Saturday, 22 June 2019

Patience

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. My Problem Gambling Support Group had a topic meeting based around the importance of having patience and it is one of my biggest character flaws. The question that was asked was “Are you patient with others, yourself and your recovery? Do you still find yourself looking for the quick fix or have you learned the art of being patient?” I am going to delve into each part and hopefully writing about it will help me see where I am struggling with patience.

I have always been an impatient person when it comes to most things, if I want something I want it yesterday. Once I get something into my head that I want, or to be more accurate about my thinking THAT I NEED, then it becomes my sole focus and I cannot settle until I have it. If I end up not getting it then it tends to ruin my day and I sulk and huff like a small child, which was an acceptable reaction when I was a small child but not so much anymore.

When it comes to being patient with others I get frustrated if someone cannot do a task as fast as I can and instead of using that as a moment to teach them how I do it I tend to just take over and get it done. If I ask someone a question via text and they do not give me an answer straight away I cannot settle myself until they respond. In my head I know they are busy or have something else more important to deal with but I still find myself thinking that they should have responded immediately. If I am to meet someone and they are late I get really annoyed and time feels like it goes so slowly when I am waiting for them. I start thinking why are they late and why did they not tell me, almost to a “How dare they make me wait” state of mind. What makes all of this even more ludicrous is that I can forget to respond to messages and I certainly have terrible timekeeping so for me to hold others to a higher standard than I hold myself is laughable.

One area where my patience is improving with others is when it comes to my kids. Back when I was gambling if they were not doing what they were told or could not follow a simple instruction I would shout at them instead of sitting down and explaining to them why they should not be doing something or explaining to them how to do something. Since I have entered recovery I have focused on trying to be better at this and I have noticed a difference. Do I still go from zero to shouting on occasion? Of course I do, but I have been trying different techniques to improve things which include reminding myself that they are kids before I say anything and by taking deep breaths and counting to ten.

 I have never really thought about patience when it comes to myself but on reflection it is something that I have struggled with for a while, probably coinciding with my gambling addiction. In my youth I would have been keen to play football and hockey even though I was terrible at them (and terrible is being kind) but in recent years if I am not good at something I will just not do it. I would say for the past eight years I have had no desire to try something I am not good at or to spend the time to try and improve at something I am not good at. Video games would be an excellent example as I get bored so easily with them now and the reason is that I cannot be bothered learning how to play them. Same goes with sports, in my head I would like to try tennis but I do not have the guts to go to a club and learn how to play. It is almost like I am embarrassed or ashamed to admit to someone that I need help so I avoid trying anything new.

The one positive I can take from being in recovery is I started to write this blog and I have had some great feedback on it which has encouraged me to keep writing. Writing was something I didn't even know I would have an interest in or even have any talent at but I tried it and really enjoy it and get a lot out of it. This was a complete leap into the unknown so if I can take this experience and apply it to other things maybe, just maybe, I can get a few more hobbies which can only be a good thing.

Shockingly the one area I am a master of patience has been my recovery and that was a major surprise to me. In the past when I tried to stop on my own I had all these grand ideas of how I could stop easily and fix my finances within months all of which was to get me back to gambling as quickly as possible. I think what has helped was all of the advice I got in G.A. and in my PG Support Group from day one. It was like everyone was echoing the same thing, the same cliche, “One Day At A Time.” I just accepted that if all these people who had been in recovery for years were all saying the same thing, if the G.A. recovery program which has helped people for decades has it as their slogan pretty much, then it must be THE way to do things. So from early on I have accepted that patience is a must for recovery. It took me 14 years of gambling to get to this point so there was no way it was going to be fixed in a few weeks or months, it’s going to be a lifelong journey.

So, do I still find myself looking for the “quick fix” or have I learned the art of being patient? It’s a mixed bag for me early in recovery. In certain aspects of my life, like my recovery, I have a lot of patience and feel like I have mastered it. When it comes to my kids I am improving but with plenty of room to grow. Other areas of my life I still have thoughts of wanting a quick fix or just a complete lack of patience. Those are where I need to improve and I also need to accept they will not improve overnight. Patience is a puzzle and I have not quite figured out how it all fits together yet.

Russ

Monday, 17 June 2019

Early Stages Of Recovery: What Has Worked For Me

My name is Russ and I’m a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. I just wanted to take the opportunity to write down what has worked for me early in my recovery. Not only will this give me something to refer back to but maybe it will also help someone who is struggling with recovery. I cannot tell anyone what they should or should not be doing, all I can do is share what is working for me and if someone can use this to stay off a bet then that is a bonus.

