Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Step 1: Powerlessness and Unmanageability

STEP ONE POWERLESSNESS

1. How has gambling placed your life or the lives of others in jeopardy?

a) My actions because of gambling could have broken up my family had my partner decided not to stand by me and told me to move out; which she would have been well within her rights to do so. My kids lives would have been turned upside down and it isn’t like they would have understood either, all they would have seen was their Dad moving out and only seeing them part time. Not once when I was gambling did I give this a second thought because all I cared about was me. 

b) Lack of sleep and/or concentration when I was driving put not only my life potentially at risk but potentially also the lives of other road users. I would stay up most of the night gambling and then have to drive to the office on little to no sleep. I wouldn’t eat properly either so my energy would have been low. I can remember times it felt like I could have slept instead of driving. Also my mind would have been more focused on gambling rather than driving because that’s all I ever thought about. I would have listened to horse racing while driving and I became animated during the race by either celebrating or losing my mind because I had lost all my money again. If the bet lost I would get angry and start screaming while driving instead of focusing on the road as I should have been. 

c) I touched on my partner above but she deserves that I recognise that I put her life in jeopardy. We had been together for around nine years when I admitted my gambling addiction and we have two young kids together. Obviously, taking the kids out of the equation, she must have felt like she wasted years being with me and that she had made a huge mistake wanting to build a family with me. Again, I wasn’t concerned when I was gambling about how it could impact her because I genuinely didn’t believe I was hurting anyone with my actions; but I was. I was risking the life that she knew and loved. 

2. How have you lost self-respect due to gambling?

a) Coming into the program I had lost self-respect for myself because I believed that I had admitted defeat;I was a loser and by going to Gamblers Anonymous I was about to join another bunch of losers. I thought I was pathetic that I couldn’t handle my gambling like other people I knew, that I had let it get so out of control. I also still felt it was a financial problem and having to admit to my partner at 32 years of age that I couldn’t be trusted was a shit feeling that made me feel less than. It’s funny looking back because this is the only time I really recognised that I had lost my self-respect, the other examples below I can’t honestly say that it really registered and if it did, it wasn’t for long. 

b) Borrowing money from friends and family, under false pretences, also caused a loss of self-respect. In the beginning I always tried to pay people back when I said I would because that’s what a decent person does when someone helps them out. That quickly turned into a way I could manipulate people because I realised that as long as I paid them back on time they would lend me money again and this is how I started robbing Peter to pay Paul. There were times I’d question just what the fuck I was doing but that would quickly pass as I looked for my next bet and I would then justify it to myself that I was paying them back so there was nothing to be ashamed about: but there was. 

c) Looking back and reflecting on the times people needed me and I put gambling before them makes me feel less than human. Could be the time my Mum had cancer and I didn’t really bother asking how she was. Or the multiple times my daughter was in hospital and my partner had to always take her because I was working my second job. Only reason I was working that job was so I could gamble. I think I always assumed people didn’t need me or my support but the fact is I didn’t allow them to have it. I removed myself from situations that interfered with my gambling because that is all I cared about.

3. What is it about your behaviour that your spouse/family object to most?

a) Based on what has been said since I’ve been in recovery I would say that my partner objected to the fact I was a grumpy bastard most of the time and she had no idea why. I mean, I’m still a grumpy bastard sometimes but it is a lot less than it used to be.

b) Lack of communication would be another one which was something my parents pointed out to me a few weeks in. I went to their house to visit (pre Covid-19 when that was a thing) and was having a coffee and chatting. They told me I had spoken to them more in that hour than I had done in months and how I never seemed interested in talking when I was visiting before.

c) Stab in the dark here but I am going to say the financial part of things and how irresponsible I was on that front. As someone who is in recovery I know it isn’t a financial problem, it’s an emotional problem; for me. I know that it doesn’t do me any good to focus on the money that was lost or to obsess about money. But, for so-called “normal” people, those without an addiction, the financial aspect is what they can relate to and coming to terms with that was difficult for them.

