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”


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