Tuesday, 4 August 2020

No Blame, Just Focus

My name is Russ and I haven’t had a bet today or since my last meeting. My posts are getting a bit more strung out over the past few months as I just don’t feel like I have anything worth talking about/I am being lazy. OK, mainly I am being lazy. Personally, I am doing fantastic. I just reached my 16 month milestone the other day and my recovery feels stronger than it ever has. I am attending more meetings on a regular basis now and feel like I have found an amazing group that I really enjoy being a part of and am I grateful someone (you know who you are) reached out to me to invite me to join. I am also starting to read more about Stoicism and it is a philosophy that really resonates with me and that is the point of this post today. I recently purchased a new book called The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday which you can purchase from Amazon.  There is a quote for each day then a small bit from the author himself. I’m going to relate to what has been written to my addiction and/or my recovery and hopefully it works well. I hope you enjoy it.

August 4th

No Blame, Just Focus

“You must stop blaming God, and not blame any person. You must completely control your desire and shift your avoidance to what lies within your reasoned choice. You must no longer feel anger, resentment, envy, or regret.”

Epictetus, Discourses, 3.22.13

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for resistance to the brutal apartheid regime in South Africa for twenty-seven years. For eighteen of those years, he had a bucket for a toilet, a hard cot in a small cell, and once a year he was allowed a single visitor - for thirty minutes. It was vicious treatment meant to isolate and break down the prisoners. And yet, in spite of that, Mandela became a figure of dignity within the prison.

Though he was deprived of many things, he still found creative ways to assert his will. As one of his fellow prisoners, Neville Alexander, explained on Frontline, “He [Mandela] always made the point, if they say you must run, insist on walking. If they say you must walk fast, insist on walking slowly. That was the whole point. We are going to set the terms.” He pretended to jump rope and shadowboxed to stay in shape. He held his head higher than the other prisoners, encouraged them when times got tough, and always retained his sense of self-assurance. 

That self-assurance is yours to claim as well. No matter what happens today, no matter where you find yourself, shift to what lies within your reasoned choices. Ignore, as best you can, the emotions that pop up, which would be so easy to distract yourself with. Don’t get emotional - get focused.

When I was gambling I would blame everybody but myself for my gambling losses and financial problems. I would blame losing bets on a dodgy referee or a useless player or a crook of a jockey or trainer. The fact I had no money wasn’t down to me and my gambling, I would blame other factors such as my kids, partner or bills. I couldn’t face the fact that I had a gambling problem and I continued to chase my losses and escape day after day because, honestly, it felt like the easiest thing to do. It felt like I was in control of everything back then and that trying to fix things would be removing that control from me. Actually, that’s not the case at all because I had no control when I was gambling, my addiction controlled me.

When I finally came into recovery I realised this was the case and although it was a huge and scary step admitting that I had a gambling problem, the first thing it actually did was give me control of my life. Now, I had to learn what to do with that control because it would have been so easy to go back out there by thinking I could just stop gambling and everything would be OK. One of my favourite mantras in recovery is “you can’t control your first thought but you can control your first action” and this is what I take from the book above. Controlling my first action has been a vital part of building a strong foundation for my recovery. I know that each day if I get up and try to do the right things then I will not gamble that day. I get up the next day and do the same. Rinse and repeat. 

As I got further into recovery I started to realise what is and isn’t in my control, and as the serenity prayer suggests, I started to gain the wisdom to know the difference. I still do not get it right every time and I still find myself getting emotional or frustrated with things outside of my control but if I take a deep breath, if I take a minute to think about what is going on and ask myself “is this something in my control?” then, usually, I am able to quickly snap out of it. Sometimes it will take more than that. Sometimes I will have to talk to someone or more accurately, vent at them, but it is all about progress, not perfection. 

An example of this would be gambling adverts. When one comes on the TV I could get really frustrated and start shouting about how it is a disgrace that they are on TV and how they destroy lives. I could then let it get to me, start to get emotional, keep thinking about the advert and allow that to progress into thoughts about gambling. Or…I can react with what is in my control. The easiest thing is the remote control and I can switch the channel, which is something I did in the early days. These days I barely register that they are on the TV because I do not let them bother me. The fact is, I cannot control what they advertise and I can either choose to let it affect me or I can choose to not let it affect me. Either way the advert will still be on the TV because it is out of my control.

Another example would be blaming myself for what I have done in the past. I could sit and feel guilty over what I have done, I could dwell on the past and constantly relive it and let it keep me down or even worse, let it drag me down further. Or I can accept that I cannot change the past but I can control my future actions and make sure that I am trying to do the right things each day. I still reflect back on the past and try to see how far I have come or try to find character defects that I still need to work on. Focusing on what I can control instead of blaming myself for things that have happened and I cannot change just seems like the logical option.

I am starting to realise that if I focus on what I can control and put my energy into those things instead of wasting it focusing on what is outside my control then I can get closer to living a good and happy life. To steal a saying from the video game world, recovery is, in my opinion, “easy to learn and difficult (or impossible) to master.” The basics are easy to pick up but after that it takes a lot of work to keep improving. The payoff is worth it though because the more work I put in the more enjoyment I get from my recovery.