4. How have you tried to control your gambling?

a) I have tried to control my gambling several times over the years by using the “Responsible Gambling” tools provided by bookmakers and casinos. Cool off periods, deposit limits and self-exclusion. None of these worked for me for long because I had crossed that invisible line into being a compulsive gambler. Those tools serve a purpose but, in my opinion, are not aimed at people who are compulsive gamblers like me. Once I crossed that threshold it wouldn’t matter what the bookmaker tried to do, they could have banned me but I would have just found somewhere else to gamble and would have kept going until I was ready to stop and asked for help; or got caught.

b) Budgeting was another method I tried to use to control my gambling but of course, like a lot of my bright ideas during my active addition, it failed miserably. I would tell myself I can gamble £x this month but within hours of being paid this was usually gone. Then I would convince myself that another £x would be fine and I can just sacrifice a takeaway or something that month. This would continue until I was choosing which direct debit I could bounce until the following month so that I could gamble more until I ran out of money. This cycle of beginning the month seemingly “in control” only to spiral out of control would repeat every payday.

c) Finally, I have to mention Matched Betting. This is a way to use bookmaker offers to make a “risk free” profit and for a while it worked. I was making money and it was all I was doing. I was getting my gambling fix but without the risk. The fact I am writing this blog and doing multiple meetings a week should be enough to figure out that it didn’t last long but in case you haven’t quite figured it out on your own; it didn’t last long. The reason it didn’t last long is because I was a compulsive gambler and I got bored with the process. You had to be disciplined: fuck that shit. So I started getting more and more reckless until I was just gambling flat out again. It also introduced me to the casino side of things which was not good and really, looking back, Matched Betting went from a way for me to control my gambling to turning my gambling and my addiction up to 11. To sum it up succinctly, I found a way to make money “risk free” and I fucked it up because I was a compulsive gambler. While most people's accounts would get limited because they were just winning money consistently, I was being made a VIP at a bookmaker and getting more generous bonuses; because I was losing: a lot!

5. Give five examples of how powerlessness (loss of control) has revealed itself through your own experiences.

a) The Matched Betting example above is a broad one but within that period of time I was doing it I lost the single biggest amount of money I ever did in one session (or over multiple sessions) and I didn’t have the money either. I went massively overdrawn on my bank account (unauthorised) while playing roulette. I lost the money and started getting desperate. Then, like all good compulsive gamblers do, I wished to win the money back. I said to myself, “if I can just win this back I’ll stop. I just need to win it back.” And I did. I actually got it all back and just needed to withdraw it and I could pretend like it was some horrible nightmare. Turns out the nightmare was just beginning as I felt like I was on a winning streak and couldn’t stop at that point, so I would just gamble £x and withdraw the rest. Well, that didn’t last long. Then, if I just gamble until my balance gets to £x and then I’ll withdraw, I can afford to take a little hit. That didn’t last long. Rinse and repeat until it is all gone: again. So when I hear people in the meetings, especially new members, talking about how they just want to win the money back, this story always comes to my mind. Because I climbed that mountain and won it all back, only to fall back down the other side, as I am sure many people in recovery have.

b) Reversing withdrawals, the bane of many a compulsive gambler. Hundreds of times I withdrew and tried to fight against reversing it, only to lose control and reverse it, then lose it all.

c) Telling myself I wouldn’t gamble for the evening and then finding myself gambling. It was like I wasn’t in control. Could almost feel myself fighting it on occasion (fighting probably not an accurate description, more like me quietly saying “no” then giving up).

d) Spending more time gambling than I intended to was a regular occurrence, to the point that I tended not to set any time limits for myself. Being mainly an online gambler it wasn’t really required because it wasn’t like I was physically missing my family point of view, so time was rarely an issue. One time that does stick out to me though was when I spent all evening in my local bookmakers while my partner was at work (this was before I had kids). I had applied for a credit card increase and may or may not have suggested to the company that I received a substantial pay rise and I was given the increase. I went straight to the cash machine and withdrew some money and round to the bookmakers for what I assumed would be a few bets then home. I ended up staying until it was closed with repeated trips to the cash machine and my stakes getting bigger and bigger until I had nearly maxed out my new credit card limit. I remember thinking “what the fuck just happened” on the walk back home because it felt so out of character at the time but looking back now, and remembering the things I have done, it shouldn’t have been a surprise.

e) I remember selling two mini Nintendo consoles that I had been bought for Xmas by my partner so that I could pay a direct debit. I was pretty desperate and sneaked out of the house with them and put them into the car while she was asleep then, on a night when I was supposed to be working late, I left early to go and trade them in. Once I had the cash, I walked round the corner to deposit it into my bank and on the 10 minute walk back to the car I had deposited and lost enough of the money that I couldn’t cover the direct debit so ended up depositing the lot and losing it all. Even though I knew that direct debit needed paid, I couldn’t help myself and was powerless over the addiction.

