Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Thank You Letter To Myself

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. I am continuing on with the next question from “The 365 Addiction Recovery Journal: Daily Journaling With Guided Questions, To Become A New You” by 21 Exercises and I’m not going to lie, it felt weird doing it. Although I do think it was a positive exercise.

“No man burdens his mind with small matters unless he has some very good reason for doing so.” 

Arthur Conan Doyle

Write down a thank you letter to yourself, for all the effort you’ve put in this year.

Dear Self,

I think we can agree that this has been the best and most fulfilling year of your life and there are a lot of things I am thankful for and want to list them. Before I do, I would question why you had to be such a selfish asshole for 32 years and why you had such a love for gambling over everything else, especially your kids. You have covered plenty of that this year in your blogs I suppose so there’s no point “shooting the wounded” as an Italian friend of yours would say. So onto the positives and what I am thankful to you for.

I am thankful you eventually found the balls to reach out and ask for help with your addiction because it was killing you slowly. I know you always thought you could dig your way out of this hole on your own, gamble your way out, but as you know now at some point you have to put the fucking shovel down and ask for help out of the hole.  I get it, honestly, you were too proud to ask for help, too ashamed with who you had become but more importantly scared what people would think, because that’s really all you ever cared about wasn’t it? What people thought of you. Your ego was fucking huge and even in recovery it took time to deflate. I mean, you wrote the longest blog by far on your own ego, the irony isn’t fucking lost on anyone. I am just thankful you finally did it, you finally made that decision to ask for help because at some stage you would have been cawt (#InJoke) and who knows how things would have turned out.

I am thankful for the effort you have put into your recovery because I don’t think you have ever put as much into anything bar gambling and as you were told at your first G.A. meeting, “if you put half as much effort into your recovery as you did into your gambling things would work out,” and he was right. Not only G.A. but your Problem Gambling Support Group Meetings (literally saved your life) , working the Steps, having a sponsor (literally drove you mad), sponsoring two AMAZING people, passing on the message, learning about addiction, reaching out to people, writing your blog, podcasts and the list goes on. You reap what you sow and I just want you to know that the hard work and effort is appreciated by me.

I am thankful you have started writing because I had no idea you were actually good at it and I know you struggle with that idea sometimes but yes, you are fucking good at writing and people enjoy reading it...so fucking deal with it. It also gives you the ability to construct your thoughts properly and dig far deeper than you can when you are talking. Plus, people can actually understand what you are saying, which is a benefit to everyone.

I am thankful you have figured out how to open up and talk to people when you have a problem or an issue because you never did that. You are starting to deal with emotions you haven’t dealt with for years and you know that keeping them bottled up is asking for trouble. That is amazing growth for someone who was as stubborn and full of themselves as you were when you came into recovery.

I am thankful for the friends you have made in recovery and that’s exactly what they are, friends. You have a deeper connection with a lot of these friends than anyone you know in real life and they see the real you, the you that you actually are and that you want to be. They are there to celebrate the good times and support you through the bad times.

I am thankful you have realised it is ok to be vulnerable in front of people and you have learnt that it’s not important to say the right or wrong things, what is important is the intention behind those words. When you have been living a lie as long as you have it’s hard to know if you have good or bad intentions but I can see that nearly everything you do has good intentions behind it and you should know that.

I am thankful you have become the Dad to those two kids of yours that they deserve. You have become present in their lives in a way you never were before. They love you, you are their hero and if that isn’t enough to continue on this journey then I don’t know what is. You should also be proud of how good a Dad you are. Well done.

I am thankful that you can look in the mirror and not be ashamed of who you see looking back at you. That you finally give a shit about other people and realise the whole world doesn’t revolve around you. That you want to help other people because you can and because you care and it isn’t about what they can give you in return. You have grown so much in the past year and you deserve this because you have put the work in.

I'm fucking proud of you.


Monday, 30 March 2020

Who Am I Becoming?

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. Going to give shorter form blogs a go for a while, see how it works out. I needed to get back to writing and I was struggling with ideas so I bought “The 365 Addiction Recovery Journal: Daily Journaling With Guided Questions, To Become A New You” by 21 Exercises on Amazon and it has a quote and question each day and I am going to use these to try and write daily. For the purposes of this I am starting at Day 363 in the book and will finish off the year before starting again.

“We have two lives, and the second begins when we realise we only have one.”


Who are you becoming?

