Tuesday, 28 January 2020

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

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