Saturday, 29 February 2020

Cognitive Dissonance in Addiction

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. One of the recent Problem Gambling Support Group meetings I attended via Skype had this fantastic topic for us to discuss as a group. I loved the topic so much I said to the person who was chairing I’ll have to write a blog on this. That person knows who they are and I just want to say I am proud of you and your journey so far.

Cognitive Dissonance in Addiction

It is rare for an addict to realize they have a problem, and stop the behaviour right then and there. Cognitive dissonance is an incompatibility between one's beliefs and desires or behaviours which causes extreme anxiety and discomfort. A gambler who recognizes their gambling has become harmful and continues to gamble experiences cognitive dissonance.  In theory, dissonance reduction requires either our beliefs or behaviour to change. Generally, addicts take the path of least resistance. Our beliefs change and morph to accommodate our addictive behaviours.

1) At what point in your active addiction did you realize you had a problem? Did this create within you a sense of internal conflict?

I honestly believe the first time I realised I had a problem was on April 2nd 2019 which was the date of my last bet. That’s when I honestly said to myself that I have a problem and need help, then told my partner. Now, in saying that, there are a hell of a lot of red flags that I can talk about when looking back that should have been enough for me to realise I had a problem.

Spending hours of my time gambling is the one I will start off with, hours on end gambling online or when I was working spending my full lunch hour standing in a bookies. Sitting up until 3am or 4am betting on some shite tennis in Asia between two players no one has ever heard of. Not even anyone watching it at the court, there’s me streaming it and betting on it. When I would constantly gamble when out and about either with my family or when I was out with friends, I couldn’t do anything without my head being in my phone. So yeah, time spent on gambling should have been enough alone to make me realise.

Obviously the amount of money I was spending was an issue but more than that it was the fact I was borrowing money so I could gamble. More and more debt was being added simply so I could gamble. When I ran out of options to gamble from companies I started borrowing from friends and family, I even stole from the fantasy leagues that I run! That was crossing so many lines that I should have realised at that point but I didn’t want to. I wanted to continue gambling.

I would cool off, self exclude, withdraw after I won whatever “responsible gambling” measures there are I tried them but obviously I was so far past that stage that they were completely useless. I remember self excluding from Bet365 and Betfair for 5 years each and literally counting down the days until I could reopen them. The amount of times I withdrew from a bookmaker only to reverse the withdrawal and lose it all, I mean, countless times. I know that’s a familiar story for a lot of online gamblers and I hated it when I did it. So much so in fact that I stopped betting with bookmakers that I knew you could reverse the withdrawal. Instead, on the other sites, I would withdraw then sit and wait for it to hit my account so I could deposit it again.

Finally I will touch on this, and it’s not something I am proud of but it is simply a fact of how I felt back then. I loved gambling more than anything else in the whole wide world, more than my kids, my partner, my parents, my friends, my job, the list is endless. Gambling was the number one thing in my life and when that happens, when that is how strongly I felt about gambling, I should have realised I had a problem and needed help. Instead it took me until I was mentally broken to finally enter recovery.

2) After realizing you had a problem and before entering recovery, did you convince yourself that your behaviour was justifiable/excusable?

Again, because I feel like I had a problem and entered recovery at the same time I will share how I justified or explained my behaviour to myself when I was gambling. So I have time, money, responsible gambling and relationships.

Time wise I justified it that I was using my own down time to gamble and it wasn’t impacting on any other aspects of my life. This was clearly bollocks since I was gambling every minute I was in work, I have no idea how I have a job to be honest. I gambled non stop at home, but I will get to that when talking about relationships.

When it came to money it was easy to justify, it was my money! Only it wasn’t was it? I was spending money that could have been used on my kids or my partner. I was borrowing money that wasn’t mine to gamble or to replace money lost by gambling. Any money I borrowed was always paid back, well to friends and family anyways, until it wasn’t. Until I borrowed too much and couldn’t pay it back. Then I would lie and make up excuses or try to borrow more. I stole money from my partner when I used our savings to gamble. It wasn’t a lot of money but that isn’t the point, it’s the fact that I took that money, which was ours and didn’t ask her. That’s stealing but in my head I was just borrowing.

I would tell myself I could control my gambling, that I was in control. Sure I even self excluded from websites and I would use cooling off periods. I even stopped gambling for periods of time, a few weeks, a few months, nearly a year at one point. I always went back though because I was stopping because I had to. Either lack of money or I thought I was going to get found out. Debts needed paid that I couldn’t hide. I always felt that I was in control but in all honesty I was controlled by gambling.

Last but not least, relationships, and my justification was simple for this one, I was not hurting anyone with my behaviour. How could my kids or my partner be hurt by me gambling? It didn’t make sense to me, and again being totally honest it has only started to make sense to me in the last few weeks where I have had the opportunity through the GamCare chat room to be able to talk to spouses of compulsive gamblers. I now see the hurt that I have caused those closest to me, and I probably can’t see all of it. Shouting at my kids for no reason other than the fact I was having a bad day or had no money left to gamble. Making them feel like shit because I felt like shit. Letting my relationship with my partner fall apart to point it might never recover to what it used to be. As she told me recently, “you are so in touch with your emotions recently but you didn’t give a fuck about mine while you were sitting up all night doing what you were doing.” She’s not fucking wrong either. I barely spoke to my parents when I dropped my kids round for them to look after, I was too busy on my phone or thinking about gambling. I went round to their house a week or two after entering recovery and had a cup of coffee and they said to me it’s the most I have spoken to them in ages.

3) What happened to make you realize you needed to change your behaviour?  What happened to your beliefs at that time?

I was mentally broken by gambling and I could sense my brain was flying me towards self destruction. April 2nd 2019 I was sitting in work, looking miserable, trying to work out how I would fix everything and my mate asked me if I was ok. It was the first time I said no, not really. So he said let’s go for a drink at lunchtime and it was the first time I opened up to someone about what I was going through. It was at that point I realised I needed to change my behaviour. Not just change my behaviour but change everything about my life. I was a mess and it was because of gambling. I didn’t know how or what I would do but I knew I needed to do something. All my bullshit reasons to justify my behaviours and actions were proven to be just that...bullshit. I knew I had to tell my partner and I was fucking terrified. I assumed she would kick me out of the house, I wouldn’t see my kids all the time, I had all these thoughts going through my head about what would happen and it was obviously all the worst possible scenario. Another thing I knew was that if I came out about this I would lose the one thing I loved the most and that wasn’t my two kids or my partner, that was gambling. That also terrified me. My mind was racing but I knew what I had to do. I realised my beliefs were totally fucked up and I realised that I was lying to myself. I was miserable and I needed help. I needed to stop digging, put the fucking shovel down and reach out for help.

I absolutely loved this topic and it really gives me plenty to think about when writing about it and for that I am grateful. I’m really enjoying the Brothers Osbourne at the moment and they have a song called “It Ain’t My Fault”. Although it has nothing to do with addiction the song reminds me of the sort of thinking I would have after I fucked up...again.

“I got my hands up
I need an alibi
Find me a witness who can testify
You made a mistake
You got the wrong guy
I'm only guilty of a damn good time
No it ain't my fault”


Friday, 21 February 2020

A-Z of My Story So Far

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. I have a lot of things on my mind right now, although the urge or thought to gamble isn’t one of them, and I feel like I have a lot to say but just need time to figure it out. I think my head is a bit all over the place and I want to tackle various issues at once instead of taking a step back and approaching it one at a time. So I thought that an A-Z of my journey so far, life, gambling and recovery, might give me an opportunity to touch on various things just a little and maybe allow some of the thoughts I have to escape.