To get straight to the point I am becoming a better person with each passing day in recovery and I can see and feel myself growing during this journey. As I have talked about before, when I entered recovery I hated the person who I was inside, I didn’t really know who that person was, who I was or who I was supposed to be. Recovery has given me an opportunity to create the person I want to become but it has taken a lot of hard work and a lot of digging.

I will kick off with one of my old favourites “HOW” which as you know stands for Honesty, Open Mindedness and Willingness. Those three traits now flow through me at all times which when I consider who I was less than a year ago is quite frightening. I used to lie everyday about something, at least one thing and now I struggle to keep things to myself, in fact I probably find it impossible. Luckily I have such an amazing support network around me that I don’t have to keep things to myself anymore. Open Mindedness again is new to me and it was hard at the start because I had to check my ego at the door when I entered recovery. I was never open to anything else because if it wasn’t my opinion or my idea then it sucked. If I was forced to go along with it I would do my best to ruin it because that’s just who I was, an asshole. In recovery I love being presented with new ideas or opinions and even if I don’t like them or agree with them I am getting better at appreciating other points of view. Finally we have willingness and again, outside of gambling, I wasn’t willing to do anything or try anything new. I had no interest and I also believe I had a fear of trying something new because I was scared it would expose me as the fraud I was. Whereas now I am willing to try different things and put myself out there. The biggest example is this blog, I have never in my life put myself out there as much as I do on this blog and I love doing it. It helps me so much and the feedback I get from other people is that it helps them which is great encouragement to keep going.

Another huge trait I have gained is empathy which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. (I never used to look up the meaning of words until I entered recovery...thank you Dan for that habit!) When I was in active addiction I couldn’t even understand and share my own feelings nevermind giving a shit about someone else's. This journey has given me empathy and it has been so important for me as I feel like it allows me to have connections with people I quite honestly have rarely made in my life. I feel so close to people I have met in recovery, the bond we share is unbelievable and the support we give each other is like nothing I have seen.

I was a selfish bastard when I was gambling and as far as I was concerned the world revolved around me. Turns out that was incorrect. I have started to become someone who actually cares about other people but not only that I want to help other people...without looking for anything in return! It’s a crazy concept I know but I find myself helping people for the right reasons. My favourite step is Step 12, “Having made an effort to practice these principles in all our affairs, we tried to carry this message to other compulsive gamblers.” I love nothing more than doing that and you know what, I am good at it. I have been told I have an ability for recovery and I have so much to give others and I have a desire to do that as well. I sponsor two people now and a few months ago I was like there’s no chance I’m sponsoring anyone but now I am so glad I am because it not only gives me an opportunity to help people but also the relationships that are growing out of that are extremely important to me and rewarding.

I touched on it slightly above but I have become more self confident as this journey has progressed and it’s not in a negative way, it’s not becoming cocky, I am simply starting to believe in myself and what I have to offer not only those closest to me but to others as well. I still find it hard writing or saying good things about myself as for years I have always assumed people who did that were full of themselves but I am working on trying to overcome that. I am realising it is a good thing to realise what I am good at and express it as well. My self esteem was non existent for a long time and honestly it’s only over the last few months I am making strides in trying to improve it.

I want to finish with this because it’s the most important thing in my life and it’s how I will be remembered when I am gone. I am becoming a better father to my kids. They are my Higher Power and they are a huge part of the reason I want to continually improve myself. Am I the perfect Dad? Absolutely not, I’m still grumpy and miserable at times because as anyone who has kids knows...they can be fucking hard work a lot of the time. The difference is that I am present now not just in body but in mind as well when I am with them. I feel closer to them over the past year than I ever have and recovery has given my kids a Dad they can be proud of.


Saturday, 7 March 2020

Working The Steps: Step 8

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. Back to Step Work for this blog and Step 8 is the next one up. I’ve gotten so much out of working the Steps it really has helped me on my recovery journey. As usual, anything in bold or italics is from the worksheet, the rest is my own.

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and
became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 8, Exercise 1

Write about:

In what ways (spiritually, emotionally, mentally, physically, financially) did you harm yourself through gambling. List and write about them. Be specific.

Spiritually - Psychology Today states “Spirituality can mean different things to different people. For some, it's primarily about participation in organized religion. For others, it's a non-religious experience that involves getting in touch with their spiritual selves through private prayer, yoga, meditation, quiet reflection, or time in nature.” So, with that, considering I am not a religious person and I don’t want to avoid answering this part of the step I am going to focus on the non-religious part. I view spirituality as getting in touch with your inner self, being able to focus and improve the inner me and the only thing my addiction did was make me truly hate who I was deep inside. The further I got into my addiction, the deeper I dug my own hole, the more I hated and resented who I was. Gambling was destroying the inner me so much that I had no idea who I was anymore.