1) Telling my partner and family everything – In my experience this is something that is impossible to do alone, I have tried in the past and failed miserably. It got to the point where the only person I was letting down by gambling again was myself and I didn’t care about letting myself down. This time I sat my partner down and told her I had a gambling problem and needed help. I have two young kids so there was a lot to risk by doing this, but it was the right thing to do. Then I sat my Mum and Dad down and told them the same thing. I personally extended this out to friends and people in work, the more people that know then the bigger the support network. For me though it was a vital step to admit to those closest to me that I could not do this on my own.

2) Money – Before I sat down with my partner I wrote out all the debts I had in a notebook, every single one, to the exact penny. There’s no point going into this hiding one debt, recovery is about being open and honest. I also wrote out a budget and again, this was to the penny. I then worked out how I was going to pay my debts back and in what order and how my budget would work going forward. I have not over exerted myself when it comes to paying my debts, why put added pressure on the situation. I am currently paying 10% of my salary towards my debts each month and it will take ten years to pay back, I am fine with that. Another massive barrier I set up was to give my partner full control of my main bank account that my salary is paid in  to and my bills are paid out from. I do not have access to this card and she has the app on her phone. I have another bank account which she knows about and I get money paid in each month which is to cover petrol and money for me for the month. It is a Monzo account which has a function to block gambling transactions; if you are in the UK I would highly recommend it. My partner can also check this bank account at any time to make sure everything is as it should be. If I pay for anything in cash I make sure I get receipts so I have a record of what that money was used for. People may say this is being treated like a child, that by doing this I cannot be trusted with money, and they would be absolutely right. I have a long track record of proving I cannot be trusted with money so why run the risk.

3) Self-Exclusion/GAMSTOP – As most of my gambling was online, especially for the last number of years, self exclusion was a must. Luckily in the UK we have a scheme called GAMSTOP which will self exclude you from the majority of online bookmakers, casinos, bingo sites etc. for up to 5 years. I have self-excluded in the past from a bookmaker or two but always left other ones open and each time I went back to them. I needed to close the door on all sites online and GAMSTOP has allowed me to do this. Now, when I initially tried to sign up for GAMSTOP I could not be verified, turns out I was answering a question wrong. So what I did, and this is an example for those outside the UK, I went through my emails and text messages and every bookmaker or casino I had received marketing from I logged on to each one individually and self excluded for the maximum time. 5 years was the only option for me and I would have chosen a lifetime self exclusion if it was available. To self exclude for any less time would have been my way of telling myself I could control this in the future. THAT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. I am a compulsive gambler and one bet is all it will take to send me back to where I was before April 2nd 2019.

4) Gamblers Anonymous – Once I decided I was going to admit I needed help I looked for nearby G.A. meetings. I checked for times that I knew would suit me and that I would be able to make weekly. I found one in Newry that has a Monday meeting between 9pm and 10:30pm and I knew I had no plans for this time, so no excuses. I travel around 25 miles to get there and it is one of the best things I have done in my recovery. I was talking to someone towards the end of 2018 about my gambling and they had mentioned G.A. but I said I wasn’t that bad, I was wrong. I had all these preconceived notions about G.A. that it would be full of old men all talking about how much they would love to have a bet or preaching to me about God and trying to convert me to go to church, Yes, there are some old men but apart from that it’s not how I imagined it would be. I’ve a blog titled “Why Do I Go To G.A.” which explains it in further detail but in summary it is a place I can go where I will not be judged, where I will be understood, where I will be supported through the bad times and where the good times will be celebrated. It’s a place I can dump my shit on the floor (not literally) and where I can listen and learn from others. It is a simple program for complicated people. I have yet to meet someone who has been attending meetings regularly that has relapsed since I have been in G.A. There have been people who stop going to meetings that relapse but if you attend regularly, from what I have seen with my own eyes, it will help keep you off a bet. Once in G.A. you can find a sponsor and work the steps which I have found to be extremely helpful.

5) Other Therapies – This could be counselling or CBT etc. but what I am I member of is the Problem Gambling Support Group which has it’s own WhatsApp chat group and runs two meetings a week via Skype. I have met some great people in that group and we are all striving to recover from this. It is a small group but we have people from all over the world who attend and it is something I look forward to every week. Even just having a group there that I could reach out to if I was struggling is invaluable.