A is for Abstinence - There is a huge difference in my mind between abstinence and recovery as abstinence simply involves stopping gambling. Now, for some that may be enough to stay away for the rest of their lives and that is fantastic, but for me, I knew through experience it wouldn’t be enough. I have tried to stop on my own in the past and eventually my “will power” ended and I went right back. I was never actually trying to become a better person or trying to learn a better way to live, I was simply stopping gambling in the hope that everything would fix itself which was never going to be enough. Now, abstinence is vital for my recovery because I need to stop gambling but I have done, and continue to do, so much more than just stopping gambling because I need to do it. I’ve come into recovery not knowing who or what I am or should have been. I’ve been gambling since I was 18 years old, dabbling before that as well, and I never “grew” into the adult I was supposed to be or could have been. So I really have to start from the beginning with a blank canvas, which I honestly feel has massive potential for me, and get to write my own story of how my life goes from here on out, but I can’t do that simply by abstaining from gambling.

“We can't just hope that something will happen. We must put in the work.
If we simply wait for our life to improve without putting in the necessary work then we aren't going anywhere.”

B is for Blog - I read a fellow Problem Gambler Support Group members blog not long after I joined and it was all about his gambling journey. I thought “that’s a good idea, I’m going to steal that” and set up my own website. It didn’t quite go like what but I thought there would be a benefit from writing my story out, for me at the very least. Turns out people liked it and said it was good and well written and they got something from it. So I wrote more and I kept getting the same feedback then decided to share my step work and tackle other topics to do with my recovery. I’ll be honest, I’m still unsure if my writing is any good, but people like it and tell me it is, so I’ll just accept that and be very happy with the compliments and keep on writing. I get so much from writing my blogs, it allows me to formulate my thoughts so much better than I do when I am speaking, cause i’m Irish and I use fuck like a comma when talking, less so when writing. I also find it allows me to dig down really deep when reflecting back in my gambling past or thinking about any topic to be honest. I have found out so much about myself from my writing that it’s been a huge benefit to my recovery. It’s also amazing when someone tells me that they could relate to something I’ve written or that something in my blog has helped them with their recovery. That sort of feedback is priceless for me and I’m just happy I have an opportunity to give back because at the end of the day you have to give it away to keep it.

“I’m usually terrified people will hate my writing.
My only saving grace is how I direct that fear. I use it to motivate me to find better ideas and share more useful examples rather than allowing it to prevent me from sharing at all.
Fear is the gas pedal, not the brake.” James Clear

C is for Choice - “You aren’t responsible for your first thought but you are responsible for your first action”. That is one of my favourite quotes and probably one of the first things I will tell a newcomer or someone who is struggling with urges (people are probably bored of it by now but sometimes boring is good). I am a firm believer that if I want to gamble I can, yes I have blocks in place, but if I really want to do it I can choose to do it. At the same time, I also have the choice not to gamble and that is what I choose to do. Now, I understand that people suffer from urges and these can get to a point where it feels like there is no choice so they gamble. For me, it’s all about knowing what to do in those situations and what I have learned it recovery. I know if I am struggling to reach out and talk to someone (more on that later I am sure) as that is the most important tool for me. We also have the choice to break the triangle that compulsive gamblers require to gamble, money, time and opportunity. Anyone can choose to break that triangle if they want to. It all comes back to the initial quote for me though, I am responsible for my first action, it’s all about making the right choice.

“The 3 C's in life: Choice, Chance, Change. You must make the Choice, to take the Chance, if you want anything in life to Change.”

D is for Desire - The only membership requirement for Gamblers Anonymous is a desire to stop gambling. April 2nd 2019 is the first time I have truly had that desire. Up until that point the only desire I had was to hide my secret life from those closest to me and to be able to gamble as much and as long as I wanted. The definition of desire is “a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen”. I feel like where I am now in recovery, I have no desire to gamble which has given me an opportunity to focus on my recovery.

Gala -  “Freed from desire, mind and senses purified”.

E is for Excitement - That excitement or buzz that I used to get from gambling was something else and I’ll be honest, I haven’t found anything that can match it on a consistent level since entering recovery. Sometimes meetings will come close, I will leave one buzzing after what I have just heard or shared, but in general, for me, recovery as a whole is a lot more relaxed. This is perfectly fine as I feel that I have accepted that I no longer need the buzz or excitement in my life all the time and that I can lead a perfectly enjoyable and fulfilling life without those high highs, because, as I know too well from experience, eventually the highs run out and they are followed by low lows.

“Take a break and chill out. We are always on the go, doing this or that. Sometimes we just need to sit back and relax or else the world will simply pass us by.”

F is for Family & Friends - I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today if it wasn’t for my family standing by me. I fully expected to be kicked out by my partner when I told her and I wouldn’t be able to see my two kids everyday. I was terrified, so I am aware of how big a step it is to tell your loved ones, but it was a step I had to take. I would rather have been a part time Dad in recovery than a “full time” Dad in active addiction. Plus, over the last few months I have been talking to more partners of gambling addicts and I really appreciate learning how they feel and are affected by compulsive gambling. The money isn’t the main issue, it’s the lies, the broken trust and the fact we put them in a position of enablers. I know I manipulated those closest to me to get what I wanted and I didn’t once care how they would feel about it. They are also affected and some may need support and for me hearing their experiences are a vital cog in my recovery wheel. I also wouldn’t be where I am without the understanding and support of my friends. I owed a lot of my friends money which I lied to get and I broke their trust, but they all stood by me and told me how proud they were of me for admitting I had a gambling problem. That support, along with the support of my family gave me a strong foothold when I entered recovery. The best thing I can do to repay my family and friends is to remain in recovery and work towards becoming a better person each day.

“Living a double life of addiction can be exhausting. Pretending everything is okay to our family and friends when we know it isn't. Once we surrender to our addiction we open up the possibility of Recovery.”

G is for GamCare - This is only been a place I have been fully utilising over the last few months because before then, I’ll be honest, I didn’t get it. I would go onto chat regularly but usually just sit there and read what other people were saying, I rarely got involved. I feel like part of it was my ego, I didn’t understand how people could just use a chat and recover. Then I started to learn that there is not a one size fits all recovery program and around November 2019 I started to get more involved. I not only used the chat room but started to post on the forum. I had a place where I could talk to other compulsive gamblers and not only help myself but help them by passing on the message. I have met some wonderful people via GamCare and some I have a great connection with, one which I hope to maintain. It was simply a case of me getting out of GamCare what I put in at the start, which wasn’t much. Now I absolutely love the place and totally see what a great tool it is for people looking for support with their recovery.

“If all we do is take and never give, we will surely be weighed down by our loot. 
Recovery is as much about giving as it is receiving. We must give it away to keep it.”

H is for Honesty - One of the mantras I constantly say to newcomers is that you need three things for a chance at a successful recovery, HOW; Honesty, Open Mindedness and Willingness. For me being honest with those closest to me was a vital first step and it lifted a huge weight of my shoulders. Then each day in recovery I have been trying to be as honest as I possibly can. It’s so much easier if you tell the truth because you only have to tell it once. Looking back to when I was gambling it was crazy the amount of lies and bullshit I was telling people, by the end I wasn’t sure what was true and what was a lie. It’s not like that today though, I can look myself in the mirror and know that I am an honest person. I feel like I am honest in my meetings and through my writing. I share things that I probably do not need to share but it helps me not only get my thoughts out but at some point someone else may hear or read it and realise they aren’t alone.

French Proverb: “There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.”