Emotionally - My addiction made me emotionally numb, I couldn’t feel anything for anyone, not even myself. At the start I would be emotional about wins and losses but towards the end I didn’t care anymore. When I look back now I can see the vicious cycle I was stuck in, I’ll try to explain it here. I gambled to escape, I fully believe that. What was I escaping from? Who I was inside was one, gambling would allow me to escape that person for a short time. The real world, responsibilities, gambling allowed me to escape those as well. Emotions though, these were the big things I feel like I was escaping from. They were always something I have struggled with, expressing them, being honest about how I felt, controlling them and gambling allowed me to escape having to deal with them. When I gambled it would numb my emotions, I thought I was happy when gambling but really I was just escaping. I didn’t feel anything, the addiction took over and it was like I was on autopilot. At that point though I thought I was controlling my emotions by gambling. The chasing my losses came when the money was about to run out and I realised I would have to go back into the real world and no longer would I feel safe the way I did in my online world of gambling. So I would chase my losses to get more fuel to allow me to escape longer. The longer I could escape the more numb my emotions became until I came back to reality once the fuel finally ran out. I couldn’t deal with who I was, responsibilities or emotions in the real world so I desperately needed to get more money to get allow me to escape. This was the cycle I was stuck in. I didn’t realise at the time that gambling was causing a lot of this damage because I was blinded by my addiction. Towards the end I still had that small hope, that little thought that somehow, someway, I could gamble my way out of this mess. That was the addiction talking and thinking for me because it had totally consumed me.

Mentally - I was a broken man when I finally owned up to my partner about my gambling addiction. It was like my brain had put me into a nosedive and was flying me towards rock bottom. The weekend before I asked for help I could feel that sensation, that sense of inevitability. This was going to end in disaster unless I reached out for help. The thing that scared me the most about asking for help and admitting my problem was at the time I knew I would lose the one thing I loved the most in this whole world. It wasn’t my kids, it wasn’t my partner, it was gambling. Even at that point, after all it had put me through, I was still terrified that I would never be able to gamble again. That’s how mentally broken I had become. I loved gambling, I still do in a weird way but that’s for another time. My addiction had pushed me to the edge, my mental edge of how much I could take at that moment. I think addiction has a real bend but don’t break mentality. It wants to push us to that edge, to push us far enough that we still come back to it each time. Once it breaks you though, there only seems to be two options, recovery or death. I still can’t believe I admitted to my partner I had a problem, but I did and it’s saved my life.

“You hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. It is the sound of your death. Goodbye, Mr. Anderson.” 

Agent Smith

Physically - I wouldn’t eat healthy when gambling because I saw it as a waste of my money. I would live on energy drinks, coffee and biscuits while at work. Have dinner at home and snack into the wee hours while gambling on shite tennis in the middle of nowhere. I didn’t exercise (to be fair I still don’t) but I wouldn’t want to leave the house at all when I was gambling. Lack of sleep was another massive thing for me. It wasn’t unusual for me to be sitting up until 4am and then waking up with the kids at 6am. Doing that day after day eventually catches up with you. I’d crash early one night then just repeat the cycle. I was constantly late for work as I couldn’t motivate myself to get up and get going. I was a mess.

Financially - Gambling has destroyed me financially when I look at it. I’ve debt that will take me 10 years to pay off at the current rate, my credit rating is destroyed and I have to deal with the consequences of my actions for a long time. I’ll probably never be fully trusted with money by my partner and anytime something happens with regards to money the first thought in everyone's mind will be was I gambling. The chance to buy a nice car or house in the near future are out the window and I have to make do with what I have at the moment. This next part is going to sound super selfish because when it comes to finances I don’t care how long it takes to pay back, it will be paid back eventually. I don’t focus on it, I’m in no rush. Now, it has impacted other people as well which I will get to in the next section, but for me personally my attitude to it all is...it is what it is.

Make a detailed list of all others you harmed through your gambling. Describe how you harmed them. Be specific.

My Partner - This links nicely after the financial section above because, although it isn’t the main issue, I believe my partner has been hurt by me financially. Now all the debt is in my name, it is my own debt, but obviously there is the wasted money and the money I am paying out each month in debt repayments. More importantly though is the lies, the hurt, the bullshit I have put her through over the years. She said to me recently, “you are so in touch with your emotions now when for years you didn’t give a fuck about mine when you were sitting up all night gambling.” She’s not wrong. My behaviour has definitely had an effect on our relationship. 

