Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Therapy - My Journey From Beginning To Now

My name is Russ and i’m a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. The day of April 2nd was a massive turning point in my life, it was the day I finally admitted to my long term partner, who is the mother of my two children, and to my parents that I was a compulsive gambler and needed help. The weekend prior was when I finally said to myself I’ve had enough, I had been betting for 14 years and it had beaten me so badly that I was a mess mentally and financially. Although no one knew that because I was an expert at hiding it.

I started gambling like almost anyone in the UK or Ireland, The Grand National. The one day of the year where it seems like every man, woman and child has a bet on. The biggest horse race in the world. That and those glorious holidays spent in Portrush playing the 2p machines. I don’t for one second blame those experiences for my gambling problem, they are just my first memories of gambling. One really vivid memory I have of gambling was when I was begging my dad for the latest Official Playstation Magazine, the one with the demo disc, and he was just sitting down to watch England play against someone and said to me “if Paul Scholes scores the first goal I will get you the magazine.” Now, I know for a fact win or lose my Dad would have gotten me the magazine, he just said that so I would give him peace to watch the match. Well I remember watching the game with him hoping with all my might Paul Scholes would score 1st and he did. That adrenaline rush, even at a young age (I was 13 years old at most I would say) was unbelievable. Now, again, I am not blaming that for my gambling addiction at all, it is just one of my first vivid memories but that mentality of gambling to get something I want for free would be a regular pattern throughout my gambling career.

Once I turned 18 I opened my first betting account with Blue Sq and that started my online sports gambling journey. Friday nights were spent betting on Wolverhampton all weather horse racing and the Dutch and French 2nd Divisions. All harmless fun, controlled gambling, small stakes. I was still working part time at this stage, left school that summer and gambling was not in the way. Once I got my full time job though that all changed.

The first time I could put my finger on when my gambling changed was the first day of the 2008/2009 football season. I’d been working full time for about 3 years and my gambling was still under control, well, at least I thought it was. My stakes were still low and I was doing football bets at the weekend for a bit of fun. I gambled, but it wasn’t causing me any issues. That Friday I walked into a Paddy Power and decided instead of placing a load of stupid football bets for £1 or £2 I’d pick three teams for the season and do a £20 treble each week. Sheffield United, Leicester City and Leeds United were the picks. Of course, the first weekend it landed (the only time it landed all season I think) and my betting changed from that moment. I genuinely can’t remember the odds but I must have lifted over £100 from that £20 stake and after that staking £1 or £2 just wasn’t appealing. What was the point in that when I could stake £20 and win more. From that moment my gambling started to get out of control over time. Then came the loans, the credit cards and the payday loans.

At some point around this time I had opened a spread betting account due to a sign up offer. Now I did not have the first clue about spread betting but the offer was they gave you a free £100 or something to sign up so I did. I was still living at home at the time and we had one computer which everyone used. Well my Dad stumbled upon this website and was able to access the account (he’s not technically minded so I imagine I left it logged in) and he seen the betting history and he went mental at me. Now, I did explain that it was just bonus funds and I hadn’t actually deposited any of my own money but still the lecture came. It felt like a lecture at the time to me but he was just warning me of the dangers of gambling. Giving me examples of people he knew who had a problem and how easy it is for a gambling problem to begin. So I can never turn around and say that I wasn’t aware of the dangers, I was, my ego was just too big to listen. I paid lip service to the lecture and said I wouldn’t do it again and my Dad took me at my word and trusted me.

So, I knew early on I had a problem. I self excluded from places over the years but never really wanted to quit. I was getting in debt but was able to continue with my lifestyle as I was living at home. I remember one day going to a cheque cashing place where I could write a cheque for £100, dated on my next payday, and they’d give me £90 there and then. I did two cheques for going out that weekend (and a couple of bets on the Aintree Festival) walked straight to the bookies and had the £180 on Denman to win the Aintree Bowl at even money. Denman was a monster of a horse, a machine. He could not lose...then he suffered the first fall of his career. Back I went to the cheque cashing place for another £90 so I could still go out that weekend.

I wasn’t learning from my betting mistakes either as I was just borrowing more money to cover the cracks. I got a few debt consolidating loans over the early years to try and get a handle on my debt but it just gave me an excuse to take out more credit. The payday loans which I used to either gamble or cover my expenses for going out because I used all my money gambling. I would borrow money off my Dad and give him the puppy dog eyes when I paid it back and normally he’d only take half of what I owed him. He thought he was doing the right thing and he wanted me to have money to be able to go out with friends, I was just manipulating the situation.

