Financially Naked

A mysterious illness. A sensuality retreat. And $15,000 I’ll never get back

By: Suzannah Weiss on August 20, 2020
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Money is wrapped up in all kinds of unpleasant emotions. Shame, embarrassment, fear, regret. We all experience these feelings about our money at one time or another, but we’ll be damned if we actually talk about it. To help eliminate the stigma around making mistakes with our money, or feeling scared about our financial security, we’re introducing Financially Naked — a series where people have the space to bare all about their most vulnerable financial experiences, mistakes, and regrets. Because let's face it: we all have them.

Three glints. Illustration.

My first few years out of college, I was the definition of a workaholic. I’d often spend 80+ hours a week writing, and saved money to the point of compulsion. There was nothing in particular I was saving for, but I’d get a high each time I looked at the rising number in my bank account. After five years, I saved US$300,000. But when I came down with a mysterious illness in 2018, at the age of 27, all that went out the window. I started experiencing bladder pain, insomnia, heart palpitations, among other symptoms. And I began spending my hard-earned savings left and right in a desperate attempt to recover.

I had the sense that healing required a complete overhaul of my life and how I treated myself. So on top of seeking traditional medical treatments, I threw my money toward any and all life coaches, spiritual healers, and holistic practitioners who claimed to have an answer. One such person was a sex and sensuality coach whom I spoke with over Zoom a couple times a week about improving my relationship with my body and incorporating more pleasure into my life. “Fun is an honourable goal” was her motto. Our conversations spanned everything from mindfulness to masturbation techniques. Amid strife with my parents over how my health should be handled, this coach became like a mother figure to me. 

When she emailed me the US$15,000 contract, I didn’t have the energy to read it or negotiate it. . . I signed it immediately

She happened to be running a week-long women’s retreat in Italy that fall, which she invited me to join. It would involve discussions and exercises around sensuality and empowerment and visits to sites related to goddesses and powerful women. At that point, I was living in my parents’ house on Long Island, N.Y., my days filled with doctors who only trivialized my concerns. It felt like I had nowhere to run. Medicine wasn’t helping me, and the only other solution I could think of was a life overhaul. So, in my desperation, I decided to throw myself fully into the life of pleasure this mentor of mine was advocating. Not only did I sign up for the retreat; I arranged to spend an extra week in Italy, during which I’d receive private coaching on how to tap into my “goddess energy.” When she emailed me the US$15,000 contract, I didn’t have the energy to read it or negotiate it. Not wanting to even think about how much money that was, I signed it immediately.

The package included a trip to California to spend a few days with the coach several weeks before the retreat. While I was there, I received some results suggesting I had chronic Lyme disease. My symptoms drastically worsened during the trip, and the flight back to New York was hell. When I arrived home exhausted and headed to the doctor to receive a diagnosis and treatment plan, I knew in my gut that despite my desire for an escape, travelling internationally for two weeks was not the best decision for my health. I had to stick around and focus on my healing.  

When I communicated this to my coach, she grew defensive and angry, suggesting that I had brought my recent flare-up on myself and that the “patriarchy” was preventing me from following my true desires. I felt shocked and betrayed. She said she couldn’t refund any of the money since she’d already booked flights and accommodations, and the contract said “non-refundable.” I looked at it and saw that she was right.

He asked me to share the contract and our email exchanges — to my embarrassment, this included one that read, 'I can’t focus on expanding my orgasm right now'

I felt like a complete idiot for signing a non-refundable contract during such an unpredictable time in my life. And, of course, the part of me that had compulsively saved was throwing a fit. I thought about all the other things I could have done with that money, like spend it on actual health treatments, or a nicer place to stay while I received them. I was desperate for some way to get it back.

I sought the advice of my brother, who happens to be a lawyer. He asked me to share the contract and our email exchanges — to my embarrassment, this included one that read, “I can’t focus on expanding my orgasm right now.” Exploiting a loophole that might allow me to get back any money that wasn’t already spent, my brother began emailing the coach and threatening her with a lawsuit. In response, she hired her own lawyer and continued to refuse. After a few months of back-and-forth, I was left with a decision: I could sue her, or I could just let it go.

A large part of me wanted to sue that woman — not just for the money, but for revenge. I resented how she’d made me choose between sacrificing my health and wasting a ton of money. I had a hard time believing she’d really spent all of it on flights and accommodations. That would make no sense, since she wouldn’t make a profit. 

But then I asked myself: Did I want to stoop to her level? Did I want to be someone who tried to get as much money as I could out of people, at the expense of their own livelihood? Or did I want to practise compassion, even under circumstances that did not seem to warrant it?

On a particularly bad day, I lost self-control, went on the sex coach’s Facebook page, and wrote her a scathing review

I tried to put myself in her position. If she was going to such great lengths not to refund anything, she probably really needed the money. According to the communications from her lawyer, she did not have any money left to give me. She also had a daughter. I didn’t like the thought of her struggling to make ends meet because of me. And didn’t I want to transform my life and my attitude? Maybe that didn't mean going on some exotic retreat. Maybe it meant learning to let go of anger and grudges and self-righteousness. Those emotions have never been good for anyone’s health. 

Not to mention, I didn’t need more stress in my own life. Filing a lawsuit would take time and money I might not get back. It would put me in a position to have my decisions scrutinized by others. It would force me to stay in communication with someone I no longer wanted in my life. This situation had gotten ugly enough; I didn’t want to see it get uglier. So, I told my brother to just drop the case and leave this whole headache in the past. 

I managed to maintain this magnanimous outlook for all of one month — until, on a particularly bad day, I lost self-control, went on the sex coach’s Facebook page, and wrote her a scathing review, complete with a play-by-play of our dispute and lines such as, “She does not have nearly enough character to trust with such a personal part of your life.” Two months after that, I collected myself and deleted it, knowing that spreading negativity wasn’t helping anyone.

But I didn’t beat myself up for having written it. This experience, after all, taught me to forgive — to forgive others, but more importantly, to forgive myself. I forgave myself for making dumb financial decisions in a hopeless situation. I forgave myself for lashing out when I got mad. And I forgave myself for not doing more to recover the money I’d lost.

I believe we store emotions in our bodies, and in a way, letting go of all the negative emotions around this situation — both toward her and myself — helped me heal. I suppose that was my US$15,000 lesson. That, and to read contracts closely before I sign them.

Illustration by Jeannie Phan.