My Kids - I’m lucky in a way that my kids are so young that I probably have a chance to make things right with them. They are blissfully unaware at the moment about my gambling addiction but it is something I will talk to them about when they are older. What I do know I have done to them is shouted at them for no reason, making them feel bad because I was having a shit time gambling. I ignored them to gamble. I made them feel like they were annoying me when they were fighting for my attention and affection. Bottom line is, they played number 2 to my gambling, to my addiction.

My Parents - The bank of Mum and Dad was a thing I took the piss with right up until I was 32. I was constantly borrowing money, of course all based on lies, and then struggling to pay it back. When I struggled I just assumed they would be ok to wait but I didn’t think how that made them feel. Turns out it made them feel awful because they didn’t like asking for the money back. I used them as a babysitting service but could barely muster up a conversation with them. My Mum had cancer during my addiction and I never asked her how she was, I didn’t show concern, I just let her get on with it. I also hurt them by not feeling like I could open up to them about how I was really feeling.

Other Family Members - Birthdays, anniversaries, visits, whatever it was I was on my phone gambling and ignoring what was going on. I didn’t want to be at these things because they were getting in the way of my gambling and I was anti-social at events. More than that, I was an ignorant bastard. January 2019 my Granda passed away and at the funeral everyone was so emotional, I didn’t understand. I didn’t feel anything. It makes me feel terrible now but that’s just the truth, I couldn’t feel anything because my addiction had destroyed my emotions.

My Friends - The amount of lies I told my friends, from why I couldn’t go out to why I needed to borrow money from them. It was all the time and got worse over time. I owed my friends so much money and on top of that I stole from the NFL fantasy football leagues I run. I broke the trust of everyone close to me, I lied to their face or over text, I avoided them when I had to pay back money.

My Job - Honestly, I’ve no idea how I’m employed. In fact, I got a promotion during my addiction, towards the end of it. My productivity was terrible, my interactions with other staff members was awful and my level of customer service was a disgrace. This is worse because I am dealing with vulnerable people.

Step 8, Exercise 2

Write about:

Review your lists from Step 8, Exercise 1. Are you carrying any guilt or shame over the harm you did to others? Are you still angry or blaming others for the harm done to you? Write about your feelings of guilt, shame, anger or blame.

Currently I have to say I am still ashamed of what I have done in the past and how my actions, especially those to my family, have affected them. I didn’t lose any relationships over this addiction, although that doesn’t mean it can’t happen if I do not keep up with my recovery. When it comes to anger and blaming others for the harm done to me I never experienced that in recovery. From day one I fully accepted I was to blame for my addiction and although the gambling industry could be doing a lot more, the bottom line is, no one held a gun to my head and made me gamble. Plus, if any bookmaker had stopped me when I was gambling I would have just found another one. The person who needed to change was me.

Choose a way (visually, symbolically, spiritually or physically) to release your feelings of guilt, shame, anger or blame. Describe this process of letting go and how you felt afterward.

I still get feelings of shame when I go back and write about certain things that have happened in the past but in general I feel like I am in an ok place. Writing has really helped me process thoughts and feelings of guilt and shame and the other thing that has helped me was understanding and accepting the serenity prayer.

“Grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference”

Are there any legal or financial situations you created while gambling with which you will need additional assistance or support to make direct amends/repayments? Are you willing to ask for help with them (i.e. from a sponsor, Pressure Relief group, employer, court system, bank/creditor)?

Yes, I am currently in a Debt Management Plan which is through Step Change debt charity and they have helped me massively.


Monday, 2 March 2020

A Milestone, Sponsoring and Stoicism

My name is Russ and I am a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. 11 months ago and fuck me, time flies when you are having fun. That’s one of the things that has shocked me the most in my recovery, how much fun I am actually having. I really have made it a new lifestyle for myself and I feel like I am reaping the rewards. There are a few things I want to write about today and it’s really just to remind myself how far I have come, and not just since I stopped gambling, but I can see major leaps forward in myself during my recovery as well.

I have written before about my struggles with low self-esteem and how I basically didn’t believe in myself. How I couldn’t see the good in what I was doing, my actions, my writing or my recovery. I had this little voice telling me I was a fraud. That I was the same old guy who for 14+ years destroyed his life and damaged the lives of those closest to him. Through the help of my awesome support network (and I’m going to touch on one or two individuals in a moment) I have started to believe in myself.

