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 - https://www.buzzsprout.com/189733/1671886-mark-r-a-bet-not-worth-placing) 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 https://www.16personalities.com
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 https://www.16personalities.com
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”.