I moved out and into my friends house for a year and the gambling continued, although I had less money to gamble with. My credit rating was taking a battering but I was young and didn’t really care. Then I met my current girlfriend in February 2010 and we moved in together that September. The gambling continued and was getting worse. I made the smart move to get a second job to supplement my gambling…...at a greyhound track. I’d be earning about £20 a night but gambling £60 or £80. Insanity. We had our first child in April 2012 and not long after she found out I’d be gambling some of the money we’d saved. It wasn’t a lot of money, but she was pissed (rightfully so). I managed to talk my way out of it and that was when I became really good at hiding things. She took control of the rent money and any money for our son so that was never in danger thankfully. We had our daughter in 2016 but the gambling still continued.

It may seem like I have glossed over an important period of time there but the truth is I can’t really remember any of the details. The only details I am able to recall with any great clarity are coming up but I just want to touch on a couple of things from this period. This was a time when I had the biggest wins of my gambling career, two separate occasions. One was an insane run of luck where I couldn’t lose all weekend and ended up with enough money for me, my partner and our Son to have our first and only foreign holiday. Another time I had a £5 free bet and landed a treble at Sandown, all Gary Moore horses and won £3.5k. That money went towards decorating the nursery for my soon to be born Daughter, my partner got money, my Mum and Dad and her Mum and Dad. I bought a PS4 and gambled the rest from memory. The two reasons these moments stick in my head isn’t just the amounts, it’s the only time I walked away in profit, at least for the sessions in question and the reason is that I told my partner I had won the money. That was the only way I knew I wouldn’t gamble it all away because she would ask questions if the money I promised didn’t materialise.

Another part of this time period I want to explore is how I was emotionally. I was 25 when we had our Son and he wasn’t planned. It was a shock to say the least and my life, as I knew it anyways, changed. No longer was I able to do what I wanted socially, I had a Son to provide for. I was working two jobs, money was tight, was I still gambling? Of course I was but slowly I started to strip everything else out of my life. We had our daughter when I was 29 and to be honest here, as much as it sadeness me I thought this way I resented having kids, especially at that age. I felt trapped at times, people I knew were able to do what they want but yet I had all this responsibility. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my kids during this time as well and they meant the world to me, but I do feel that I got into the thought process that I was trapped because of them and my only escape was into the world of online gambling.

I would go through phases where I’d stop altogether for months on end, a year at one point which I imagine was around the time my partner found out about me using the savings for gambling, but I’d always go back to it thinking I was in control but I never was. When gambling I’d deposit £10, lose it, deposit another £10, lose it, rinse and repeat until all my money was gone. If I won it just meant I could gamble longer. It was never about the money. I thought it was, but really the money was the fuel that could keep me gambling longer. Most months I was skint a few days after payday and couldn’t gamble until the next payday. It may not sound like a lot of money but it was a relentless cycle month after month after month.

At the end of 2016 I got an overdraft of £2k and gambled it all on soccer all around the world. Woke up and started gambling in Asia, moved across the globe into the Middle East, Africa, Europe and then fell asleep betting on South American football. It was out of control. Betting on Egyptian football on Xmas Day a particular lowlight. This was what my gambling looked like when I had money. All these bets were in-play as that’s how I gambled, watching a little graphic on Bet365 and thinking I could predict what was going to happen. I also gambled heavily on tennis as well, picking a player to win a set 6-0 was one of my favourites. Generally I would start with £10 as I mentioned and if the bet won I would keep “investing” all the money until it got to a certain amount, normally a couple of hundred quid. Once I got to that point I would raise my stakes significantly because I would tell myself it wasn’t my money. It wasn’t if I didn’t count all the loses it took to get to this point over the previous few days. I would then gamble that until it’s gone cursing myself for not taking the money when I had the chance. Placing the last of my money praying to a god I don’t believe in that if he could just make this bet land then I wouldn’t bet again. Once the money was done I would just sit there, looking at my bank balance, the lack of money, the direct debits due to come out in a few days, trying to figure out how I would survive the next 3-4 weeks until payday. Then I would dust myself off and start working on some budgets. What direct debits I could bounce, who I could ask to borrow money from or maybe what I could sell to fund another round of gambling to try and win my money back.

Coming into 2018 I was in a “good place” with gambling, or so I thought. I was Matched Betting which was a way of making money via bookmakers offers. It worked well for a few months but it all went to shit in the Summer of 2018. Matched Betting introduced me to the casino side of things and I lost £3.5k on roulette. I’ll not go into the ins and outs of how I had that sort of money, lets just say I didn’t and I found a way to deposit via direct debit on PayPal and of course those all bounced. Luckily Paddy Power rewarded me by making me a VIP customer after that, every cloud and all that. So I was chasing big style and getting free £50 bonuses each week from them but I could never get enough money to stop, because no amount was ever going to be enough. Their offers of Money Back if Horse X wins are normally £10 max refund, I was getting £100 max refund. Eventually I was running out of ways to get money and when I started to bet less with Paddy Power they removed my VIP status. I did win £1000 on an NFL bet and lost the lot on roulette the next week. Another lowlight.