I is for Intention - The subject of intent was briefly discussed at one of my Skype meetings and I feel quite strongly about this. I fully accept responsibility for my actions when gambling because when I break it all down, I was the person who chose to gamble in the first place. Each time I gambled it was my choice. The best example I have is if I went to a bar and had 5 or 6 pints and got in my car to drive home but on the way crash and kill 4 people. My intention was just to drive home, I didn’t intend to cause pain and suffering but I knew the risks when I got in the car. For me it’s the same as gambling. I may not have intended to cause pain and suffering to my kids and partner and those closest to me, but I did. These were consequences of my actions. I may not even have been fully aware of the pain I was causing or didn’t want to be aware, either way the intent was in my initial action which was gambling. Were there other outside forces at work, such as advertising and offers encouraging me to keep gambling? Yes there were but again I do not want to waste my energy blaming the industry for what has happened to me. The responsibility of what I have done lands firmly at my feet. Does that mean the industry should continue to get away with what they do? Absolutely not. Are people groomed by the industry and bled dry of all their money? 100% and it is a disgrace. There needs to be accountability of the gambling industry but for me personally, with what I went through when gambling and for my own recovery, the focus of responsibility needs to be on me and me alone. I’ve been in recovery for over ten months now and the person who has changed is me, not the gambling industry. That’s what I focus on because it’s the one thing I can control and that I can really change to make a difference.

“It’s not intentions that matter. It’s actions. 
We are what we do and say, not what we intend to.”

J is for Jeff - If I said I owe this man a lot it would be an understatement as he was instrumental in helping me from when I got into recovery. Jeff is the man behind the Problem Gambling Support Group and I had messaged him on Wednesday 3rd April 2019 asking to join the group as I had seen a post on Reddit about it. This wasn’t my first time speaking to Jeff though, that was November 2018 when I had been on Reddit under a different name and was trying to stop casino gambling online but wanted to continue sports betting...yea, didn’t work out well. Jeff contacted me around that time and we messaged back and forth one afternoon, with Jeff telling me the benefits of recovery and me trying to tell him how I could still gamble responsibly. Bottom line, I wasn’t ready for recovery then but when I was Jeff could not have been more welcoming. Jeff took me under his wing and spoke to me often in the early days and I asked him to be my Sponsor. He has helped me work the steps and has been a part of my recovery journey the whole time. I feel like I have someone who I can reach out to at any time and he’ll be there for me. It’s hard to really do justice for the impact Jeff has made on my recovery, but I honestly believe things would be a lot different if it wasn’t for his support and guidance. Sponsorship has been so important to me and up until recently I didn’t believe I had what it takes to be one but I have been given an opportunity to be a Sponsor now and I am loving it. If I can be half the Sponsor that Jeff has been to me I know I’ll be a success.

“Fellowship is so important to Recovery 
What we can't do on our own, we can do together. From Friendship to Sponsorship to Relationships we need people in our life to help us with our Recovery.”

K is for Kids - My kids are my life but I have not hidden the fact that I had gambling above them when I was practicing my addiction. I don’t say that lightly as it really does upset me to think about it but that is how it was. I gambled without a single thought about them and I needed gambling in my life more than I thought I needed them. Now, my kids were always looked after, mainly by my partner, but I also spent time with them, only they had me there in body but my mind was escaping into the world of online gambling. Since entering recovery I have realised how much I actually love my kids (even though they can be wee bastards at times) and they are my Higher Power. When I am struggling with a choice to make I think how my actions will impact my kids. I’ve spent so much more quality time with them and I love spending that time together. It’s easy to sit here now and say that I have made it up to my kids or that they were too young to understand, but when they have experienced their Dad shouting at them for no reason because I was losing bets or they were interrupting my gambling that leaves emotional scars for them. I’ll never be able to remove those scars, all I can do is continue on my recovery journey and become someone they are proud to say is their Dad.

“If we hold onto the past it is bound to weigh us down. The past made us the people we are today but holding onto shame and guilt will inevitably lead us back down the rabbit hole. Don't forget the past, but don't let it prevent you from living for today.”

L is for Life - There’s so many different ways I could take this but where I will go first is that I truly believe that I will be a compulsive gambler for the rest of my life. Now, that sounds quite scary, I’ll be going to meetings for life, I’ll be unable to gamble for the rest of my life, I’ll potentially have an element of fear for the rest of my life. The good news is I just have to worry about arresting the addiction a day at a time, it’s a lifelong journey with a daily program is how I look at it. I also want to briefly mention how I got a life back, not my life but a life. That’s because I have grown into an adult with my addiction, I have met my partner with my addiction and I have had kids with my addiction. I have no idea what my life is supposed to look like without gambling in it or what it should have looked like as I grew into an adult. So I have been given a clean slate to make a new life for myself, to become the person that I want to be. That is exciting and of course a little scary but it is an opportunity I am grateful to receive.

“Entering Recovery represents the start of a new Life 
A life where we don't have to worry about how to get the next one or if we remember the mess we got ourselves into last night. Recovery is the start of a good life.”

M is for Meetings - Many meetings make it easy was a saying I heard at my G.A meetings and I have to say I agree with it. I do one in person G.A. meeting a week (#MondayNightCrew4Life) and I also do three Skype meetings a week with my Problem Gambling Support Group which involves gamblers from all around the world. Both are different which I like but I still get so much from both groups. It helps the people in both are brilliant and I feel I have gotten really lucky in that regard. Looking back to my first G.A. meeting, I assumed I would be sat with a bunch of old men trying to convert me to religion or else desperate for a bet and I thought it wouldn’t be for me, but up until that point the decisions I had made weren’t exactly the best so I thought fuck it, what’s the worst that can happen, I waste a couple of hours. My first meeting was amazing, I left absolutely buzzing. I found a group of people who could relate to me and who understood what I was going through, but more than that, they had actually been in my shoes and knew how to walk this journey. So I said to myself I’m going to share in meetings but the most important thing for me was to actually listen and take on board what was said. It was the same for my Skype meetings, although a different format, it was full of people who once were in my position. Many meetings not only make it easy in my opinion, but they make recovery.

“We take solace in the rooms of Recovery 
There is comfort and love in this place. We feel safe.
Just For Today I am grateful for all the rooms of recovery which house those in need.”

N is for Neglect - Where do I even begin with this one. I neglected everything in my life when I was gambling, my health from hardly eating and hardly sleeping to my job where I didn’t do any work to my friendships that I allowed to drift away because I didn’t put any effort into them as they got in the way of my gambling to relationships which I allowed to turn to shit right before my eyes. I think the relationships with those closest to me is what hurts the most and it’s because of the hurt I have caused them. They’ll have to live with those scars for the rest of their life. It’s all good me being in recovery and wanting to become a better person, but I wasn’t the only one being harmed for 14 years, those closest to me were also harmed and I don’t even know how much hurt I inflicted. I’ll probably never know. My kids are what kills me when I look back, as they had to deal with me shouting at them for no reason because I was having a shit time. I was taking the consequences of my choices and my actions out on them and I wasn’t a nice person to be around. Although I was never violent I also know that words hurt and the fact is I wasn’t the sort of Dad I wanted to be, but more importantly, that they deserved to have.

“A little neglect may breed great mischief.” Benjamin Franklin

O is for Open Mindedness - The second part of “HOW” and something that was alien to me coming into recovery. To me being open minded meant listening to other people's opinions, which if I didn’t already know and agreed with, meant I thought they were shit. There was no winning me round with facts, I’d just try to convince you that I was right and my way was the best way. Well, once I got into meetings I sat on my chair (or virtual chair for Skype) and closed my mouth and opened my ears. The best story I can relate to this in my recovery is from my G.A. meetings. There was one member the first few times I listened to him share I thought “fuck me he goes on a bit and I don’t get it” then a few weeks later he shared a story and I was like “that’s me, that guy is me and if I go back out there I’ll be living his life story”. From that point, I’ve listened to everything he says and he’s one of my favourite speakers but it also taught me to listen to each person because you never know what they will say that just hits you. Another part of open mindedness for me is listening to what everyone suggests to me and trying it because if it’s worked for them it might work for me. Not everything has worked for me but I’ve yet to get a suggestion that harmed me or my recovery in any way.

