Saturday, 24 October 2020

Step 1, Exercise 1: The Twenty Questions

 Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over gambling, that our lives had become unmanageable. 

Step 1, Exercise 1: The Twenty Questions

1. Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling? Yes

The amount of hours I have lost from work would be hard to calculate because I was an online gambler. I was able to give the impression that I was working since I was present at my desk every day but I would do as little as possible to not raise any questions with management and I would always come across as helpful so that people would think I was a good worker. My level of work would also be poor because I would stay up all night gambling and get hardly any sleep and come into work and barely be able to function. My concentration levels, especially after I had lost my money or put myself into a difficult financial position for the month with bills, would be extremely low for work related activities. I would be more focused on doing budgets and thinking who I could ask to borrow money to get me through the month and pay my bills while also having some extra money to gamble with than I would be on my work.

2. Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy? Yes

It made my home life unhappy because of how it changed me into this angry, miserable and unpredictable person. It made me resent my home life. I have absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to my family. I have two wonderful kids and a great partner and I had everything I ever could have wanted, but it didn’t feel like it was enough. My gambling forced me further and further into a state of isolation and instead of realising that gambling was the issue, I would blame those closest to me instead. From what I could see, I wouldn’t say that my kids and partner were unhappy because I was able to hide this addiction from them and I put on a front a lot of the time that I was doing great and I was happy. Where it impacted them though, was through a lack of time spent together as a family and money that could be spent doing fun stuff as a family was instead used by me to gamble. For a number of years I worked two jobs, the second one being part time at the weekend, so I also took that potential time away from my kids under the guise of wanting to earn more money for them when in reality it was just to earn more money so I could gamble. My daughter would usually end up in hospital a couple of times every Winter due to her asthma and it would always fall on my partner to take her to the hospital on her own as I would say I needed to work my part time job as we couldn’t afford to lose the wages. I now realise how unhappy that must have made her, that she was sitting in a hospital for hours dealing with our sick daughter and in her eyes I was putting a part time job above them when that wasn’t actually true. I was putting gambling above them.

3. Did gambling affect your reputation? Yes

I let close friendships drift away over time because of my gambling and going from having a reputation as the life and soul of the party to never going out I’m sure affected my reputation in the eyes of those friends. Of course I blamed the fact I had two kids and not that I was spending all my time and money on gambling. I also used to take pride in the fact that if I borrowed money from someone, I would pay them back on time but eventually I stopped doing that. Instead I would come up with excuses as to why I couldn’t pay it back that month and try to buy myself more time and work out a payment plan. Zero fucks were given about their situation as well because all I cared about was me. I would use my kids as an excuse as to why I couldn’t pay, that something came up with them or one of them was sick and I had to take a day off unpaid etc. Another example would be that I was in charge of several NFL fantasy leagues and responsible for all the money as well. I gambled away that money every year then when it came time to pay out the winners I would make excuses and put off paying them until I could get the money together. Now some of these people I knew personally, but a good number of them I had just met online and they trusted me without question and I broke that trust. Breaking the trust of strangers was bad enough but that of my friends I knew personally was worse. These people also stood by me when I admitted my gambling addiction and have supported me ever since. When I think about my work I feel like I had a reputation for being a hard worker and for doing a good job in my early years but over time that again slipped and I did as little as possible.

4. Have you ever felt remorse after gambling? Yes

There were so many ways I could end up feeling remorse after gambling. The obvious one was when I would lose all my money and realised that I was unable to gamble for x amount of days until I was paid again. Unless I was able to borrow money from somewhere else of course. That would instinctively be my first thought. Then the remorse would come that I couldn’t actually afford to buy anything for the rest of the month and when my partner asked me to stop and grab a loaf of bread on my way home I had to think of an excuse to come home first and get her bank card to go and buy it. Not being able to buy something for less than £1 sure made me feel remorseful for gambling all my money, but it didn’t stop me going back to it. There were also times when I won and instead of withdrawing it I would try to win more and of course, I lost it all. This again would fill me with remorse for all the things I could have done with my winnings but, as I know now, no win was ever going to be enough and I was always going to gamble it away. I also felt remorse when I would lie to my friends or family to borrow money to pay bills and then gamble that money away.

5. Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulty? Yes

Although I now realise that my addiction wasn’t a financial problem but an emotional problem, finances still played a role day to day. I would constantly have budgets and spreadsheets working out how to get through not just the month, but also the rest of the year and beyond financially. What exactly I’d have to do and how much I would need to win each month to make it work. The bottom line is that I never intended to pay my debts off and never gamble again, solving my financial difficulties was just a way for me to be able to gamble more and with less financial stress. The more money I had available to me the more fuel I had to escape via online gambling. I was big into matched betting in 2018 which is a “risk free” way of making money from bookmaker offers. “Risk free” to someone who isn’t a compulsive gambler maybe but for me there wasn’t a thrill in just making a little bit of money each day. I used to budget my matched betting as “income” and this was going to be how I got myself out of debt. Once the offers for the day ran out I would be sitting there totally bored and eventually I started to gamble with my winnings and then it just descended into me gambling more and more. It was also a gateway into the casino side of things. 

6. Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency? Yes

I came into recovery not knowing who I was or who I wanted to be. I started gambling online from when I was 18 years old and if I hadn’t crossed the invisible line into addiction by then, it wasn’t long until I did. So I became an adult, got real jobs, moved out of my parents house, met my partner, had my two kids all while being in active addiction. I had no idea how a mature person behaved or how an adult would act. I had no desire to improve myself or my situation because I was more than happy gambling as often as I could, or at least I thought I was. Gambling was when I was at my happiest during my addiction even though it was the cause of all of my pain and misery. I cultivated the perfect environment for my gambling addiction not only to grow but to thrive for years and I didn’t want to do anything to stop it or for anything to get in the way of it.

7. After losing, did you feel you must return as soon as possible to win back your losses? Yes

When I lost I took it personally that the bookmaker in question had taken my money and that I deserved to get it back. I also gambled to the point where I couldn’t afford to take the losses so I had to find a way to get it back otherwise my secret would be revealed to those around me. One of the things I came to realise in recovery is that I used online gambling as a means to escape reality and responsibilities and my fuel to escape was money. The more money I had the longer I could escape but once that money ran out then I had to chase my losses because the other option was having to face reality and my responsibilities and that was something I did not want to do. 

8. After a win, did you have a strong urge to return and win more? Yes

If I knew a bet was going to win then I would be looking for my next bet immediately and I was constantly looking ahead to what was coming up. No win was ever going to be enough because all I wanted to do was be in action. That was the most important thing to me looking back at it all. The only thing that normally stopped me gambling when I was winning was if I fell asleep while a bet was still in-play. Then when I woke up and saw that I had won, the first thing I had to do was get another bet on. To continue the winning streak. Although I had to increase the stakes when I won, that was also part of the game which of course meant it wouldn’t be long before I lost all the money.

9. Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone? Yes

My regular monthly routine was sitting up until about 1am which is when my salary would hit my bank account. During that day I would have done a budget for the upcoming month, bills, who I owed money to and how much left over I had to spend on whatever I wanted...which of course was gambling. Usually I’d send over the money to who I owed so that I would pay them back on time and would be able to borrow more from them in the future. Then I would make a deposit into my online account. Now, I would have the amount in my head that was not for bills and would know how much I had available to gamble. I got paid around 3 or 4 days before the end of the month and the majority of my bills came out on the 1st of each month. So I would gamble and hope that I would win enough to keep me gambling until my bills came out. If I did then I would just gamble whatever I had until it was gone, safe in the knowledge that I had paid my bills. That did not happen often. Instead, what usually happened was I had lost the money I had spare within 24 hours and I would start and pick which direct debits could be bounced for the month and gamble that money. I would do that until it was all gone. If I did happen to win then I would just keep gambling until that was all gone as well. Maybe I would have withdrawn some to pay a direct debit I had previously allowed to bounce to take some pressure off myself but most of the time all my winnings went right back to the bookmaker. 

10. Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling? Yes

I do feel that I am extremely fortunate that I was such a liability with finances at a young age. I made many terrible decisions with credit and because of that I wrecked my credit rating by the time I was in my mid twenties. A lot of my debt that I brought into recovery was defaulted on back in 2014 or before. I had consolidation loans, credit cards and payday loans all of which I used to either finance gambling or finance the bills which needed to be paid because I had used that money for gambling. I did manage to get some credit after 2014, which of course was used to practice my addiction, but my later borrowings were all from friends and family. If I had the ability to get credit the last few years I was gambling I dread to think what the financial damage could have been.

11. Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling? Yes

I have sold various things over the years to finance my gambling. An old PC, DVDs and a field hockey goalkeeping kit to name a few. The one thing that sticks with me the most though is when I traded in a Mini NES and Mini SNES that I received for Xmas from my partner to get money to pay bills due to gambling away all my money. I traded them in, was handed cash, walked around the corner and deposited it into my bank and before I got back to the car I had gambled most of it online. Even though I knew it was for bills I thought I could maybe get more money to not only pay bills but to continue betting as well. I ended up losing it all and had to message a friend to borrow money to cover the bills that were due to come out. So I ended up with no games consoles and in more debt.

12. Were you reluctant to use “gambling money” for normal expenditures? Yes

I resented using my money on anything that wasn’t gambling related. I pretty much starved myself when I was at work because the thoughts of spending £4.00 on a sandwich for lunch seemed insane to me. I would just buy a cheap packet of biscuits (custard creams a favourite) and a couple of energy drinks on the way into work and that is what I would eat to keep me going. Usually I would buy stuff on payday and keep it in my drawer and work and once it was gone then I wasn’t eating in work for the rest of the month. I stopped going out with my friends because I didn’t want to spend the money on a night out when I could spend it gambling. I remember one night when I was younger, all my friends were at the house and they were planning to go out and I said I didn’t have much money to join them so I sat in on my own gambling instead and lost all my money. Looking back, I easily had enough money to go out and have a good time, I just didn’t want to spend it.

13. Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family? Yes

The amount of times I drove my car and I wasn’t fully concentrating is frightening to think about now. I also didn’t give a fuck about my health, both physical and mental, and I stopped looking after myself long ago. My kids were always looked after and there was never any issue from the point of view of food and shelter because my partner handled all that. If it was down to me then things would have been very different. I always like to think that I looked after my family but at the end of the day, if I wasn’t looking after myself then that would begin to have an impact on them whether it was intentional or not.

14. Did you ever gamble longer than you planned? Yes

With in-play betting there was almost something to bet on 24 hours a day and as long as I had money I would still be in the game. I may have planned to bet on one match or just for an hour but more often than not I would just keep going, usually until I fell asleep with a bet on. I used to bet in bookmaker shops on occasion, usually when working but sometimes my local one as well. I quickly realised how long I would spend in them and figured out that those around me would ask questions if I was missing for long periods of time. Online gambling allowed me to gamble 24 hours a day if I wanted to all while maintaining my presence around my family. One positive is that I did plan on gambling for the rest of my life and I now know that by entering and embracing recovery it has helped and will continue to help me cut short that plan.

15. Have you ever gambled to escape worry, trouble, boredom or loneliness? Yes

I used these as excuses to justify my gambling but I would have gambled no matter how I felt. I believe I gambled to escape reality and responsibilities but I also gambled because I loved it, or at least thought I loved it at that time. When it comes to the boredom part, gambling destroyed my ability to find anything else in this world interesting and I was constantly bored with life. Even with things that no decent person should be bored with, such as my two kids. I blamed everything else around me for this feeling and gambled more to escape it. It was a vicious cycle. The loneliness part is another feeling that was exacerbated by gambling. Especially after I had my kids I started to turn to gambling more and more because I had no free time and didn’t have any money to go out with my friends. So I turned to gambling and those friendships drifted further apart until I felt like the only thing I had in this world was gambling. Now, from being in recovery, I can see that I didn’t have any free time because I was gambling, not because of my kids and I didn’t have any money because I was gambling it all away. The friendships drifted apart because I was more concerned with gambling than I was maintaining those relationships with people. So by gambling I was isolating myself more and more and because of that I felt lonely so was turning to gambling to try and escape that feeling.   

16. Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling? Yes

The way I look at this question is quite simple. Lying to someone about the reason why I needed to borrow money and then gambling it is the same as stealing it from them. Or borrowing money and not paying it back or even not planning on paying it back. Or “borrowing” money that was in the house and putting it back on payday hoping no one would notice. I have touched on this before in previous blogs as to how I was in charge of NFL fantasy leagues and was also in control of the prize money for them and I gambled it away. All of it. Which is stealing in my book. I did eventually pay the people out of my own money when I had it, after weeks of dodging them and making pathetic excuses, such as using the death of my Granda as a reason to why I hadn’t sorted the payments yet.  Some even didn’t get paid back and instead have been added to my list of people I owe money to. So yea, I have committed an illegal act to finance gambling, multiple times. 

17. Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping? Yes

My sleep pattern was a shambles and I would say I was sleeping about 4 hours a night on a good night. I have been looking back through my betting history and I can see the timestamps and on many occasions I went through the night gambling or close to it. One thing I can honestly say is that I never struggled to sleep because I was worried about my gambling or concerned about my financial situation or even after a huge loss. I don’t know why but I think I was just numb to it all. Whenever I tell one of my good friends about bits and pieces of my gambling history his question is always the same at the end, “how the fuck did you sleep at night?” It is crazy to think about it now and look back at how I did manage to just fall asleep even with some of the shit I must have had going on in my mind.

18. Do arguments, disappointments, or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble? Not now

This question always fascinates me because it’s not in the past tense. It feels like it’s proof that the twenty questions aren't just for newcomers and it is something I should be going over once a year in my recovery. I am extremely lucky that I haven’t suffered from urges at all really since I have entered recovery but I know that things can change and maybe I will at some point. One quote that stuck with me from early recovery was, “I am not in control of my first thought but I am in control of my first action.” So even if I do feel urges created by either the situations listed in this question or something else, I know I do not have to act on them because urges are just thoughts. Strong, powerful thoughts, but still just thoughts. 

19. Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling? Yes

Again, I would have used any excuse to gambling but I can think of one example which was when I used the births of my son and daughter to constantly look through the horse racing pages each day to find a horse running that matched their names. I suppose for me, as well as celebrating good fortune with a few hours gambling I would also celebrate or try to enhance a good time with a few hours gambling. If I was out enjoying myself with friends (the very odd occasion I would go out) then I would also like to place a few bets to give me something to keep an eye on and if I won then it would make the night even better in my eyes. 

20. Have you ever considered self-destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling? No

Thankfully I came into recovery before I reached this point and if I had been asked this question before experiencing recovery I would have said there was absolutely no chance I would ever consider it. I’ll be honest, I never understood why someone would consider suicide and thought it was either selfish or a cry for help. Clearly I was uneducated about the subject as I have met people in recovery who have answered yes to this question and these are people who also didn’t think they would reach this point either. I felt strange at first when people talked about suicide during a share. I felt uncomfortable. It was something I hadn’t experienced personally and I never knew what to say to people about it. Recovery has given me an opportunity to realise that I can ask someone if they are okay, even someone outside of G.A. Recovery has taught me not only how to talk about the subject of suicide with people but also that if I go back to gambling it’s not a question of if I would consider suicide but when. 

As you write your answer to each question, pay particular attention to any defensiveness, guilt or hesitation on your part. Search your heart. Does your yes answer come from your own experience or the accusations, anger or frustration of others? Is your no answer clear, straightforward and completely without strings, or is it hesitant or defensive? Could it be that you’re looking for a way to justify, explain or excuse the behaviour rather than simply admit it?

If a question pushes a button, there’s probably something there that needs to be looked at honestly and squarely. Now is the time to get it out into the open! Write about it in detail; talk about it with your sponsor and with others in a Steps Meeting. This is the beginning of a process that helps us to identify what’s ours and what isn’t - this is the “wisdom to know the difference” that we ask for in the Serenity Prayer.

Russ

(Anything in italics and/or bold is from the "Writing The Steps" booklet and the rest is my own)

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