second child.

I was sitting in my dining room, in front of my computer which we’d tucked into a large armoire, so I’d be able to do things in triple-time: work, nurse, and watch after my older daughter who was just over two at the time.

The home phone rang and I checked the caller ID to see that it was my husband calling. I answered and heard, “Hey hun, I’m coming home!” I was pretty surprised since he’d just left for his 3p-11p shift an hour or so earlier and wasn’t expected home until close to midnight.

“Oh really, why?” I inquired (secretly thankful that I’d have an extra set of hands for the remainder of the day). “Well, actually, I’m coming home for good, Jess. They dissolved my position. They’re shutting down my department.”

Landing like a punch in the stomach, I literally couldn’t speak. I just sat there and listened to the silence on the line.

By the time Michael got home, I had already come up with the plan, which I animatedly ran by him while the baby was bouncing around in my arms, trying to stay latched on to her best friend, my boob.

Within a day or so, we had it all figured out. Michael would become a stay-at-home Dad while Mommy turned her full attention to aggressively growing her already thriving bookkeeping business.

It was July of 2007 and I was full of hope, dreams, plans, and aspirations.

Business did increase and annual revenues in 2008 reflected that growth. The bottom line, however, did not.

In 2008 I made 50% less profits than I had in 2007. I was aware, every step of the way, of how the financials landed. Heck, I’m an accountant. I run a bookkeeping business. I know numbers. Numbers and I have a long history and a really great relationship.

But my life was miserable. I was working 65, 70, sometimes even 80 hours per week. My relationship with my family consisted of entirely ONE activity – nursing my young daughter while trying to continue working and intensely focusing on making it happen.

My bottom line failure was not, in any way, shape, or form, for lack of effort.

I’d simply created many jobs for other people! I’d grown my business so much so that I now had a huge team working with me, a lovely and fairly large office space, and more clients than I’d ever, quite frankly, imagined I would.

When I first started my business in January of 2006, my business plan projected a full and successful practice with 20 clients. I had at least twice that many and half as much income to show for it.

Something had to change. I’d known that for a while. I’d been trying, with all of my abilities, to fix the problem.

I was learning lesson after lesson, all of which were invaluable, but my life was in jeopardy.

Hence my Monday Night Margarita sessions with my beloved best friend.

A few days after Justin posed the pivotal “what if it all doesn’t work out” question, I ran away. Literally.

I felt as though I was on the verge of a mental breakdown, but I knew that completely losing it wasn’t going to help me or my family get out of this jam.

I needed to go somewhere alone, somewhere I could allow myself to feel every single bit of pain, fear, and chaos that I’d been holding deep within myself.

I went to Cape Cod.

I spoke to almost no one. I prayed. I thought about all of the conversations I’d had with my husband over the past 18 months. I reviewed all of the business challenges I’d faced, addressed, and attempted to solve. I thought about the future and what really matters to me the most.

I sat with my family’s household budget in front of me and I asked to be shown the way out.

I was willing to be surprised by the guidance I was requesting. I knew that in order to turn things around I had to be open to the idea of radical change.

And once I was in that safe space, after all the conversations and data gathering had been processed…

The answer became clear.

We could no longer afford to stay in our house. In complete and total surrender, I realized that my house had to be sacrificed in order to get my life back.

And, I could no longer saddle my business with the burden of becoming some big, super sized company that was expected to deliver me massive profits in order to support my massive mortgage.

Then, I threw up.

An hour or so later, I drove home. I chose to drive in complete silence. I kept an open mind and kept asking to be shown the silver lining.

“What good is there in this? Where is the love here, in this moment, of realizing that I have to give up EVERYTHING that I have slaved to save for the past two years?”

There, in the moving silence of the highway, I received an answer.

“You just need to take your job back. The job you love. And find a home that will serve you and your family as well as you serve it. Make space for who you really are and the people and activities you really love.”

Suddenly it all made sense again. I knew that the process of bringing things into right relationship would not be easy. I knew that it was going to hurt like hell at times.

And I knew that I was going to want to bulldoze through the process with breakneck speed just to get out on the other side of what felt like rock bottom.

I knew that I was okay with hitting rock bottom.

I just wasn’t okay with staying there for very long.

Before ever missing a single mortgage, business loan, or any credit card payment, my husband and I spent hours engaged in open and honest (and often very painful and substantially emotional) discussions with our parents (both sets), attorneys, and representatives at the mortgage lender.