6. What type of physical abuse has happened to you or others as a result of your gambling?

a) I am being totally honest here when I say I avoided confrontation at all costs during my active addiction because I knew that it had the potential to expose my gambling and I couldn’t risk that. So, thankfully, there is no physical abuse to report except for those occasions where I would repeatedly slap myself in the head after losing all my money. That happened most months. 

7. What is your current physical condition (blood pressure/headaches/fitness etc)?

a) I feel fairly healthy and don’t seem to have any issues, at least none that I know of. Could I exercise more? Yea, of course I could. I went through a period over the Spring/Summer of running between five and ten kilometres a few times a week but the colder weather has scared me off a bit. I do try and do some body weight exercises around the house but I probably need to add something else, maybe Tai Chi as I have been looking into that over the past few weeks. I could do with losing a bit of weight as per my BMI I am dangerously close to obese, which I think is a bit harsh as I am 6ft 3” and 230lbs, but I could def get closer to the healthy weight range for my height. 

8. What is the difference between admittance and acceptance?

For me, and it’s just how I define them in my own mind, admitting something is just the act of saying it. For example, I admitted to my partner on April 2nd 2019 that I was a compulsive gambler and needed help. I still hadn’t accepted the fact I was a compulsive gambler on April 2nd 2019 because for me acceptance is taking admittance and doing something about it. So the process of accepting that I was a compulsive gambler and needed help didn’t begin until I started Gamblers Anonymous on April 3rd 2019. It then took months of attending meetings and, crucially, working The Steps to get to that point of acceptance. 

a) Are you admitting or accepting?

I am accepting and it is an ongoing process for me. I believe that if I decide to stop working on myself, if I stop going to meetings and stop helping others then I am becoming complacent. If I become complacent, then I slide from acceptance to admittance and it won’t be long before I drift back towards gambling. Admitting that I have done something or have a problem etc is a big step, huge, but in the grand scheme of things it means fuck all if I don’t do anything about it. 

b) How you are admitting or accepting through your behaviour.

Through behaviours like sponsoring people; attending meetings; chairing meetings; writing my blog; being there for someone when they ask for my help; working The Steps; reading about addiction; reading about other subjects that I feel can help me develop as a person; being honest with myself and those around me; being open minded; being willing; and of course, by not gambling today. You have got to give it away to keep it.

9. What convinces you that you can no longer gamble?

Everything since I came into this program has convinced me that I can no longer gamble. Things I have experienced, that I have learned, that I have listened to and that I have figured out. I know that I can no longer gamble but I also know that I am capable of gambling if I let myself. 

10. Are you a compulsive gambler?

No, I was a compulsive gambler. I am one bet away from being a compulsive gambler again and I never forget that fact, but currently I am not gambling therefore I am not a compulsive gambler. I don’t want to label myself as something I am not. I am proud to tell people I have an addiction and that I am in recovery, I don’t hide that fact but my gambling doesn’t define me, my recovery does. My recovery is the important part of the story in my eyes now. The gambling got me here, and I am grateful for that. But for me, and for other people I encounter in recovery, especially new people, the recovery portion of my story is what will help them and that’s how I want to label myself. 

UNMANAGEABILITY

1. What does unmanageability mean to you?

Something that is completely out of control, a mess and with no ability to make it manageable.

2. What can you identify as your social unmanageability?

a) Being a people pleaser, I was so desperate for everyone to like me that I would become who I thought they wanted me to be. There were days where I felt like Mick Foley in the 1998 Royal Rumble (three different characters in one night). The longer this went on, the more I felt like I ended up as this mishmash of characters that I had created to please other people and I didn’t know who I was anymore. I had just lost complete control of who I was as a person.

b) At the same time as being a people pleaser, I fucking hated people. Just being around them was enough to put me in a bad mood but when I had to actually go and do something with friends or family it was just the worst. I would use any excuse to get out of doing something and it sort of became a joke in my house that I would volunteer to stay at home with the kids if we were invited out anywhere. Instead of getting someone to mind the kids I’d try to encourage my partner to go instead. Wedding invites or birthday invites; hateful. That’s genuinely how I felt about all this stuff and it just got worse and worse the longer I was in active addiction. Socially, I was close to a recluse. 

c) I lacked the ability to care about anyone else other than myself because I was a selfish bastard. As long as I was doing what I wanted I was happy, at the expense of other people's happiness. Where it extends into social unmanageability is that when I didn’t get my own way and I had to do something I didn’t want to do, then I would make sure it was known that I wasn’t happy. I would be miserable, angry or just not interested, instead burying my head in my phone gambling. I did this without thinking how other people would feel about my actions and it was almost automatic. If I was told by my partner, for example, that we needed to go do something important for her I would instantly complain and get into a bad mood. Probably start an argument and ruin everybody's day. It got to the stage I couldn’t be asked to go to the shop 5 minutes away without giving off and storming around the house.

