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 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.


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