I found myself having to shop for a new car last week, an activity most people seem to enjoy, but was not an experience I was looking forward to.
Initially, I thought my discomfort was mostly the anxiety of having a payment again. I’ve worked really hard over the last few years to be more financially responsible, but lately it’s felt like I’m taking one step forward and three steps back. And while the end of my current car’s life wasn’t entirely unexpected, I thought I had more time. We always think we have more time.
But when I went for my annual inspection, I learned the car needs more than it’s worth. Its time is up.
I didn’t do my homework when I bought my little orange car seven years ago. I liked it, so I bought it. The experience was not so good, though, because the dealer pressured me to pay a lot of more than I should. And not long after, it started to have problems that weren’t covered under warranty.
So when I set out last week to find something new, I was determined to make a more responsible choice. I started with my budget, pulling out potential memberships and activities I could cut, if needed. Then I stopped to recognize I am fortunate to have things I can cut. Some aren’t so lucky. Gratitude can help to get through stressful times.
I came up with a number and started looking at my options, eventually narrowing my choice down to two. One of them I liked better, but the other was more affordable. I almost settled for the cheaper option, but my gut told me to hold off. So I went back and asked the other dealer to match the price of the first car, and she did. Sometimes we settle for things without recognizing we can have what we want. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking for it.
I thought I ended the week on a high note, but something was still bothering me. I’m getting a new “toy” with all the fun little bells and whistles of my old one, but an upgraded version that shouldn’t have any major problems for a while. I made a smarter financial decision this time. And it’s looking like I’m not going to have to cut the fun stuff from my budget. I should be happy, right? But I wasn’t.
Then I came across something online this morning that helped me recognize my problem: Change is hard. Even positive changes in our lives can be difficult. We sometimes hold onto things – jobs, bad relationships, worn out material possessions – that no longer serve us because we’re familiar with them, even if the familiarity brings discomfort.
Take my car for instance. I’ve been avoiding drive-through windows for the last three years because a switch is broken in the window, making it difficult to go back up when I roll it down. I’ve gotten into the habit of checking the oil every other fill-up because it burns one to two quarts between changes. I still change it about every 3,000 miles.
Then there’s the inhibitor switch, which is the first problem I had after buying the car. I’ve dealt with it the entire time I owned the car because it was merely an inconvenience and wasn’t a budget-friendly fix. Basically it means that the car doesn’t recognize it’s in Park, causing the shifter not to work without intervention.
Initially, it meant that the car wouldn’t even start unless I first shifted it into neutral. But then two years later something interesting happened.
Some might call this God’s work, or cosmic intervention, but at the very least, it was coincidental. The same week I started a program to help me deal with how addiction and alcoholism in my family has affected me, it started working on its own. I left work one day, and not thinking about it, I just turned the key. It started. I’ve never had to start it in neutral since.
But the problem wasn’t entirely fixed. It starts in Park, but the shifter doesn’t always move. It’s about 50/50. Someone I know figured out I can stick a pen tube into a hole to get it unstuck. So that’ how I’ve been dealing with it.
The interesting thing is, at times it has gone for several weeks without me having to use the pen. But then, usually when life is extra stressful, that’s when I have a problem.
About the same time I learned the pen fix, I also discovered it was burning oil. That was also about three years ago, when the window switch broke.
These things happened during a major transition in my life, and I dealt with them because I had to.
But with the help of the program I was in, I started to make connections to the issues I was having with my car and my personal life. Coincidentally, the car burned more oil during times I wasn’t taking care of myself. God or cosmic intervention, I don’t know. But at the very least, I learned to check myself every time the car started to act up.
The thing you learn in recovery programs is that often people affected by another person’s addiction neglect themselves while trying to save the person who is addicted. Eventually, you learn to save yourself.
The most difficult thing I have had to do, multiple times now, is walk away from someone I love, and live my own life while they are destroying their own.
Maybe I’m a little more attached to my car than I should be. The extra effort it required helped me learn to take care of myself. Getting rid of it almost feels like abandonment, even though I tell myself, “Geez, Sarah, it’s just a car.”
But really, I think it has more to do with recognizing I am no longer the person I used to be. I have had some very difficult challenges over the last few years, and those challenges have helped me grow.
The new car represents all the new in my life. It is my ability to let go of all the familiar, yet uncomfortable circumstances I used to tolerate.
I want to hold on to my old car, as much as I feel pulled to try to help people who don’t want to save themselves. And yet I know I need to let go. It’s time.