3. Give six examples of your personal unmanageability while not gambling.

a) I wouldn’t eat properly during the day at work because I had no money or wasn’t willing to spend any money on food. My diet would consist of biscuits that were on offer in the shop on the way to work and energy drinks. I didn’t care about my diet. I didn’t even really want to eat. If I was hungry I would just try to ignore it if I had ran out of biscuits until I got home.

b)My personal finances were completely unmanageable and this was obviously enhanced when I wasn’t gambling because that meant I was out of money. I then had to try and juggle bills and money for petrol to travel to work for the rest of the month. I wasn’t able to afford to go to the shop for a loaf of bread if my partner asked me to.

c) Lack of honesty. I lied to cover my gambling, like a compulsive gambler does, but my lies began spreading to every aspect of my life and the longer I was in active addiction the more detached I became from what was real and what was actually lies I had told. The lines were becoming blurred and I was believing my own bullshit. From lying to my partner about why I had no money to lying to my friends and family about the reasons for needing to borrow money. Even little things, like when someone in work asked me how my weekend went. I was hardly going to say “I lost my balls gambling, how was yours?” I would lie and make it sound like I was doing stuff with my family and give off this vibe that I was a family man and I started to believe it myself.

d) I used gambling to escape the following three things so when I wasn’t gambling I have to say they were unmanageable. First up is reality. I could not handle my own personal situation. Having two young kids at a young age, working two jobs, no social life, a relationship with my partner that was disintegrating from my point of view (because of me). My own personal reality was so distorted because of how I was thinking.

e) Then comes my responsibilities. When faced with those I just could not cope well and everything felt out of control. It’s the same list as above but actually trying to be a Dad, working my jobs and trying to have a relationship with my partner were just close to impossible. When I think about work, I was constantly late, like every day and my productivity was non-existent. Yes, gambling caused that some days but I was mainly a paycheck to paycheck gambler so for a good part of the month I couldn’t gamble and I still couldn’t produce an acceptable level of work. 

f) The last of the three is my own self-worth. The thoughts I had, the internal monologue I had with myself, I was my own biggest critic and I verbally abused myself when I couldn’t gamble. I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I did and was too blind to see that the gambling was causing my issues. The only time I felt truly happy was when I was gambling and when I wasn’t gambling, I felt like a piece of shit.

4. What goals have you set for your life?

a) Each morning when I get up, I will try to do the next right thing and I know if I do that, I will not gamble today.

b) To become a better person, to improve my own self, be there for my family and support them and to hopefully help others in the program through Step 12.

c) To become debt free and buy a house. 

5. Prior to entering G.A., how did you try to achieve these goals?

The only goal I had prior to G.A. would have been to become debt free and buy a house and I tried to achieve this by gambling. I had budgets worked out years in advance that showed me I just needed to win £x per month to be debt free within a certain period of time. Of course, I never would have become debt free because it wasn’t actually about winning money for me, it was about being in action.

6. Give three examples of feelings you tried to alter by gambling.

I used this article on https://www.healthline.com/health/list-of-emotions#enjoyment for this question as I could relate to a lot of it.

a) Enjoyment was difficult for me to find when I wasn’t gambling because I didn’t see it in everyday life. Gambling allowed me to feel safe and secure, I didn’t need to pretend to be someone else was when I was gambling online. It also gave me sensory pleasure which kept me coming back. I was able to lose myself in a world of online gambling and become absorbed in it. All of these things allowed me to feel relaxed and find peace. Or at least I thought it did. The article suggests, if enjoyment and its related feelings feel elusive, try to take a look at other emotions or feelings are getting in the way, such as: trouble focusing on what’s happening in the present; worry; stress; a low or anxious mood. I didn’t want to take a look at these feelings and used gambling as a means to escape them. Of course, that didn’t solve my problems, it just kept putting them off while also adding more on top.

b) Sadness was another feeling that I tried to escape from through gambling. The article suggests trying to do something meaningful. Doing something to help others or give back to society can help you feel more connected to other people. If you’ve recently lost someone you cared about, consider finishing a project they cared about or donating your time to a cause they supported. As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t give a shit about anyone but myself so the prospect of me doing something meaningful for other people was non existent.

