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

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