6) Reddit Problem Gambling Sub – This is where I found the Problem Gambling Support Group but the Sub itself is a great place to post how I am dealing with my recovery and it also gives me an opportunity to reach out to people who are struggling and try to support them through it. It’s very much a community that tries to help each other on a daily basis and I try to check in and either post or comment a few times a day.

7) Writing – I have been writing my blog since entering recovery and I have found it gives me the opportunity to dig deep and really reflect on what emotions I was feeling when I was gambling and gives me a platform to potentially reach out to others. I write from a purely selfish point of view if I am being honest, it helps me. I get so much out of it and just being able to get my thoughts and feelings into words is a healthy process for me. If the blog helps others that’s an added bonus for me.

8) Twitter – There are a lot of people on twitter who can offer excellent advice when it comes to recovery and it is a great place to see blogs and vlogs from various folk who are putting the time and effort in to reach out to others. It’s a great tool to have during recovery but for me it would not be a replacement for G.A.

9) Podcasts/Audio Books – I listen to as many things about addiction and recovery as I can. All In: Addicted Gamblers Podcast, After Gambling Podcast, Podcast Recovery are my weekly listens.

10) Acceptance – This is probably one of the most important things I have found in the early stages of recovery. I have accepted I can no longer gamble and I have accepted that I can never gamble again. I have also accepted that this journey is for life and I just have to take it one day at a time. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.

These are the things that have helped me during the early stages of recovery. I have not had an urges, although they could strike at anytime, and I feel in such a better place than I was on April 2nd 2019. My own opinion is that recovery is much more than just stopping gambling and paying off debt, those are the “easy” parts. Recovery to me is about becoming a better person, a better partner, a better Dad, a better son and a better friend. It will take time, it’s a journey for life and I have fully embraced that. Right now gambling isn’t even on my list of how I would deal with a problem should it arise, but I cannot become complacent.

For anyone reading this who is struggling with giving up or relapsing I will leave you with a quote I seen early on in my recovery and it stuck with me.

“At some point there is NO EXCUSE. Either you want to do EVERYTHING it takes to MAKE it happen or you don’t.”

Russ

Monday, 10 June 2019

Working The Steps: Step Two

My name is Russ and i'm a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. I had previously posted Step One back in May so now I thought I would share my work on Step Two. Anything in bold or italics is from the work sheet, the rest of the nonsense is my own.

Step 2, Exercise 1: Our Thoughts & Behaviours
GAMBLING RECOVERY
Abnormal Thoughts Normal Thoughts
More money would make life easier I have money to live a comfortable lifestyle
Gambling makes me happy My family and friends make me happy
I can be profitable gambling I cannot make money gambling
Bad luck is why I lose There is no such thing as luck
I can gamble my way out then stop I can stop with my recovery
It’s ok to lie to borrow money I do not need to lie or cover my tracks
It’s ok to gamble borrowed money I do not need to borrow money but if I do it’s for a purpose such as fixing my car
It’s ok to not pay people back I need to deal with my debts and make affordable repayments each month
People want to interrupt my gambling My family and friends want me to engage with them and I find it enjoyable
Self-Destructive Behaviours Healthy Behaviours
I used every penny of my spare money to gamble I have spare money to be able to do things like go for a coffee or a beer
I used money for bills to gamble My bills are paid on time each month
I didn’t eat breakfast or lunch as I could not afford it/wanted to use that money for gambling I eat breakfast most mornings and have lunch. I use some of my monthly budget to purchase food for breakfast and lunch
I did not buy myself new clothes I have bought myself new clothes
I did not give my kids my full attention My kids get my full attention when I am home
I was argumentative with my partner I have been less argumentative with my partner. Very few arguments since I stopped if any
I was miserable to be around I am a better person to be around
I felt self pity I feel proud
Lack of sleep Trying to get into a routine with sleep
Unreliable More reliable. If I say I will do something I will do it. I will not commit to something if there is a doubt I can do it.
Lack of self worth In recovery I now know my kids think I am the best daddy in the world and that I am one of the most important people in their lives.
Gambling was all I thought about I no longer think of gambling 24/7. I am focused on my recovery and trying to improve as a person.

Step 2, Exercise 2: Our Beliefs & Values

  • What happened each time you attempted abstinence on your own before you came to GA?
I would stop for periods of time, months, one time nearly a year, but I would also find my way back. Normally I stopped because of money pressures and tried to get myself some breathing room before going back. Each time I started back in a controlled manner before losing control and making things worse.