The win on the NFL followed by the lose on roulette sticks in my mind because visually it summed up how miserable I was. I had promised my partner back at the start of the year that we would get the living room redecorated and I would pay with it from my Matched Betting and she was happy with that. Of course I explained it was risk free and nothing could go wrong and it wasn’t even gambling. Anyways, come November we are due to have our living room redecorated and of course I do not have the money for it so I have to go to my Mum and Dad. I give them some sob story about how when I was Matched Betting I made a mistake, layed off the wrong horse and lost my money so could then lend me it and don’t tell my partner. It was a complete lie and to be honest at the time I didn’t think they had bought it but they lent me the money. Turns out when I told them about my gambling problem back in April they had smelt bull shit but my Granda (on my Dad’s side) was ill in the hospital and he was stressed about that so he just let it slide. So the redecoration was on and it was going to take a couple of days. One Monday night I had a bet on the NFL and it landed, £10 at 100/1. Happy days, I can give my Mum and Dad back their money, it’s nearly Xmas, this is amazing luck. So on Tuesday night I sat in my half decorated living room and thought if I could just win a little bit more then things would be even better so loaded up the roulette. I lost it all sitting in the living room and during it I could literally see what the money would be paying for but it didn’t stop me, nothing would stop me.

2019 I could feel myself struggling. My life was consumed with gambling or working out how to get money to gamble and then how I was going to pay people back what I owed them. I was in a bad place, I was a bad person, lying, angry but still no one knew the truth. January had always been a tough month as I run several NFL Fantasy Football leagues for money and I am in charge of the money. Of course, that was always gambled away by me and January was the month people expected pay outs because the season was over. Usually I would have won enough money in my leagues to cover it or convince people to pay for next year with their winnings that I could cover it. This year I could not and I had the added pressure of owing people money. A lot of these people were friends of mine I knew personally, others were people I had gotten to know over a few years and only talked online. Either way I had stolen their money and gambled it away. I managed to use my Granda’s death in January as an excuse for why I had not paid people yet, I was in a bad way with the funeral etc, all the excuses, the truth is I was just trying to buy more time.

Then came the weekend prior to April 2nd. I had just been paid and deposited some money into my Bet365 account and managed to get my balance up to £910 on Friday 29th March. I should say by this stage I was fully gambling on tennis. Not match winner, that took too long, generally set winner or next game winner as that was quicker. Now this £910 would have cleared some of my urgent debts to allow me to continue on gambling. All I had to do was withdraw, and I was going to…...once I got it up to a nice round £1000. As you can guess I lost the lot. £300-£400 on Benoit Paire was one of the worst hits but I was gambling like a mad man. That was how I bet when I had winnings, the stakes got out of control. By the time I was leaving work at 6pm on the Friday the whole £910 was gone. I was betting on ATP, Challenger, ITF, any tennis that was on I was betting on it. Back in the day I remember betting on a tennis match where they had one ball. Still a story that brings a smile to my face if I’m honest. A smile that consists of a mixture of shame and cringe. That Friday night I deposited whatever I had left in and managed to win back a good chunk of the money, but it still wasn’t enough. It still wasn’t what I had before. So the whole weekend went like that, up and down, up and down. I went to a family dinner and sat betting on my phone the whole night. That’s how my life has been the last number of years, i’m present at gatherings, or nights out but my mind is deep in my phone gambling away not giving a shit about anyone.

Eventually the money ran out that weekend. I was a mess. I could have actually made it work financially and gotten through the month but mentally I was gone. I could tell my brain had put me into a nosedive and the only way this was all ending was in disaster. Maybe not this month, or this year but I was being flown towards rock bottom.

I sat down on the Monday and wrote out everything that I owed, who I owed it to, a budget going forward. It was grim enough reading, £18k in the hole. The money wasn’t the issue, it was how it was making me feel, the time I’ve been wasting. The fact that I finally couldn’t take anymore, that I was ready to wave the white flag and say gambling has won, it defeated me. I found out when and where the nearest GA Meeting was to me and wrote that down too. So I found a set of balls and on the Tuesday I told my girlfriend. My attitude was that life can’t be any worse for me than it currently is. I was a mess, I cried, I honestly expected her to tell me to get out and I wouldn’t have blamed her, but she was amazing. She was angry obviously, but she was so supportive. Then I called my parents round and told them. They were disappointed, confused but also really supportive. Then the next day I told my closest friends who were again all really supportive. I owe them some money too and they’ve been great about setting up a payment plan to pay that back. I can imagine some people saying that I didn’t hit rock bottom in comparison to others, I felt that way myself to be honest. I felt like I had gotten off lightly but looking back the cycle I was in was soul destroying and although I didn’t cause the devastation others have caused I knew I needed to reach out for help as I couldn’t do it on my own.