“Our best thinking got us here... We must remain open-minded to new ideas in Recovery. They may not all work for us, but we should at least be willing to hear what they are about.”

P is for Present - Not Xmas presents but present as in today. I really struggle to recognise the progress I have made in my recovery so this feels like a good way to take this word, comparing me today vs me when I came into recovery. Honesty is a big one which I have obviously covered earlier but I do find myself being much more honest than I was. Do I always get it right? Not at all, either withholding thoughts or feelings or only telling part of a story has got me into bother on occasion but I am trying to be as honest as I can. I’ve spent most of my life lying about everything so it’s hard to be so honest, but if you tell the truth you only have to tell it once. How I feel about other people has also changed massively as I used to fucking hate the world. I hated everyone in it and assumed they were going out of their way to make my life miserable. Turns out the only person going out of their way to do that was me. Now I really, genuinely care for other people, in recovery, outside of recovery, I have empathy, I’m willing to reach out and let people know they aren’t alone. My mental health has also definitely improved and although I struggle with low self-esteem, I am generally in a good place whereas when I came into recovery I was broken. Relationships with those closest to me are something that have improved but there is still a lot of work to do in one of them. That’s something that hopefully will continue to improve over time. I’ll finish with this, I have a voice now, a voice that I can use for myself but also for good. When I came into recovery I was used to just telling people what I thought they wanted to hear as I was trying to hide my secret life, now I can just be me and feel comfortable using my voice.

“The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence.”

Q is for Quitting - Quitting is something that has come so easy to me in other aspects of my life, quitting hockey, friends, hobbies whatever it is, but I couldn’t quit when I was gambling. I would always tell myself if I got ahead I’d quit and withdraw but rarely did I manage it, and if I did it was deposited straight back into the bookies once it hit my account. After a while there was no quitting when I was ahead because I was so far behind I was never going to be able to get ahead. I even tried quitting the casino side of things after it became a problem (I only started playing the casino side the last 18 months of my active addiction) to focus on sports betting because in my head I wasn’t addicted to sports. That was a lie of course, but I still went back to the casino side of things when I had money because I just could not quit that buzz and excitement.

“I honestly thought I would use until I died. The thought of quitting gambling wasn't plausible, impossible actually. 
Just For Today I will believe in the impossible because at one time this current existence was impossible.”

R is for Recovery - I’ll be the first to admit that I have thrown myself head first into my recovery and fully embraced it. I get so much out of it and I put a lot of work into it. This is what my recovery looks like, and while all of it isn’t for everyone, I feel it shows the difference between abstinence and recovery. I attend one in person G.A. meeting a week, three Skype meetings with my Problem Gambling Support Group, I have a Sponsor, I Sponsor someone, I work the Steps, I write my blog and post it on the Reddit Problem Gambling Sub and GamCare forum, I use the GamCare chat rooms twice a day most days, I reach out and offer help and support if I can, I listen to podcasts about addiction, I have been on two podcasts sharing my story, I do my own research on addiction and I am going to start and learn about SMART Recovery. Think that’s it all, and while it looks like a lot, it’s nothing compared to the time I spent gambling and it all fits around my life. I feel like recovery is the thing that has been missing from my life, that place where I am accepted for being me, a place where I can make a difference. Recovery is so important to me and my life and without it there is no way I would have stopped gambling.

“Recovery is a transformation of self. From the ashes of defeat in the battle of Addiction to a renewed sense of purpose in the triumph of Recovery. We strive to become better and better with each passing day.”

S is for Springsteen - I love Bruce Springsteen and listening to his music really resonates with me and can help me think and process my emotions and thoughts. Music really does have that sort of power and it has been a vital tool during my recovery. I can get lost in music, almost like an escape, but for me it’s a healthy escape. My personality needs some alone time to be able to recharge and that’s when I turn to music. I find lyrics jumping out at me and meaning different things at various stages of my recovery. A lyric will transport me back to a time or place and make me remember, good or bad, what had happened. Music can also just help me go from feeling down to feeling happy and realise that things aren’t as bad as I thought there were.

“Bruce Springsteen is the direct line to all that is true in this shitty world”.

T is for Talking - This was something I have come to find is one of my most useful tools I have developed and used in recovery. In the past I would never have opened up and spoken about my feelings but now I am in recovery I feel more confident to talk to at least one person about what is going on in my head. I’ve found talking has been an amazing way for me to solve problems that have been bothering me and eating away at me. Even just to vent is such a powerful tool, it can make me realise that I am making a big deal out of something that really isn’t. It also allows me to ask for advice and to get used to the fact that I do not possess all the answers. It was about swallowing my pride and realises that the main benefit of a support network is to rely on it when you need it. Sometimes I have asked questions that have made me feel stupid, but I have never been judged. Talking is one of the most important tools I have and it is something I always say to anyone I talk to in recovery, if you are ever struggling then reach out to me or to someone else, even if it’s just to say what is on your mind.

“Asking for help is hard. It certainly didn't come naturally to me and can still be a struggle.
Just For Today I will ask for help when I need it.”

U is for Understood - Recovery is the first place I have really felt that people have understood me and what I have put myself through with my gambling addiction. “Put myself through” sounds like I am a victim, they have understood what I did when gambling. The longer I have been in recovery the more I feel people understand this new me that I have become, even more so than those in my life outside of recovery because they see me “in action” so to speak, in meetings, through my writing, helping others etc. There is something about going into a meeting and knowing, that no matter what you say or feel, you can feel safe sharing it and will not be judged.

“I am not a perfect person, I make a lot of mistakes.. but still, I love those people who stay with me after knowing how I really am.”

V is for Vicious - The vicious cycle that I was in when gambling broke me mentally, it was insanity when I look back on it. I would get paid and the first thing I would do is stay up until my pay hit my bank account around 1am and deposit and gamble. I would then pay back any money I had borrowed from friends or family and pay bounced direct debits from the previous month. I would then gamble more than I intended, have to bounce more direct debits, had to borrow more money from friends and family by lying to them. My phone bill was around £275 a month because of my insanity on top of all this. I was borrowing more money from people and from companies (although luckily I had wrecked my credit rating early on in my gambling career or it could have been far worse) and it was just getting worse and worse each month. One of my friends asked me before, “how the fuck did you sleep at night?” and looking back I have no idea.

“We are grateful to be in Recovery today. To think the pain of active addiction is in the rear view mirror, but we must remain vigilant. If we let up in our program for too long our addiction will surely catch up to us. 
Just For Today I will commit myself to my program.”

W is for Willingness - The final part of “HOW” and without it, for me, recovery would have been impossible. I threw myself head first into my recovery and was open to whatever people suggested to me and was willing to try. Someone once told me I was very teachable when it came to recovery and I think that proves the willingness I had. I knew if I was going to come out about my gambling, if I was going to admit I had a problem and needed help, I would lose the one thing I loved at that point and that was gambling. If I was going to lose gambling I was going to make sure it was worth it. Quickly in recovery I realised that my kids were the most important thing to me and that if I went back to gambling I would lose them. I am not willing for that to happen. I want to become a better person, I want to become a better Dad and I want to improve myself in all possible aspects. Recovery has given me a new lease of life and a willingness to succeed. I have even started a Diploma in Counselling Skills - Level 2 online which is something I would never have done if I was still gambling.