There’s two people I really want to focus on here, and that’s not to take away from the impact everyone else has had on my recovery, because I will get to that as well, but these two people are a major reason as to why I feel I have taken another major leap forward in my recovery. The first person I have only started to get to know fairly recently but we clicked pretty quick and talk daily. They have made me realise how much I offer to other people, how far I have come in my journey but most importantly, for me, they have pushed me to be the best version of myself. Often they’ll call me out on my bullshit, which I definitely need from time to time but I feel like I can tell them anything and because of this, because of our chats, I have started to believe in myself. I feel like I can do anything in my recovery, including something I never thought I would do which is become a Sponsor.

Which brings me nicely onto the next person I want to talk about, no Jeff it isn’t you, I wrote enough about you in my A-Z, it’s my Sponsee. Since getting the opportunity to sponsor this person I have realised how much I have to give. If it’s just listening, chatting, sharing or working through something, I now know I am able to do that and it’s down to my Sponsee. They have truly helped me in so many ways take that major leap forward. They’ve made me realise I deserve recovery and more than that, I deserve to be happy. I now have a confidence I didn’t know I had, I walk a little bit taller and with a spring in my step. I’m smiling more now than I have done in a long time. Seeing them making progress, doing so well, it drives me forward. I am so happy for them and I am so glad we are sharing this journey together.

Then we have everyone else, and that is so mean to group everyone together because I have gotten so fucking much from everyone else I have encountered in my recovery. I wouldn’t have made it past a month without the support of people in my G.A. or my Skype group. So many people have shared what worked for them and gave me the blueprint to make my own recovery work for me. I started putting effort into the GamCare chat rooms from about November time and have again connected with some wonderful people there who have helped me so much. The random people who leave messages on my Reddit Problem Gambling posts, thanking me for sharing my writing, that is an added bonus that makes me smile.

So where am I going with all this? I’ve started to realise I am doing things for the right reasons now, which wasn’t always the case. When gambling, and even early in recovery, I craved praise when I did something. I needed to know that people thought I had done a good job or that they enjoyed what I had done. If I didn’t get that I’d start to think the worst, that people didn’t like me. Conversely, if I had done something wrong or hurt someone's feelings I needed to try and fix everything right away, for my benefit because I didn’t like tension or confrontation. Bottom line, I was a people pleaser and have been my whole life. Now I am starting to really focus on what I can control, and that is me. I don’t always get it right, but it’s progress not perfection.

I’m reading The Little Book of Stoicism at the moment and it sums up how I feel right now within myself. It’s called The Stoic Happiness Triangle, and although it isn’t what the Stoics taught per se, it’s the authors visualization of their core teachings.

Eudaimonia: At the core of the triangle is eudaimonia - the ultimate goal of life all ancient philosophies agreed on. This is the main promise of Stoic Philosophy and it’s about living a supremely happy and smoothly flowing life. It’s about thriving in our lives. So how can we achieve this? By living with arete.

Live With Arete: Express your highest self in every moment. If we want to be on good terms with our highest self, we need to close the gap between what we’re capable of and what we’re actually doing. This is really about being your best version in the here and now. It’s about using reason in our actions and living in harmony with deep values. What supports this ambitious goal is to separate good from bad and focus on what we control.

Focus on What You Control: This is the most prominent principle in Stoicism. At all times, we need to focus on the things we can control, and take the rest as it happens. What already  is has to be accepted because it’s beyond our power to undo it. What’s beyond our power is ultimately not important for our flourishing. What’s important for our flourishing is what we choose to do with the given external circumstances. So no matter the situation, it’s always within our power to try to make the best with it, and to live in harmony with our ideal self.

Take Responsibility: Good and bad come solely from yourself. This follows the first two corners that say external things don’t matter for the good life, so living with arete, which is within your control, is enough to flourish in life. Also, you’re responsible for your life because every external event you don’t control offers an area you can control, namely how you choose to respond to this event. This is crucial in Stoicism, it’s not events that make us happy or miserable, but our interpretation of those events. This is when a tower of strength can be born - the moment you decide to give outside events no more power over you.

The above was taken from The Little Book of Stoicism: Timeless Wisdom to Gain Resilience, Confidence, and Calmness by Jonas Salzgeber, Nils Salzgeber and available on Amazon.


So that was supposed to be one of my shorter blogs and I’ve just crept onto page three while typing this. Again, progress not perfection eh?