I registered for GAMStop and self excluded online for 5 years which has taken the avenue of online gambling away from me. A vital step if online is your vice. I also handed over control of my finances to my partner which again removed another temptation. I’ve since learned in recovery that gamblers need 3 things, time, opportunity and money, take away one of those and you won’t be able to gamble. I took away two with these simple steps.

I then went to my first GA Meeting on Wednesday 3rd April. The time doesn’t suit me for that, Monday at 9pm is my meeting but I felt I needed to get to one ASAP. I don’t know what I expected GA to be, some sort of church run cult filled with a bunch of old men desperate for a bet but it’s one of the most amazing groups I’ve ever found. It’s a dumping ground for all my shit and it’s a place where I can listen to other people’s stories. Without sounding sexist, it’s something a lot of men could do with outside of addiction, a place to talk about life and how they are feeling. I take a 50 mile round trip every Monday to get there. When I was gambling if I had to travel 50 miles to get internet to gamble you can guarantee I’d have travelled every day. When I leave a meeting I am buzzing, for all the right reasons. I’m a lifer when it comes to GA now and I am fine with that.

I am also a member of the Problem Gambling Support Group and we run three meetings a week via Skype. This group has been so influential to my recovery and I have met so many good people I now consider friends through it. The topic meeting style is completely different to what happens at my own GA so it fits into my recovery perfectly and gives me a different perspective.

I have a sponsor, Jeff, who has had a massive impact on my recovery. He has helped me work the Steps and is always there if I need him. At times it’s hard to tell who is sponsoring who but that sort of dynamic works well for me as I see him as a friend first and sponsor/sponsee second.

I have also found a passion for writing about my journey and post my stuff on my blog, on GAMCare and on the Reddit Problem Gambling Sub. I have been told my stuff is very good and people seem to get a lot from it. As I explained at a recent meeting I am still learning how to deal with praise, it makes me feel awkward. I’m not sure if it’s from years of not wanting to be the focus of people's attention because of the fear they might ask questions and my addiction would be exposed. Whatever the reason I am working on being able to accept praise and enjoy it and as Bob taught me at the last meeting...thank you.

I’ve been clean for over 9 months now, and I have not struggled with urges to gamble. My life is amazing, it always was but I was too wrapped up in my addiction to notice. I literally had everything I could ever want. I have an amazing girlfriend and two amazing children along with my parents who are absolutely fantastic. I have my health, a job and my friends are another support network I couldn’t do without now. They stood by me when I admitted my problem and they gave me the belief that I could do this.

Recovery is now my focus along with my family. The debt can be managed, stopping gambling is one day at a time, but the main focus of my recovery will be fixing my character defects, helping others, being open and honest to people and not being a selfish asshole. I would like to think those that know me now can at least drop the selfish part when describing me.

I have put plenty of work into my recovery and I feel like I am getting the benefits out of it. I have a routine when it comes to meetings and they don’t impact on my family life. Is every day amazing? No it’s not. Some days are rather boring and some days are tough, but that’s life. Some days you have to make chicken salad out of chicken shit. I have accepted what I am, I am a compulsive gambler and I need to be the one who changes. No one else around me needs to change, I am the common denominator. I have noticed a change in myself and those closest to me. They all seem happier, more content, happy to have this me in their life and not the old me. I wasn’t a nice partner, father, son or friend when I was in active addiction. I don’t want to be the person I was before I started gambling either because I am pretty convinced he was an asshole as well. I am using this recovery to become the man I want to be, the man I can look in the mirror and be proud to be.

As I said, I have accepted that I am a compulsive gambler and I cannot have a single bet because it will lead me back to active addiction. I have no issues with the gambling industry or people who gamble, I just know that I am unable to gamble as it ends in disaster. I feel there should be more discussion around problem gambling and the industry should be putting more money into helping problem gamblers and to help identify problem gamblers. It’s a fine line though, as I know if a bookie told me they felt I had a problem and wouldn’t accept a bet I’d have been angry and just went somewhere else. You need to be ready for recovery to fully embrace it. I never was until April 2nd. For the people in recovery we need to be ready to help those that get to the stage where they are ready for recovery. We are the ones who these people will come to rely on as we’ve been through it, you can tell when talking to someone who hasn’t had a gambling addiction they just don’t understand. Over the coming years I think there will be a significant rise in people looking for help with problem gambling. I don’t feel like my story is close to the worst out there and I have read some people online who have the opinion that you need to cause devastation before recovery will work. That’s bollocks and that sort of attitude is why I think some young people are reluctant to try GA. I have come to believe it doesn’t matter how much you have lost, how many relationships you have destroyed or what age you are, all you need is a desire to stop gambling and that is the qualification for entering recovery.

