A life sentence of shame
A reader's experience of bankruptcy 18 years ago, thanks to her partner's spendthrift ways, remains a secret and still fills her with a sense of failure
Bankruptcy is something that happens to someone else. Perhaps someone you know? Then it becomes a relish of gossip, a wonder of scandal and schadenfreude and gratitude that it isn't you. But it was me. In 1989, and for the subsequent three long years, I was a bankrupt, a disgrace.
I told my very immediate family, some of whom distanced themselves immediately, and two friends. No one else knew, and they still don't.
To the rest of the world, I carried on with the farce of my daily existence while everything around me had disintegrated. And even now, 15 years after I was discharged, it remains the skeleton in my cupboard.
Please understand that until I was 40, I had never had a debt in my life or, indeed, any kind of credit, apart from a tiny mortgage in my thirties. I had always been careful with my money. I was respectable.
He, though, was a Walter Mitty: a serial liar and a fantasist. But he was also the love of my life and truly, love is blind.
I'm not the first and I won't be the last. He had all the big ideas and I had all the money.
Naive and gullible, infatuated, all caution swept away by his heady enthusiasm and silver tongue, I didn't read the small print. Even when the bank suggested that I take independent advice before signing an unlimited guarantee.
It didn't take long. Less than three years later, overnight, I lost everything I had earned since I was 17.
Twenty-five years of honest toil, decent salary, savings and investments -- gone. House -- gone. Along with my respectability. I think it was the respectability I minded most.
Stupid? Yes. Dishonest? No, but the law does not distinguish between the two. I didn't even have youth as an excuse. I was almost 42. A bankrupt. I felt dirty, untrustworthy.
After an interview with bankruptcy officials, I handed over my jewellery to be picked over and sold off cheaply at an insolvency auction, and then went home on the bus because I had had to surrender the keys of my car. I lied about the reasons for selling my house.
My name and address were published and the local paper as a bankrupt. I had to hope that no one from work read it.
If people seemed more delighted than usual to see me, I suspected that it was a clumsy way of cheering me up. I hid from social contact and relatives.
Three years later, I became a discharged bankrupt. I had expected to feel different, to feel free and happy, but all I felt was flat and worn out, a total anti-climax. I rang the officials to ask what happened next.
"Nothing" was the answer. "You are free to resume your normal life."
I couldn't remember what that was. I seemed to have been bankrupt for ever. Certainly the stench and the shame has taken its toll.
Murderers come out of jail having served their sentence but they are still a murderer because the person they killed is still dead. I was discharged 15 years ago but I still owe those debts.
I am technically still a bankrupt and there is no time in the future when I will not be one. A social leper. Dishonourable. I live with a life sentence of shame.
My partner left me; I have been alone ever since. How do you say to a prospective new partner that you are an ex-bankrupt?
I ended up moving house, and away from the area. I felt I had to move after someone I hardly knew sidled up to me in the street and said, with some delight: "Saw your name in the paper, sorry about that."
I am sure it must puzzle my new neighbours that I drive a 24-year-old car, live in jeans and rarely go out. They accept me as a middle-aged spinster who lives with and looks after a very old mother, so they don't look too closely.
Now that I am retired, I am not very interesting.If I see my relatives now, I feel ashamed because I know I have let them down as well as myself and, although we all try to act normally, I feel I can still detect the pity and the anxiety, so I try to spare us all embarrassment and avoid them as much as possible.
I have friends but, because they don't know my shameful secret, inside I am isolated and lonely.
Life after bankruptcy goes on, but it is never the same.
Honour and self-respect have died and there is nothing to replace them. Self-esteem -- there is none.
Just a nagging fear of further failure and a floundering effort to live with the daily memory and the lifetime repercussions of my dishonourable past and shameful secret life -- as a bankrupt. Do you have a compelling true life story? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org