  • How is your abstinence within the GA program different?

I have finally admitted to myself, family and friends that I have a gambling problem and I need help. I have accepted the fact I cannot gamble as I know what it leads to. I have a support network this time instead of trying to stop on my own. This is a recovery, not abstinence.

  • Three core beliefs and/or values that gambling caused you to ignore, abandon or compromise when you were active in your addiction.

Integrity – I was always brought up to be an honest person and feel like I was before my addiction. Once it got a hold of me I lied to people for money and lied to cover my tracks.

Family/Friends – I was always there in person for my family during my addiction but in my head I was focused purely on gambling. I was gambling while playing with the kids and gambling while out with friends or family. It started to get to the stage where I was shutting myself off from the people closest to me.

Intelligence – I abused my intelligence and charm to manipulate people and get my own way. I was able to con people into believing my stories and excuses and continue on with my addiction. I once took a test to see if I was a Sociopath and scored extremely well such was the level of my deception.

  • With your abstinence within the GA program, have these core beliefs and/or values been restored to you? How do you feel about that? What difference do they make in your life today?

I am now an open and honest person and am currently going about rebuilding the trust people lost in me. The only way to do that is to keep on my recovery journey and keep being honest. I spend more time engaging with my family and friends than I have done in about 10 years. The difference in those relationships is noticeable already. I now use my intelligence and charm to reach out and help others trying to deal with this addiction and also to help my family or friends if they are in need of someone to talk to.

Step 2, Exercise 3: Willingness

Step Two asks us to open our minds to the possibility that there is a Power greater than ourselves. YOU create YOUR OWN concept of a Higher Power. There can be many sources and inspirations for it: religious upbringing, family tradition, life experiences, group membership, reading, training, travel. Ultimately, it is a personal, spiritual choice -- one of YOUR OWN understanding at this time. Keep in mind that, as the fog from gambling clears and you let go of your need to control people, places and things, that understanding may change, grow or deepen. At this point, we need only become willing to make it part of our recovery process.


  • Is your mind open to the possibility of a Power greater than yourself/ If not, what things are keeping your mind closed? Pride? Ego? Self-centeredness? Stubbornness? Fear? Would you be willing to set them aside, just for today?

My family are my Higher Power, they are my inspiration to continue on my road to recovery. They stood by me when I admitted I needed help, they reached out to help me as I reached out for help. Without them I would be on my own.

  • Have you ever seen a “Greater Power” at work in the lives of others? Have you ever experienced such a Power at work in your own life?

I think a lot of normal people have a “Greater Power” at work in their own lives. People I know work to provide for their families. I feel like they are also their “Greater Power”. I was in the midst of my addiction when I had my kids so, as hard as it is to admit, I did not put them above gambling the way I should have done.

  • Three things that you believe in and trust today.

My family/My friends

G.A.

Problem Gambling Support Group

  • Belief + Trust = Faith. Does writing about what you believe in and trust give you a sense that there is or could be a force at work in your life beyond your own will? Are you willing to welcome this safe, loving and supportive presence into your recovery?

Yes. My family, friends and support groups are welcome into my recovery.

Step 2, Exercise 4: Restoration

Restoration to a Normal Way of Thinking and Living.


At the start of Step 2, we examined what a normal way of thinking and living might look like and wrote down some things that were meaningful to us. Things like taking better care of ourselves and others, acting with integrity, being accountable, driving safely, eating better, developing healthy diversions, respecting the value of money, becoming more spiritual, achieving balance.


  • Take another look at your list. Note how many of those things have been restored or begun to be restored in your life. Has willpower alone made it possible or is some other power at work in your life.

My Higher Power is what has made it possible. Willpower does not achieve anything apart from a white knuckle experience trying not to gamble.

Step 2 allows us to become reacquainted with what we believe and trust to be true for ourselves and moves us in the direction of faith.

  • Do you have a better sense of what’s right for yourself today? Are you willing to continue to move forward in faith?

Write about:
The most meaningful thing you learned about yourself through working Step 2.
Something for which you've become grateful while working Step 2.
Something good/positive you've done for yourself recently.

I’ve learned how many healthy behaviours I have already been working on since entering recovery. I also learned how much my family actually means to me.


I am grateful for the way my family and friends have stood by  me after admitting my problem. I am forever grateful.

A recent positive I have done for myself is buying myself new clothes. New pair of trainers, some socks and new hoodies. I haven’t bought new clothes myself in about 10 years.