For now though, for me, my next bet won’t be about the money I lose, I’ll lose my partner and my children as well and that’s not a bet that I am not willing to make.

Russ

Denial

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. This was a topic at a recent Problem Gambling Support Group Skype meeting and it was something I wanted to explore in more detail via writing as I got so much out of the meeting itself. The topic was framed as “The Role of Denial In Addiction -denial is central to the explanation of why gambling addicts persist despite evidence of harmful consequences”. The following questions were discussed:

- During active addiction, do you believe you were in denial?

Looking back it is clear to me that I was in denial during my active addiction and there are so many different situations that prove this but I think my daily routine when I had money is a perfect example when looking back. The first thing I thought about when I woke up was gambling, I would literally turn my alarm off and log onto my account and check if what I fell asleep betting on overnight won or lost and what was currently in-play. I would be making my kids breakfast with one eye on whatever bet I had placed, it was like the fix I needed to start my day. I would drive to work gambling on Australian Basketball, tennis in Japan or some Indonesian Division 2 football, again keeping one eye on that as I was driving. The minute a bet won or lost, I needed to get my next bet placed. This would continue on throughout the day at work, sitting at my desk doing the bare minimum to get by while betting flat out on whatever sport I could. At lunchtime I would go out for a smoke with my friends and completely zone out of the conversation staring at my phone on whatever bet I was waiting on. If they asked me did I have a bet on I’d lie and say no my partner was messaging me and put my phone away. For those 5-10 minutes I was filled with an internal rage and hatred it is hard to even fathom in recovery but at that point I detested making conversation with them and couldn’t wait to get away to check how my bet was getting on. I would get home, having gambled on the drive home of course, and my kids would be delighted to see me. They’d be waiting at the door and waving and I would come in and do my best to pretend I was interested and take myself into the kitchen to make their dinner while using this time to watch whatever bet was on. At this stage my Daughter was obsessed with having my phone so I would give her that and switch to my laptop which I would then carry, open, from room to room. I would get my kids to bed and would have zero patience for their messing about and normally ended up shouting at them because they were keeping me from gambling. The rest of the evening would be spent with me on one sofa, her indoors on another, me ignoring her and just gambling until she went to bed. Then I would continue gambling and fall asleep on the sofa. I assumed back then this was normal behaviour and that gambling was not an issue for me.

- Were you aware of the destruction your gambling was causing, or did you have your 'head in the sand'?

I mentioned an internal rage and hatred earlier on and that was present on many occasions during my active addiction. If I couldn’t get a bet on, due to there being nothing on in-play (which was rare but did happen) it would be there. If I was asked to do something when I was gambling online, such as answer a simple question or nip to the shop, it would be there. I would storm out of the house saying something nasty to my partner and blaming her for not telling me we needed something when I was on my way home from work. I would cause arguments in the house we were were going out somewhere because I was annoyed it was getting in the way of my betting.

My Mum had Cancer during my active addiction and I barely made an effort to speak to her or ask her how things were going. I just assumed everything would be fine and someone would let me know if it wasn’t. I didn’t think about how she was feeling, I hardly went round to their house (they live literally 5 minutes away) and when I did, I just sat on my phone gambling. It was the same when my Granda was sick, I was emotionally detached from it all. When he died, I didn’t understand why people were crying at the funeral and getting so emotional, I didn’t feel anything. There were times my Daughter was in the hospital and I would sit in the hospital waiting rooms gambling on my phone while my partner was doing the real parenting or she would sit the whole night in A&E and I would get to stay at home to mind our Son and I could just gamble away in peace. Writing that now is upsetting, embarrassing and shameful all rolled into one but there is no point lying about it, that’s how I felt at the time.

So there are some prime examples of damage being caused to those closest to me and I just had my head in the sand. When it came to finances there was no way I was not aware of the destruction it was causing me. When I ran out of money I started doing spreadsheets and budgets figuring out how I would make it through the month and then how I would change my ways from the following payday and start paying things off. I would budget years into the future, writing down everything and how I would be able to fix things as long as I didn’t gamble the following month...and then I would gamble the second my salary hit my bank account because I believed that this month I could make it work and win my way out of trouble.

- How did you justify your gambling?

I was able to justify my gambling to myself pretty easily, it was my money. The rent and food money was always given to my partner and the rest was my own money to do with what I wanted...only that wasn’t exactly true. I had direct debits for the house I was responsible for but I worked out the best way to bounce those.