“At some point there is no excuse, either you want to do everything it takes to make it happen, or you don’t.”

X is for X Roads - Or crossroads, yeah I cheated a little, big deal. I feel like I have had two massive crossroads in my life regarding my gambling and recovery. The first is obviously when I decided that I was going to come clean to my partner. 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 gone 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 at 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 friend's 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 F**K CARES ABOUT THE F**KING 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. The other crossroad was fairly recently in recovery, and I would say it wasn’t long after I was ten months gamble free. I basically had a real crisis of confidence, my low self-esteem came to the fore and I was debating if this new me was the real me or was I actually just a fraud. I think this came from a perfect storm of things. I always struggled with low self-esteem but I hadn’t really addressed it in recovery and I did my therapy reading at my Skype group and the feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive. People were saying really good things about me and I don’t think I was expecting it. Then around the same time I also had some other people telling me how much I had helped them, how good my writing was and how good a person I was and I think I just panicked. That voice inside my head telling me I wasn’t good enough was getting louder and louder and I was afraid that I was a fraud. I was afraid my recovery was a lie. I reached out and talked to people close to me and after several pretty intense hours I realised that it was down to me, I had to believe in myself. I had to take that leap of faith. I was also told to “remember that someone believes in”, and that will stick with me forever. So, in my head I was standing on the top of a cliff and I just had to take a leap of faith and embrace this person I had become, waiting for me on the cliff top was the old me, my old behaviours and I didn’t want any part of that. So that’s what I did, I took that leap of faith and believed in myself.

“Feeling our Emotions again after we stop using can be very difficult. After suppressing what we felt for so long it is completely foreign to feel so much. Learning to process these feeling is important to maintain our Recovery”

Y is for You Know Who You Are - If I tried to name everyone who has had an impact on my recovery I would easily miss people out, so instead I am going to list what people have done for me or how they have made me feel and as the name suggests, you know who you are. You are the person who made me feel welcome, who made me smile, who made me laugh when I thought it was impossible, who stood by me, who looked after my finances, who gave me time to pay money back, who helped me up when I was down, who celebrated the good times with me, who talked to me when I needed someone, who listened to me when I needed to vent, who called me out on my bullshit, who gave me opportunities to improve myself, who made me believe in myself, who told me I was good enough, who told me I deserve this, who told me they were proud of me, who appreciated my help, who asked me for advice, who was honest with me, who made me see clearly, who inspires me by their commitment to life, who inspires me by their commitment to recovery, who read my blogs, who wanted me to succeed and who told me I could achieve my dreams.

“Time goes by so fast, people go in and out of your life. Don't miss the opportunity to tell these people how much they mean to you.”

Z is for Zombification - Is an instance or process of turning into a zombie. The process of zombification involves poisoning an individual with toxin from a puffer fish. So, I guess gambling is the puffer fish in this case because I could literally feel myself dying inside as I gambled at times. Time just slipped away while I said I would gamble for an hour, I was transfixed by the world of online gambling, it sucked me in and slowly sucked the life out of me. I would sit until the wee hours of the morning with no idea what was going on around me. I’d barely eat when gambling, I didn’t need to, there was no feeling of hunger. The longer I gambled the more numb I became to my emotions until the point I literally could feel emotion. I didn’t get angry or sad or happy, I was just meh. I went to my Granda’s funeral in January 2019 and couldn’t understand why people were upset. I felt nothing. Gambling had turned me into a zombie. Recovery is the process of de-zombification.

“At your very core, you are energy.
Stop killing it by killing yourself.
By slowly poisoning yourself.
By destroying your mind.
By chasing negativity.
Nurture your energy.
Let it grow & thrive.”

That was a long one but well worth the effort. I hope there’s something relatable there for anyone who reads it. I got a lot out of hitting on different topics in a shorter form and some stuff may not have made it into a “regular” blog.


Monday, 10 February 2020

Feeling My Feelings

I used to escape life and try not to feel. I was trying to mask my emotions with gambling.

Once I got clean I had to face those feelings head on. This can be scary but not impossible. 

Just For Today I will feel my feelings.

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. I saw the above on Twitter, @podcastrecovery and it really got me thinking and when that happens I tend to write. I’d also like to point out what an amazing resource @podcastrecovery is, from their interviews with those in recovery (including me - to their daily posts that always give me something to think about or something to share with another person in recovery. I know a lot of my writing has been focused on what I did in the past and when I gambled, which I still feel is important, but I also want to try and focus on recovery and my progress, or attempted progress which is also, in my opinion, important for me to get a handle on.

So, I will begin by reflecting back before my gambling really began as I feel like I really struggled emotionally during my teenage years. I don’t want that to sound like I had nowhere to go with any problems I had because that’s not true, I had both my Mum and Dad who if I had a problem would have been there to listen to me, help me and advise me, but I generally wanted to keep everything to myself. Why did I do this? If I’m being completely honest, I have no idea. I guess that’s why I like to reflect on things, see if I can figure out the answers to these puzzles in my head.

It’s funny how certain things stick with you, but I remember starting secondary school and a childhood friend of mine ended up going to a different school, we would have played together all the time for years and years. Long story short, I messaged him (on my Nokia 3210...fuck me I’m getting old) and told him I don’t think we should play together anymore because I am in a different school and I think it would be best to end the friendship. From what I recall he was pretty gutted to get the message and couldn’t really understand but I had made my mind up. Why did I do that? Again, I have no idea, but I am wondering if it is somehow linked to my emotions and personality. Maybe I felt if we weren’t seeing each other all the time then there was no point in me putting effort into the friendship as I wasn’t getting enough out of it. That feels like a theme throughout my life now I think about it. If I move on from a job for example, people I would have been really close with, going out together all the time after work etc, would cease to exist as far as I was concerned. I would not put the effort into maintaining those friendships as I knew I would make new ones when I went somewhere else and I would get what I needed out of those friendships. I think I needed to feel like the people who I was friends with were there for me, like I needed to not only know that they liked me but I needed to see that they liked me through our interactions together. If a friend couldn’t hang out or play with me I would genuinely feel devastated, like I was rejected by them and they no longer liked me. It would play on my mind until we next hung out and I would fear the worst, that they didn’t like me, that I had done something wrong and wondered why they chose that other person over me.

“I check my look in the mirror
Wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face
Man, I ain't gettin' nowhere”

Bruce Springsteen - Dancing In The Dark

That brings me on nicely to the fact, when you break it all down, I was a people pleaser and desperate to fit in with those around me. I would be the person I thought they wanted me to be, the person I thought would make them stay with me. I was like a chameleon, I would blend in with the person I was with by talking about what they liked, said what I thought they would want to hear. I did that long enough that soon I didn’t actually know who I was, I was this fraud of a persona I had created that everyone seemed to like, but deep down inside I had no idea who I really was. I feel like that’s why I loved gambling so much, it became a friend of mine, a friend that was always there for me. None of my other mates, when I first started gambling, were into it, so it was just my thing, but looking back it did feel like a relationship. A secret, long term, intense relationship with ups and downs but the thing was, no matter how many mistakes I made, no matter how many bad times I had with gambling, it was always there for me. It never abandoned me for someone else, it was the perfect vehicle for me to escape in. In gambling, especially online, I had something that was there for me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. It would bring me so much joy and also pain but it would stand by me. I’m aware this sounds a bit delusional but it’s how I felt. I don’t think I had a deeper connection with a person on this earth than I did with gambling. That’s when I started to withdraw away from other friends and social activities because gambling was the one thing I wanted to spend all my time with because I got the most out of that relationship, or at least thought I did. I was able to find a high I couldn’t get with another human being, I was able to ride this roller coaster of emotions that never ended, unless I ran out of money of course. Even then I could do research about gambling, think about gambling, talk about gambling, no matter what, it was always on my mind. When you add in to this mix the fact I met my partner during this relationship with gambling and we had two kids, gambling became like this secret love affair I was having. It got to the stage where I didn’t want to tell anyone about gambling because it was my thing and mine alone but more importantly I knew I couldn’t tell anyone because once the secret was out I would lose the thing I loved the most in my life...gambling.