I've found step work to be an enjoyable experience and something that makes you really think about your thoughts and emotions. Maybe someone who reads it can relate and potentially work the step themselves.

Russ

Monday, 3 June 2019

Do I Wish I Never Gambled?

My name is Russ and I’m a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. The following thought entered my mind the other day, if I could go back in time and not gamble, would I do it? It seems a simple answer, of course I would, I would save my family the financial trouble I have put them in and I would prevent that trust between us being broken. I wouldn’t have wasted 14 years being absorbed into various gambling sites and apps and instead I could have spent that time on something productive. There’s so many things I could point to that would have been different. I have said in previous blogs that my addiction made me a different person, and it did, my addiction has given me so many character flaws to work on in recovery, but the more I think back to how I was pre-gambling, I wonder if my character flaws were exposed rather than created.

I have never been someone who showed their emotions to other people, I have a very self-deprecating style of humour and also a very dark sense of humour. I would use humour to mask any sadness or disappointment I may have felt and would just laugh things off. I would never be comfortable opening up to someone about how I felt, especially if I was feeling down. I would just keep it in and try to deal with it myself, usually by not dealing with it. During my addiction I felt high levels of anxiety and I had no idea how to deal with this and it really started to have an impact on my mental health.

When it comes to anger I was never comfortable with arguments or confrontation, I haven’t even been in a fight in my entire life, unless being knocked out by a bouncer in Magaluf when I was 18 constitutes a fight, if it does then I guess I am 0-1. Heated moments just made me feel really uneasy and I was always someone who would talk rather than fight. I don’t even enjoy arguing with someone and I would always just walk away if it got to that stage. That in itself may not be that unhealthy but I would never deal with anger, I would just bottle it up and again, try and deal with it myself. Once the addiction got a hold of me I found it harder and harder to bottle up my anger and I would find myself becoming angry at the smallest things.

I have always been an impatient person, when I see something I want, then I want it there and then. A perfect example is when it comes to upgrading my mobile phone, once I decide I am going to upgrade then I am unable to settle myself until I get my new phone, I want it straight away. If I want to go somewhere then I want to be there yesterday and if someone said they were picking me up at a certain time and were late I was restless and irritable (which is funny as my time keeping is absolutely shocking). It’s been like that my whole life but when I was gambling, as Spinal Tap would say, my impatience level went up to eleven.

Linked closely with impatience I feel is my need to control a situation. Now I would not be the type who wants to control another human being but situations I always felt the need to control. Going out with friends I would make a suggestion for plans and if that wasn’t the plan chosen then I would try my best to make sure plans changed to suit me. I didn’t enjoy going with the flow, unless my idea was to go with the flow, I wanted to be in charge and make the decisions. In work if someone couldn’t do something as fast as I could, instead of being patient, I would try and take over and get it done. I’d have no interest in showing them how to do it, I would just get it done and move on. When I was gambling my need to control grew more and more, especially as I was trying to control situations such as finances to hide what I was doing.

When it comes to friendships I always considered myself someone easy to get along with and someone who would do anything for their friends and that is true, to an extent. If I was in constant contact with a friend, through school, work or living close to them then I was a great friend. Once I moved on though, and an effort was required for me to keep that friendship, generally I just did not bother. It was almost like once I moved on from a job or school I would keep in contact for a short while and then I just gave up. A few really close friends I have made the effort but looking back it’s almost as if I was friends with these people because I got something out of it at the time and once I didn’t need them anymore I just dumped them. That’s not a great friend, that is just a shitty human being who uses people. Unfortunately, whilst I was gambling I moved away from where I grew up and a real core group of friends I did have I stopped making the effort to meet up with them. I’m still in some form of contact with them but the addiction really did start to seep into those strong friendships I did have.

So, back to the original question, if I could go back in time and not gamble, would I do it? Aside from the obvious regret to the financial situation I have put my family in and the other issues that come with addiction, I would not go back and change anything, and here’s why. I believe that my character defects are not something created by my addiction but defects that have been there all along. Maybe I could have went my whole life without having to deal with them but at some point, I believe, they would have been exposed to the world. A relationship ending, a job loss, missing out on promotion, family stress, a bereavement, who knows what may have caused it but I firmly believe something would have. For me, my gambling addiction exposed my character flaws to the world and that has given me something that I can work on to hopefully become a better person, because if I don’t, then all of this pain and suffering will have been for nothing.

Russ