My attitude was pretty much that I worked for my money and if I wanted to “relax and unwind” with a bet then that is my choice. I had my Son at 25 and my Daughter at 29, I didn’t go out anymore and drink or socialise. So gambling was my entertainment and my way to enjoy myself. I didn’t “waste” money on clothes or food or video games, so I was entitled to treat myself to a bet or two. My partner stayed at home while I worked and I hardly had any money as it was so if I wanted a bet that was my choice.

I had this belief in my head that I worked hard and was hard done by, that I wasn’t appreciated at home. I thought if I did the dishes I deserved a gold star and if I did some cleaning my partner better organise a parade. So if no one was going to appreciate me I would turn to gambling as I felt it always treated me right.

- Was there a pivotal moment that brought you out of denial and into reality? What was it?

I have written before about the weekend prior to entering recovery and that was the pivotal moment. Without going into the details I’ll just say it was an up and down roller coaster of emotions and money that ended up with me at zero. It was at that point something in my head clicked and realised I was never going to be able to win my way out of this mess, it was only going to get worse. The question was did I want to own up and face the consequences or did I want to keep digging? For me the consequences of telling my partner was her kicking me out and me not being able to see my kids every day, that scared me to death. I can still remember the day I told my partner vividly. She had went to the gym with her friend and I was pacing around the living room with a notebook in my hand. Earlier that day a friend of mine in work realised I wasn’t my “usual” self and asked if I wanted to go for a drink at lunch. So I did and told him what was going on. He was great and listened and said he reckons I should tell my partner and get the help I needed. So I wrote out all my debts, my budget going forward and my closest G.A. meeting, just in case I would forget anything when I was telling her. So her friends car pulls up after the gym and she comes in and sits down. At this point I am still 50/50 in my head if I am going to tell her or not and my head is spinning. Then she starts telling me about the gym and how she got on and I was thinking to myself, “WHO THE FUCK CARES ABOUT THE FUKKING GYM! I’M TRYING TO DECIDE IF I SHOULD TELL YOU ABOUT MY GAMBLING ADDICTION!” My heart is beating so fast at this point like it’s going to jump out of my chest and I am panicking. So she finally stops talking and I just spit it out that I have a gambling problem and need help. I was crying, not for sympathy but because of the relief of finally admitting it, not only to her, but to myself, for the first time. I handed her the notebook and I was just waiting for her to throw me out but she didn’t, she stood by me. Got me to call round my parents and tell them and that’s when I officially entered recovery.

I really got a lot out of reflecting back at this topic as I do feel like it’s an important part of recovery, a reminder of why I don’t want to go back. I was telling one of my mates who I gambled with about a few of my stories the other day from when I was gambling. I’ve spoken to him before about them since I entered recovery. Things like how I would borrow money or bounce direct debits or apply for credit just so I could gamble. The sorts of random things I would gamble on or crazy bets I would do. I would tell him these stories and each time he says the same thing to me and it is probably what any normal person would say when they find out the details of what I was doing. I feel it also proves how in denial I was during my active addiction when he would simply respond with, “how the fuck did you sleep at night.”

Russ

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Me, My Partner and My Recovery

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. At my Gamblers Anonymous meeting recently a member shared something that I could really relate to and it ended up in an impromptu discussion between everyone there. It was regarding their partner and their opinions of recovery and I shared my experience on me and my partner when it comes to my recovery. I just want to add that this is based purely on my own personal experience and my own family dynamic. The money I lost gambling was my own, the debt I have is my own, we are in rented accommodation and have no mortgage etc. For some, their partner will be more involved in the wreckage this addiction can cause and what I am about to share will not be relevant, and that is fine, each recovery is different.

My partner is an amazing person who when I admitted my gambling problem stood by me when I was convinced she would not. The fact I entered recovery still living in the same house as her and my two kids was a massive positive step to start my recovery and that is all down to her and the type of person she is. I remember when I went to my first Gamblers Anonymous meeting she was dreading what I would think of it as she assumed (like I did) it would be really religious and that I would hate it. I remember messaging her after it saying I loved it and she was so relieved.

From that point on the only times she asks me about my recovery are when I come back from my Monday G.A. meeting or come down from my Skype meetings. “Good meeting?”, “yes”. That’s generally it and this is not a complaint by the way, I prefer it to be that way because this is my addiction. We spoke one time about relapse and she didn’t understand why someone who was clean for a long time would relapse and I was trying to explain but she wasn’t getting it. Again, that’s fine, she doesn’t have an addiction so I can see why she doesn’t understand. There is no point in me getting frustrated at her not getting it or me trying to force her into learning about it if she doesn’t want to.

I do not want to get dragged into situations at home where I am either trying to promote or lecture or teach her (or any of my family members) about my recovery. If they ask me about it I will of course talk about it and if I am struggling with something I know I can open up to them. But I have found that the people who I can relate to the most when it comes to addiction and who can relate to me the most are fellow compulsive gamblers (or fellow addicts in general).