Well, everybody's got a secret, Sonny,
Something that they just can't face,
Some folks spend their whole lives trying to keep it,
They carry it with them every step that they take.
Till some day they'll just cut it loose
Cut it loose or let it drag 'em down,

Bruce Springsteen - Darkness On The Edge Of Town

Eventually though, I realised that this relationship was destroying me mentally, physically but maybe more importantly, emotionally. I knew I had to get out and the only way was to reach out to someone and ask for help. That person happened to be my partner and she didn’t abandon me, she stood by me and gave me the opportunity to enter recovery alongside my kids. Although, when I entered recovery I was raw, I didn’t know how to act, what to do, what to say or how to say it. Would these people accept me? Would they want me? Would I get what I needed out of them? When I walked into my first G.A. meeting I had no idea what to expect, well, I kind of expected a bunch of old men sitting around desperate to gamble and they would spend all night trying to convert me to a religion. Instead, I was welcomed, then taken to the side, asked the 20 questions and basically told “yeah, you belong here”. So I sat and listened to the people who spoke before me and I got so much from what they said. They went out of their way to make me feel special, “you are the most important person in the room tonight” they said to me. Then it came to me and they said I could share if I wanted, it was up to me. I just took a deep breath and thought “fuck it” and started talking and didn’t stop until I felt like I had gotten through my whole story. It felt amazing and strange at the same time, like, I was opening up to these complete strangers and telling them stuff I had never told anyone before but I knew they understood and I was buzzing when I left that meeting, I immediately knew I belonged and wanted to go back.

Passionate – Beneath Adventurers’ quiet shyness beats an intensely feeling heart. When people with this personality type are caught up in something exciting and interesting, they can leave everything else in the dust.

Taken from Adventurer personality on 

These intense feelings when it comes to relationships or connections with people is who I am, it’s my personality, and if I don’t deal with it properly it can cause problems like it has in the past. I am starting to learn more about myself, that I have this personality that when I get caught up in something exciting or interesting then nothing else matters to me. It explains a lot why gambling and myself were the perfect fit, no matter the outcomes it was always exciting and interesting. I have noticed that bleed over into my recovery, I absolutely love recovery, meetings are exciting and interesting, new people who come in are exciting and interesting, I can see myself being intense when it comes to my recovery. That’s ok to a point as well, as long as I am aware of this trait and I am able to pull myself back enough so it doesn’t become a problem.

Fluctuating Self-Esteem – It’s demanded that skills be quantified, but that’s hard to do with Adventurers’ strengths of sensitivity and artistry. Adventurers’ efforts are often dismissed, a hurtful and damaging blow, especially early in life. Adventurers can start to believe the naysayers without strong support.

Taken from Adventurer personality on 

This of course, is where it can become a problem and low self-esteem is something that I have struggled with for a long time and that has continued in recovery. I know those I have connected with appreciate me and what I bring to the table but as I have said before, I struggled to believe in myself. I spoke about my concerns with those closest to me in recovery and I am feeling a lot better about it all. The important thing to take away is that I reached out to talk about how I am feeling, even if that seemed alien to me when I entered recovery. I’ll be honest, it still feels difficult to do now but I have learned in recovery that HOW is vital, Honesty, Open Mindedness and Willingness. The ability to reach out and ask for help is one of the biggest differences I have noticed about myself since entering recovery. This is why a support network, for me at least, is so important because you never know when you will need them. I felt at my lowest in recovery 300+ days after my last bet, I had no desire to gamble, I was just struggling emotionally. The old me would have buried those feelings deep down but I didn’t because, through listening to others in recovery, I knew how to tackle these situations. I was lucky in the early days, things were good but what I didn’t do was sit back and enjoy the ride, I got stuck in and learned and developed the tools and skills I would come to require later in recovery. I am always trying to learn and develop and push myself forward as a person but at times my emotions get the better of me, and that’s ok. This addiction isn’t a financial problem, it is an emotional one and I need to learn how to feel my feelings.

“Half your life you struggle
Half your life you fly
Half your life makin' trouble
Half your life makin' it right
One day I'm the exception
Most days I'm just like most
Some days I'm headed in the right direction
And some days I ain't even close”

Dierks Bentley - Burning Man

I reckon there will be more to come from me when discussing my feelings going forward in my recovery as I am beginning to respect how powerful emotions are, at least for me. I’ll leave it with something that an old hand in my G.A. room says when he’s sharing, “what does all that have to do with gambling?...Everything”.


Saturday, 8 February 2020

The Promised Land

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. I’ve talked a lot over the last 24 hours about my emotions with those closest to me in recovery and it’s got nothing to do with gambling urges, it’s about me and how I feel about myself. It’s about what goes on in my head now, in recovery and the thoughts that I have about myself.

The bottom line is I don’t believe in myself and this is something I have struggled with for years. The problem comes in recovery when I can’t see what I bring to the table and there is a negative voice in my head that tells me I am not good enough to help others and I am not good enough to help myself. One thing I really enjoy doing is writing, but I feel like my writing is shit and I don’t read it once I post it because I am so self critical. I just struggle to believe in myself. I think I am also scared that this is the real me, that I believe the old me is still in there somewhere waiting to come back out. Then I also find myself thinking this person I have become is full of shit and is a fraud, that what I’ve done while gambling, the person I was, can’t possibly change and become a better person.

I think a lot of it could also come down to a fear of failure, that I believe everything I do is shit and therefore when I fail I’m not disappointed. That can become a self fulfilling prophecy and for me I feel like it has. I also fear taking a leap of faith because I’m scared I’ll make a mess of things, hurt people again or hurt myself. This me, in recovery, is something I have not been used to before, someone who is honest, who has nothing to hide, who wears their emotions on their sleeve and someone who actually wants to help not only myself but also other people. I now care about other people and that was never the case in the past. Maybe I am looking too far into the future and thinking of forever instead of focusing on today. Maybe it has been such a radical change in a short space of time I am struggling to get to grips with it and process it all.

What I do know though, is I know the positive impacts I’ve had on people in recovery because they have told me. I know that people think I’m a good writer because I have received amazing feedback and I also know that people like me for me...this me in recovery...the real me because if they didn’t I wouldn’t have the connections I do with people. So although logically I know all of these things, I just don’t feel them and I then get lost in my own head and feel worthless.

In the last 24 hours I have had some really good talks about it and I’m going to do it...I’m going to believe in myself, embrace this new me and push myself forward. I know I can offer something to people out there, I know I have improved my own situation and can keep improving it. I’m ready to buy into this version of me and although I am sure I’ll have the odd moment of self doubt and make a mistake, I don’t care anymore. I’m not letting this hold me back from what I want to get out of my recovery. If I continue to be honest and do the right things then people can think what they want about me, I don’t need to worry so much about what everybody else thinks (although that is a personality trait of mine but that’s another blog). I am taking that leap of faith…

I’ve also been listening to a lot of Bruce Springsteen, as I feel I can relate to so much of his lyrics. As was said in the film Blinded By The Light, “Bruce is the direct line to all that is true in this shitty world”.

I feel like his song “The Promised Land” has two choruses that sum up how I was feeling and what I have done about it.