Another tip is to reach out for support. This is easier said than done when you’re at a low point. Try to remember the people in your life who care for you and likely want to help you. The pain of heartache does ease in time, even if you can’t imagine that at the moment. Again, this was never going to happen when I was in the midst of my addiction because I knew if I told someone about my gambling they would tell me to stop and I did not want to stop because I didn’t see it as a problem. Everything else around me was the problem and in fact, the only time I didn’t feel sadness was when I was gambling.

c) Finally we have fear. I lived my life in constant fear that my financial problems would be found out by my partner and that my whole world would come crashing down if that happened. So I was only left with the solution to try and gamble my way out because again, I couldn’t see that gambling was causing the issues, I just saw it as my only solution to get out of the mess I was in. The article above gives three suggestions to combat fear and I just briefly want to touch on them. 

Confront fear instead of avoiding it. If you’re afraid of something, whether it’s a serious discussion, meeting new people, or driving, it’s natural to want to stay away from the source of your fear. But this can often just make your fear worse. Instead, try to face your fear safely. For example, if you suddenly develop a fear of driving, get back in your car and drive again right away. Stick close to home at first if it helps, but don’t avoid it. 

Distract yourself from your fear. Sometimes fear can become so overwhelming that it’s hard to think about anything else. But ruminating, or letting the same thoughts play out over and over again, can have a negative impact on your emotional state. It can also make fear worse. If you feel yourself fixating on a worry or source of stress, try something distracting. Listen to an audio book or podcast, cook with a new recipe you have to concentrate on, or go for a walk or jog with some energising music. 

Consider the fear logically. Take a moment to think about your fear. Is there anything you can do about it? Can it actually harm you? What’s the worst thing that could happen if your fear came true? What would you do in that scenario? Knowing how you would deal with your fear can help you feel less afraid. 

On those three points, while in addiction, I assumed that I was confronting it. I was working two jobs, I was trying to gamble my way out of debt. I convinced myself that all of my gambling was to try and solve my financial problems. So it did feel like I was confronting my debt head on. At the same time I used gambling as a distraction. Gambling was the only way I could relax and not think about my debt. Which sounds insane and that’s because it was. Finally, considering the fear logically was just something I could not do. My mind would think of the worst possible scenario when it came to my partner finding out and it was something I couldn’t face. If someone had told me I needed help and to come clean I wouldn’t have done it because I wasn’t ready to face my fear. That’s why I don’t hold the gambling industry responsible for my own situation. I was not stopping until I was ready or I was caught, which question 8 touches on.

7. How did you try to change your image prior to entering G.A.?

I lied, lied and lied some more. I told people what I thought they wanted to hear. I acted how I thought other people would expect me to act. The longer I was gambling the less I talked about my own personal bets to other people, win or lose. It goes without saying why I wasn’t telling people I was losing £x on the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters. The reason I stopped talking about any winnings was that within days they were gone and when I was asking to borrow money the first question would be, “I thought you got a bet up the other day, what happened to the winnings?”

8. What crisis, besides the one that got you into G.A. would have happened eventually?

I would have been caught and it would have happened within months of when I actually came clean.I know this because two things happened to me and I may have been able to talk myself out of one, but not both. First, there was a note through the door from a debt collection company saying that someone would be calling at the house to discuss my debt. My partner rang me when this happened and asked me what it was about (I was in recovery at this stage). I wasn’t paying my creditors because I was paying back friends and family first and this company was chasing me up. Now, if I was still gambling I wouldn’t have been paying them and the same note would have come through the door. 

The other incident was when a creditor took me to court because I had not paid them anything for a long time. I ended up with a CCJ and this was all done via the post but there was no way I would have been able to hide this from my partner. I was able to set up a repayment plan with not just that creditor but the rest of them which just would not have been possible if I was still gambling.

So those two things combined would have happened eventually and my secret would have been exposed. Worst case scenario I would have lost my family and best case I would have been forced to stop gambling and go to G.A. I’m convinced if I was forced to go to G.A. things wouldn’t have worked out as well as they have done so far and I believe I would have relapsed and went back to gambling because I just would not have been ready to stop on my own terms.