A big part of why I feel my recovery is working well alongside my family life is I made a conscious effort to find meetings that would disrupt my family the least in regards to timings, kids etc. I go to G.A. every Monday night 9pm-10:30pm, my kids are in bed, dinner is still at a normal time and I’m not away for a whole day. My Skype meetings are an hour on a Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, again at times when my kids are in bed and dinner is out of the way. None of my meetings put extra pressure on my partner so she has no resentment towards me attending 4 meetings a week. The whole point of recovery, for me, is to get back to a normal way of thinking and living.

I mentioned to my partner before about Open Meetings and if she would be interested in attending and she was quite honest about it and said not really. They are on Saturday mornings for a start and with two kids that is extra work to get them minded. Then she would be spending 3 hours or so somewhere, quite honestly, she doesn’t need to be. Yes, she would be there to support me but she is already doing that more than I ever could have hoped for by standing by me.

I don’t really know what the point of me writing this is, maybe in case someone out there doesn’t feel like their partner or family is supporting them enough because they don’t understand addiction or think there is a cure for it. In my opinion, and I must stress this is just my opinion and what I have experienced, this is my recovery and I am the one who needs to change, not my partner. She knows that I am attending meetings weekly and is supportive of that and she can see a change in me and knows I am not gambling. That’s all I need from her because as long as I don’t go back to gambling I am going to be a better person and a happier person and so is she. By me doing the right things, not only do I benefit but my family benefits.

I’ll leave it on this point, both myself and my partner do not need to understand how recovery works we just need to realise that it does work and reap the benefits that comes with a life without gambling. As long as I am doing the right things each day I will not gamble, if I do not gamble my partner is happy and if my partner is happy then I am happy. It’s like one big beautiful circle.

Russ

Sunday, 12 January 2020

One Bet Away

It can be difficult to keep up with Recovery as life begins to get full. As life continues to get better we must remember where we came from. We are only one bet away from returning to active addiction.

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. I seen the above post on twitter (@podcastrecovery) and it really resonated with me as it is something I know I have to keep reminding myself of. The personality I have had for the first 32 years of my life is fertile ground for addictive behaviours to grow and thrive. I can see it in everyday life which is why it is important to remember that one bet will send me back to where I was. When I find something I like I will go all in on it to the point I sicken myself of it then give up and move onto the next thing or complete the task in question without getting the full enjoyment out of it.

A good example of this would be when it comes to food, if I find something I like I want it every week, sometimes multiple times a week until I get fed up with it. Now, that is exactly how I was with gambling once I got a taste of it, apart from the fact it took 14 years for me to get fed up with it.

Another example would be when it comes time to upgrade my mobile phone. Once I get the idea into my head that I want to upgrade my mobile phone it is all I can think about until I do it. I cannot settle myself, constantly looking at reviews online, looking at the best plans, figuring out when I can go and get my new phone. Then the minute I get it I'm not even that excited about it, I was more excited about the anticipation of getting it. Which again, I can link that to my gambling because for me the build up to placing a bet was the most exciting part for me, far more exciting than the match or race itself. Even with the casino side it was the thoughts of what the next spin could bring rather than the spin itself. I can never just enjoy something in moderation, I have to be all in.

It happened to me this week, I wanted a film to watch on Wednesday and seen Sky had the Matrix on, so watched it for the first time in ages (still stands up even to this day). I could not wait to watch the 2nd and 3rd ones, even when watching the first one my mind was thinking when I will get the next two watched. I watched the 2nd one on Thursday and the 3rd one on Friday. Over 6 hours of The Matrix in 3 evenings. Now, it's easy to say there was no harm in that and that is normal behaviour but for me it just reminds me of how I was when I was gambling. Constantly thinking of the next bet while my current bet was still on going. Doing what I wanted to do night after night without considering what anyone else wanted to do. I know for a fact if something had got in the way of me watching those films I would have been frustrated. Now, I would have quickly snapped out of it because of what I have learned in recovery but if I was back out there gambling what I have learned would be quickly forgotten.

Sticking with TV, Netflix and the binge watching style of viewing. I absolutely love that because that's how I am as a compulsive gambler, I want everything right now and on my terms. I wanted to watch Watchmen (Who watches the whatchmen?) On Sky Atlantic but I couldn't cope with it being weekly, so I have them all recorded to binge watch. I haven't started them yet as I am working out when I will have some time to get it watched in the shortest amount of time. Narcos, one of my favourite TV shows, is on Netflix and all episodes are available when it drops. I will have been anticipating a new season for 12+ months and I usually watch it in one night, no sleep. Do I enjoy it? Of course I do. Do I really appreciate it? I don't believe so, I just needed my fix on my terms and that's exactly how I was when gambling.