I've done my best to live the right way
I get up every morning and go to work each day
But your eyes go blind and your blood runs cold
Sometimes I feel so weak I just want to explode
Explode and tear this old town apart
Take a knife and cut this pain from my heart
Find somebody itching for something to start

I’ve spent the past 10+ months trying to do the right things each day and I get up each day and work my recovery. Maybe though I did go blind and couldn’t see the good I was doing for myself, my family and those around me. I feel weak all the time like I’m not good enough and I want to explode with self hatred, explode and tear my recovery apart. I have had this pain in my heart and it’s emotions that I don’t know how to handle because I have never dealt with my emotions properly in my life. I just forced them deep down inside of me and, to be honest, hoped they would fuck off somewhere else.

Well there's a dark cloud rising from the desert floor
I packed my bags and I'm heading straight into the storm
Gonna be a twister to blow everything down
That ain't got the faith to stand its ground
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted

This next chorus is perfect for what I did to address how I was feeling and this is why, for me, it’s so important to build a strong foundation of recovery. I may not have had the answers myself but I knew I had to reach out and talk about how I was feeling. Connection is the opposite of addiction and being able to reach out and ask for advice and not only that but to be able to listen and take on board that advice is what helped blow away my issues and allow me to think in a more clear manner. It’s often said you need three things to work a successful recovery and that is HOW...Honesty, Open Mindedness and Willingness.

The dogs on main street howl
'Cause they understand
If I could reach one moment into my hands
Mister, I ain't a boy, no, I'm a man
And I believe in a promised land

It’s clear for me, recovery is my promised land and it’s somewhere that I belong and somewhere I can thrive if I want to let myself thrive. As someone told me today, the only person who didn’t believe in me


Thursday, 6 February 2020

Ego - Part 3: Megalomanical...

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. This is continuing on from my last two posts about my ego and will look at Megalomaniacal thought patterns a penchant for exaggeration and dramatization mainly focusing on the time during my active addiction.

Megalomaniacal thought patterns - Having high expectations of oneself is a healthy and productive frame of mind. However, spending a lot of time thinking about how one’s greatness will far exceed anything conceivably realistic is not healthy or fruitful. 

Penchant for exaggeration and dramatization - As mentioned, egotists have an insatiable desire to make themselves appear important to impress others. As such, they’ll often exaggerate and dramatically overstate various aspects of their life. If an egotist perceives their life’s progress as inadequate – a common characteristic of such people – they’ll embellish anything and everything in order to make up for this “gap”. Should someone call them out, they’ll frequently overreact in a desperate attempt to get people to buy whatever they are selling.

Megalomaniacal Thought Patterns

The definition of megalomania, taken from the Cambridge dictionary, is “an unnaturally strong wish for power and control, or the belief that you are very much more important and powerful than you really are.” I feel like it will be easier to break this down into two separate parts to dig down further into how it relates to me during my active addiction.

An unnaturally strong wish for power and control

Reflecting back, I feel like I have desired control over my own life for a very long time, probably from when I got into a relationship with my partner but that grew stronger when we had our first child. It wasn’t that I just wanted my own space because I was afforded plenty of space and time to myself, it was that I felt my life was no longer my own, that my partner and my kids came before my needs, which is obviously the way it should be. I believe I struggled to grasp this concept and gambling online offered me the perfect escape into a “world” where I felt that I had all the power and control. As long as I had money to play I didn’t have to answer to anyone in my gambling world. I could get lost in various countries via various sports. The thoughts of what winning would bring, with what I could do with the money that I won, they were all happy thoughts. Obviously now I know I would never have done anything with the money but at the time it allowed my mind to drift off and imagine how much better I could make things. Plus, if I was responsible for making things better for my family then they would be grateful and appreciate me, even though they already did. Of course, when the addiction really took control and I was in debt and was trying to hide this from my partner I was scrambling for control over everything so the secret wouldn’t come out. Hiding mail, making up excuses for having no money, whatever it was I was desperate to control those situations and come at my partner from a position of power if a conversation ever arose. I could even make the point that my “final act” in active addiction was because of my strong wish for power and control when I finally admitted to my partner I had a problem and needed help. I would rather have gone out on those terms over being caught as in my head, I felt like I was on the front foot and in control. I blindsided her with my admission and was almost prepared for any questions she may have.

I would often daydream about being a famous singer or sportsman and would think about all the fans I would have who would be cheering for me and looking up to me. I liked that idea of being in demand, of people liking me and wanting me. Like if I was listening to a song I would think of myself singing it in front of people (I can’t sing for shit by the way) or watching sport and thinking that could be me (yet to find a sport where it could be me). I spent a lot of time wishing I was in a more powerful position in life than I was in.

The belief that you are very much more important and powerful than you really are

“I don't know how to put this but I'm kind of a big deal. People know me. I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.” Those are the words of one Ron Burgundy and apart from the leather-bound books and apartment that is how I viewed myself. I expected people to treat me with respect and to appreciate everything I do, especially at home. If I did the dishes I expected my partner to organise a parade. If I vacuumed and mopped she better get a Bank Holiday in my honour. Then in arguments I would throw things I did back in her face, making out that without me the house would fall apart. At that time I believed it as well, I thought I was the one who was hard done by and wanted to make sure my partner knew how important I was to the household. If I messaged a friend I would expect them to reply straight away because it was me that was talking to them. If they didn’t I could feel myself getting more and more frustrated. On the other hand, if I was gambling and didn’t want to be disturbed and my friends kept messaging me I would get annoyed and started shouting at the phone that I am busy and mute the conversation. Of course, when I finished my gambling I would try and start the conversation up again because it was on my terms. In work I did absolutely nothing for years but yet I believed that I was an important member of staff and not only that but I deserved to be working at a much higher grade because I was so much better than everyone else, even if I wasn’t putting in the same effort.

Penchant For Exaggeration and Dramatization 

When I first read the above it I thought “finally, one trait I didn’t have” but on further reflection I think that it could be the trait that was at the forefront the most during my active addiction and that’s because I was pretty much living a double life. When anyone asked how I was my response was always “doing well” or something equally positive and short and sweet. I didn’t want them to know that inside I was drowning, struggling to stay afloat, not only financially but also mentally. To be honest, I don’t think I wanted myself to know how bad things were and wanted to believe that everything was fine and gambling will make it even better. If anyone asked me about why I had no money, usually a friend I was trying to borrow money off a week after payday or my partner asking why when asked to buy a loaf of bread in the shop I needed to borrow £10 off her to get it, then I would become desperate and overreact to get what I wanted. Instead of messaging a friend to borrow £100 until payday I would have this full story typed out with reasons why I needed it, how an emergency came up, all this other total bullshit, as I believed it would help me in my quest to borrow money. Same with my partner, except I would tend to overreact if she asked me why I needed money. I would throw things back in her face that I had bought or how I give her money each month, how I hardly have any money etc, anything to get her to stop asking questions and give me the money.

I would also just flat out lie to my friends or my Dad if they asked me about my gambling. They weren’t trying to find out if I had a problem, they were just asking if I had done a bet at the weekend for example. Instead of telling them about a bet I actually did (obviously I was past the stage of telling them exactly what I was betting on as they would probably have me locked up) I just lied about a bet I didn’t do at all. If it happened to be around the time I had no money to gamble I would lie in that instance as well that I had done a bet. In my mind I wanted to keep up the idea that I gambled “responsibly” because that's who I had become in other people's eyes. I was someone who gambled and if I lost that part of my image I had nothing to offer anyone.


Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Ego - Part 2: Lack of Self-Esteem

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. So having tackled the definition I want to dive into the traits of egotism and see how these have played a role in my life so far, but mainly I will be focusing on the role they played during my addiction. There are a lot of traits out there on the internet when it comes to egotism so I am going to focus on the following (all taken from

Lack of self-esteem - Ironic as it may sound, most egotists do not have a very positive self-image. They acutely recognise their insecurities and attempt to camouflage these insecurities by forcing a false persona – one of competence and confidence – in a desperate attempt to conceal their real state of mind.

Megalomaniacal thought patterns - Having high expectations of oneself is a healthy and productive frame of mind. However, spending a lot of time thinking about how one’s greatness will far exceed anything conceivably realistic is not healthy or fruitful. 

Penchant for exaggeration and dramatization - As mentioned, egotists have an insatiable desire to make themselves appear important to impress others. As such, they’ll often exaggerate and dramatically overstate various aspects of their life. If an egotist perceives their life’s progress as inadequate – a common characteristic of such people – they’ll embellish anything and everything in order to make up for this “gap”. Should someone call them out, they’ll frequently overreact in a desperate attempt to get people to buy whatever they are selling.

Needing the limelight - Part of an egotist’s ravenous need for validation is apparent in their conversations with others. When the topic of conversation does not involve them, an egotist cannot help but intercede in a desperate attempt to redirect the spotlight. This is such childish behaviour to the highest degree, but an egotist doesn’t perceive it this way. A conversation that doesn’t revolve around them is not worth having or participating in.

Needing to feel an exaggerated sense of control - Unsurprisingly, many egotists believe that their way is the best way – and the only way. If an egotist detects a loss of control – often perceived as an act of disrespect – they’re quick to become angry and defensive. Such attitudes and behaviours are most apparent in a group setting. Many workplaces appreciate and understand the importance of teamwork in accomplishing a common task or goal. However, the notion that “two heads are better than one” is distant and imperceptible for those with an egotistical streak.

Lack of self-esteem

What is self-esteem? (Taken from

Self-esteem is how we value and perceive ourselves. It’s based on our opinions and beliefs about ourselves, which can sometimes feel really difficult to change. 

Your self-esteem can affect whether you:

Like and value yourself as a person

Are able to make decisions and assert yourself
Recognise your strengths and positives
Feel able to try new or difficult things
Show kindness towards yourself
Move past mistakes without blaming yourself unfairly
Believe you matter and are good enough
Believe you deserve happiness

Looking back I feel I have suffered from a lack of self-esteem for many years. In my teenage years I was never really happy with how I looked, felt I was overweight, ugly, did not have any girlfriends. It played on my mind a bit but I tended to try and just bury it deep inside and go out with my friends and have a good time. What I did have, in abundance, was wit and charm and I quickly learnt how to be funny and become the life and soul of the party. I built that party persona and people liked me, I was fun to be around and I will be honest here, I liked that persona as well. I enjoyed the attention and people laughing at my jokes (which we will touch on later) and it made me forget my lack of success with the opposite sex. I was not great at communicating with girls, even my persona tended to freeze up when it came to talking to them. If I got to know them, say a friend’s girlfriend or a female work colleague, I could talk away to them and make jokes and they liked me, well at least I think they did. Liked me as a friend of course, but I felt like once I got to know a girl I could talk to her, I just could not pull the trigger when I was out and about in pubs or clubs…probably did not help that I had quite a few beers in me on those occasions.

In school I had my core group of friends but I also got along well with nearly everyone no matter what clique they fell into. Again, looking back, I wonder did I do this intentionally, did I develop an ability to be able to converse about almost anything, be it sports, video games, music etc.? That ability allowed me to drift between groups during school and avoid any sort of bullying or torture that some people endure during their school life. I tried to make friends with pretty much every group more so as a defense mechanism for me so I did not have to deal with any confrontation in school, I just blended in no matter who I was with.

So when it comes to gambling and my addiction where does a lack of self-esteem fit in? Well for one I carried on that trait of getting along well with nearly everyone into my adult life, I probably still do that to this day as I do not like confrontation or awkward silences. My laughing, joking persona has become who I am as well, between self deprecating jokes or jokes that push the boundaries (it’s no coincidence I am called “The Dark Tourist” in work due to conversations when I am around), I still have that persona, to be honest, that is probably who I am now. Although I do feel that I am getting better at knowing the right time to have a laugh and a joke and the right time to be serious.

Back to when I was gambling though, according to problems with money and ongoing stress can cause low self-esteem. So it is no surprise given how every month I would be faced with money problems due to gambling and I would spend large portions of the month once my money ran out trying to figure out how I was going to survive until the next payday. When I say survive, I do not mean food wise, I mean survive that no one finds out about my gambling problem, Add to that the amount of debt I had gotten myself into and how stressed I could become about my financial situation when I spent time thinking about it or stressing over my partner finding out and losing her and the kids.

Finally, I just want to take the list of eight things your self-esteem can affect from above and describe how I felt during my active addiction.

Like and value yourself as a person

When I ran out of money for gambling and was trying to figure out how to survive the month I pretty much hated myself and thought I was worthless. Those thoughts were not as active when I was in the middle of gambling as I was almost like a zombie, physically and mentally. If anything, when winning at least, I thought I was amazing and if people only knew how good I was at gambling they would envy me.

Are able to make decisions and assert yourself

I was never able to make decisions around my gambling and how to stop or how to "control" what I was spending. I would tell myself I would only gambling for one hour then be sitting there four hours later. When it came to decisions outside of gambling I was afraid to make any that may have exposed my gambling problem and did not want to assert myself in case someone questioned me and my motives.

Recognise your strengths and positives

I have been crap at this my whole life and the perfect example is when it comes to job interviews. I am terrible at getting across what experiences I have or how to make what I do sound important, I just do my job, I am a boring person, I have no strengths and no positives. Even in recovery, it has been a struggle to recognise how far I have come and accepting any praise or positives has been difficult.

Feel able to try new or difficult things

By the time I entered recovery the only hobby I had left was gambling, it was the only thing I did and the only thing I had any interest in doing. Going out and trying new things would have just gotten in the way of me gambling and I had no desire to be out either. I think I was also scared of leaving myself open to the possibility of failure. In my mind if I didn’t try something I couldn’t fail at it.

Show kindness towards yourself

The addiction tricked me into thinking that gambling was a way of rewarding myself and a way to relax and unwind but when I had lost all my money and was scrambling to figure out how to survive the month I would hate myself for what I had done. Then I would make it to payday and my reward for that would be to gamble again and the sick, twisted cycle just kept repeating.

Move past mistakes without blaming yourself unfairly

Finally one that was not really affected during my active addiction as I had the ability to blame everybody else for anything that went wrong and not myself. If I made any mistakes I just made sure they would not expose my gambling problem and moved forward without thinking about any potential damage or hurt I had caused. I also felt that I would be able to fix the mistakes I had made, via gambling, and all would be well again.

Believe you matter and are good enough

The persona I had and the vibe I would give off to people was that I was confident, funny and thought I was more than good enough but inside my own head I thought I was a piece of shit most of the time. To clarify, I thought I was a piece of shit when I was out of money and waiting for the next payday but once I got paid again those thoughts disappeared until the money ran out. Again, that sick, twisted cycle on repeat.

Believe you deserve happiness

More than deserved happiness, during my active addiction I felt I was entitled to happiness and I should have it handed to me on a plate. I had no idea what actually made me happy but looking back I think money was what I thought would solve it. Not a massive win but it got to the point where the only way to get my finances back on track was to gamble my way out steadily and of course that only escalates and ends in disaster. Money and being liked by those around me because I think deep down I thought if they knew the real me they would not stick around. I just believed that gambling, at some point, would give me the happiness I was craving.