We thoroughly attempted and explored getting help from our lender, but alas, just like the vast majority of other home owners out there who purchased their homes in the height of the market, our house, once worth hundreds of thousands dollars, was now worth almost $100K less than we paid for it. Even with the substantial amount of principal we’d paid in on our conventional, low-interest loans over the four years since we’d put 5% down, there simply wasn’t any solution that the lender was willing to provide.

And the degree to which my poor little business had been saddled with business debt in the attempt to grow through the periods of low profits based on skyrocketing infrastructure and staffing costs, well, she was asking for a way out too. And I was more than willing to listen to her, knowing that she would be able to support me and my family if I gave her a fair chance and met her needs throughout the process.

So over the next two months I learned more about filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy and surrendering a home through that same process than I ever imagined I would have reason to learn.

I hit rock bottom financially and immediately started to climb out of the hole.

I made radical changes in my business. I converted to a soul proprietorship (a term I’ve fallen in love with and hold near and dear to my heart) and then renamed and re-launched my bookkeeping business.

(I discovered the term “soul proprietor” amidst the flow of my journey on Karen Kingston’s blog. “soul proprietor: A noun, meaning a business person or entrepreneur who balances work with emotional and spiritual growth.”)

I was now, it suddenly seemed, making more of an income that I ever had in my entire life. I was fortunate enough that the bankruptcy process allowed me to keep my beloved, cherished, and amazing clients. And now, I immediately perceived, I had even more incredible experiences from which to draw on when working within my business. It was as though my well of money experiences had the bottom drop out and it was now an unlimited one!

Also, my husband and I went through the incredibly unexpected process of letting go of our forever-home (because on so many levels I had never let myself see just how fragile our home ownership status had become, until it became abundantly clear that we couldn’t keep the house).

Through grace and the altruistic assistance of others, we found that the climb out of bankruptcy and losing our home was steep, but steady.

Our solutions were unexpected, imperfect, and from the heart. But they worked.

Because now, here I sit, just months later – happier, healthier, and more blessed than I’ve ever been.

As a dear friend had so intuitively shared with me while I was experiencing this process: you’re taking the essence and shedding the form. And it’s true. After the process of radical change, almost none of the forms in my life remain the same as they were before. And her wise words were literally wings beneath me as I soared and sometimes struggled through the process of making these changes.

She also observed, “It’s a painful way to clear the decks, but at least they’re cleared and you can move forward with some ease now.”

When she’d mentioned that, I really had no idea just how significant the overall clearing was going to be. But she was completely accurate. Every deck in my life has been cleared and I’m now standing tall and proud upon a strong and stable foundation that has been created through a Divine process.

For I could not have taken this journey without my connection to the Divine. Nor could I have done it alone.

As I have so vividly learned through experience, practical application of knowledge, even extensive and specialized knowledge, is often not enough to succeed when it comes to matters involving money and business. While you certainly cannot get by very well without crunching the numbers, sometimes even crunching the numbers and interpreting them just isn’t enough. It’s a good place to start, but you can’t stop and rest there.

I discovered, throughout the raw intensity of the past two years, that I needed to utilize my mind, engage my heart, and talk about it – it being my challenges with money and business. I needed to talk about it a lot. And I had to have those conversations with someone I could trust, someone who could stand next to me while I fell into pieces, sometimes unable to even put words to my tears.

It took the spiritual container of a daily spiritual practice (Remembrance) and the grace of G-d showing up for me in my husband, family, friends, colleagues, physical belongings, places, and even in time, for me to deconstruct both myself and the money matter at hand.

And now, here I stand. Ready to share what I have learned with all those who are needing what I have to offer to the world.

I’m honored and ready. Ready to share my story, witness your struggles, help you navigate your seemingly insurmountable life circumstances, your challenges in business and with money, and understand what you are going through.

My younger daughter turned two this past Tuesday (06/23/09), twelve days after we moved into our new home. This retreat-like getaway of a home where I now peacefully exist with my beloved family and my beloved business. My family and I are now in right relationship. My daughters get to spend time with me. I am actually able to witness their lives and take part in them too. And my bookkeeping practice is thriving. We have enough and I am enough.

I’ve got my REAL life back and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

The least I can do is show up, fully, and be a guide along this path for others who are lost and wandering, the way I was, over these past two years. I am the friend you can trust with your messy life stuff.

Because I’ve been there and I not only understand and can apply the practical knowledge, which anyone can learn, if they are willing, but I can also sit with you, in those moments, when the world is crashing down and you just don’t know which way to turn.

I’m here.

I’ve survived, I’m thriving, and you can too!

(Originally written on Jun 28, 2009 @ 11:11 AM)

If you’re curious to see how my personal and professional story continues, read on about 2010 in It’s a Love Affair.

Wondering if YOU could use my help?