Money wise I still struggle with managing the small amount that I am in control of (my partner can see the transactions on this account and is in control of the main money). I find myself spending more as soon as I get paid on silly things I don't need but want like lunches out, sweets, games etc and having very little money in the week or two before the next payday. This is the exact same cycle I was in when gambling and it is something I am constantly trying to work on.

I'll finish with this and it is emotions. I am attending one meeting a week in person, three meetings a week via Skype, on the GamCare chat rooms nearly everyday, sometimes twice a day, reading the Problem Gambling subreddit and writing for my diary/blog/subreddit (it's the same stuff on all three). I also speak to my sponsor daily and have a WhatsApp group with the people from the Skype meetings to talk to. That's a lot of outlet for my emotions and to talk about how I feel. To reach out if I am struggling or need help with something. To offer hope to people. It's hard to imagine I kept all these emotions so bottled up when I was gambling that, I personally feel, like they died and I was emotionally void when I entered recovery. I try to imagine having to bottle all this up again, how it would make me feel inside, the pain I would feel, how I would suffer alone again. How, eventually I would become void of these emotions once again.

It just reminds me how important my recovery is for me, because although my last bet was over 9 months ago, these character defects will take a long time to work on and they might never be fully removed. My addiction is just waiting on me, waiting on me to think I've beaten it, waiting on the right moment to strike.

Russ

Monday, 6 January 2020

It's Been A While

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. I haven't posted in a while but I am still going strong and thought I would post some of my current thoughts and feelings.


It's been over 9 months since my last bet and, as crazy as it sounds, I am so grateful for this addiction because it introduced me to recovery and without recovery I wouldn't have realised how lucky I actually am. I have two wonderful kids, a partner who has stood by me, a roof over my head (even if it is rented), family, friends, my support groups, a job and my health. I have everything I could ever want. If I go back gambling the way I was I will lose all that, which is a dangerous situation for an addict to find themselves in because it will feel like there is nothing left to lose and nothing worth fighting for. It's important for me to remind myself what I will lose if I go back out there.

As for how I feel about gambling now..I still love gambling, I would be lying if I said I did not love it, and I have found nothing that gives me that buzz that gambling gave me and to be perfectly honest I don't believe there is anything out there that will, and that's OK, because I have accepted that to live a happy life I do not need that buzz that gambling gave me. I do not need the ups and downs (mainly downs), the stress, the lying, the cheating, the stealing etc. that comes with this addiction. I am now content, I can see how lucky I am and appreciate what I have. I still have debt which I am paying off and it will probably take about 6 years but I can even appreciate that because I am learning the value of money again.

When it comes to urges I feel I have been pretty lucky that I haven't been tormented by them the way I know other people have. I do still think about gambling though and that is fine because I am not in charge of my first thought but I am in charge of my first action. So if I see the odds of a game (I was a sports bettor) then I may think "that's a good price" but as long as I choose the correct action after that thought then I will not gamble. For me it's all about trying to do the right things each day and if I do that, use my support network, continue to be open and honest, then I won't gamble, at least not today. One day at a time as they say in GA and it's a method that has worked for me.

It doesn't matter how many days off a bet you are, what matters is how close you are to the next bet. This is something I heard at my local GA and it has stuck with me because it is so true. Even now I can see when I reflect on my gambling, a lot of it feels like I am looking back through rose tinted glasses. Remembering the "good" times but not the bad times. That's why meetings are important for me because they give me an opportunity not only to express my feelings but to share my gambling experience and to hear what other people have went through. I have lost count the amount of times I have listened to someone share and think to myself "I forgot I used to do that" or "that's right, I did that once". I go to 4 meetings a week, one in person and three via Skype, while I am not suggesting that it is for everyone, it works for me. I gambled seven days a week so four meetings a week is nothing to me.

I mentioned feelings above and that is probably the biggest change I have noticed in myself since entering recovery. Before when I was gambling, and if I am being brutally honest before I even started gambling, I didn't care about other people, all I cared about was myself. I didn't feel emotion, whether I was supposed to be happy or sad I was just very meh about everything. Those closest to me always said I was very laid back and took everything in my stride but I think it was more that I just didn't give a $hit about anyone or myself. That sort of emotional environment (or lack thereof) was what helped cultivate and grow my gambling addiction in my opinion. Now though, because of recovery, I have emotion. I feel what it's like to have empathy for someone now. I have cried with sadness and cried with happiness. I care about how others are progressing in their lives. I now truly believe that in recovery you have to give it away to keep it and that is very much via emotional connections in meetings or via social media.

I only meant to check in and ended up rambling on a bit but my ramblings will maybe offer hope to somebody checking in for the first time or for someone currently on their journey because that's all this is, a journey, there is no end point, there is no destination and on this journey you have to give it away to keep it.

Russ