9. What is different about you from other people?

a) I feel like I try to look at things from a different perspective than the obvious at times. I’ve found this more when it comes to recovery because I am interested in bringing other ideas, topics and theories into my own recovery. I’m not content with the status quo, I know that there is more out there that could enhance my recovery and I want to find out what it is.

b) I am unconventional and I’m not sure if that’s a strength or a weakness to be honest. It probably hovers somewhere in the middle between the two depending on the situation. I don’t want to just regurgitate literature when it comes to recovery, I want to bring my own personal spin on it. The people who do that are the people I find myself connecting with the most in meetings. Even outside of recovery, I don’t follow trends or fashion, I just like to do my own thing and because of recovery I’m learning to enjoy it.

c) I am teachable. I may be opinionated, have a huge ego and I’m sure I am not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am apt and willing to learn. 

10. Give 10 reasons why you should continue with the Programme.

a) It will help me not to gamble today.

b) It will help me become a better person.

c) It will help me connect with other people and human connection is the opposite of addiction.

d) I will have the opportunity to help other people.

e) I can be inspired by someone.

f) I can inspire someone.

g) I will have the chance to learn things I wouldn’t have the opportunity to learn without the Programme. #CollegeOfKnowledge

h) Teamwork makes the dream work.

i) It will help me to achieve my life goals.

j) I want to continue with the Programme and I want recovery.

I’m firmly of the belief that the Programme can only help me to do things, I need to be willing to put in the work and effort to achieve the things on this list. Just turning up and hoping it will happen, for me, isn’t enough. 

Russ


Thursday, 12 November 2020

Step 1, Exercise 4: Empowerment

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

Step 1, Exercise 4: Empowerment

Accept Powerlessness, and You Empower Yourself.

There are certain things in our lives over which we have no power or control, like the passage of time, the actions of others, and the weather.

Be honest with yourself: are you ready to add gambling to that list?

When I think back to my time in active addiction, I always thought I was in control of gambling and that I had the power to either stop when I wanted to, or at the very least, I had the power not to let the actions of my gambling affect who I was. Basically I thought I was driving the bus but that was clearly not the case. I was simply a passenger. The bus was my addiction and gambling was the driver. I had no control over it and once I started gambling that was it. The effect it had on my emotions was something I couldn’t see or understand during active addiction. It was only when I came in recovery and started working on myself I could see what it was doing to me.

While doing a bit of research on power and control I came across The Power & Control Wheel which is a tool utilised in the domestic violence/interpersonal violence field to understand the tactics abusers use to gain power and control over their victims. I also found out that this has been adapted for various things other than domestic violence. I started to replace words with gambling to see if it worked, trying to adapt it, and I think it does. 

Here are the segments:

Intimidation - Manipulate others by using looks, actions and gestures. Making myself feel afraid about the consequences of my actions and drive the need to continue gambling to hide it.

Emotional Abuse - Putting myself down. Making me feel bad about myself. Calling myself names. Making me think I am crazy. Playing mind games. Humiliating me. Making me feel guilty. 

Isolation - Controlling what I do, who I see and talk to, what I read and where I go. Limiting my outside involvement. Using jealousy to justify actions.

Minimising, Denying and Blaming - Making light of the gambling and not taking mine or others concerns seriously. Saying the gambling didn’t happen. Shifting responsibility for gambling behaviour. Saying others caused it.

Using Family Members - Blaming those closest to me for my gambling. Making them feel guilty about my situation. Using family members to relay messages to others. Threatening to break the family apart. Making me think I would be better off without my family.

Economic Abuse - Preventing me from getting or keeping a job. Making me ask for money. Taking my money. Not letting my partner know about or have access to family income.

Ego - Making me think I am better than everyone. Making me feel like I am the smartest person in the room. Makes me have no esteem.

Coercion and Threats -  Making and/or carrying out threats to hurt myself. Make me do illegal things. Make me go against my morals/values.

What this shows me is that through gambling, I give my addiction all the power and control in my life. The more I gamble, the stronger it gets. What is vitally important for me to remember is that the first bet will give the power and control in my life back to my addiction. What the wheel also shows me is that although removing gambling from the equation will help in the short term, looking at that I see a life that is unmanageable and the only way for that to become manageable is for me to work on myself and work on my recovery. Without doing that I am simply abstaining and eventually I will want to escape my problems that I have caused either through gambling or some other means of escape. 

I will remember that I am powerless over gambling and I can honestly say that I realise this but more importantly for me; I accept it. 

List at least 20 things in your life that are within your control/power. Which of these things will you draw upon most to aid in your recovery?

My mindset

How I respond to my emotions & feelings

How I respond to my thoughts

How I respond to my sensations

How I respond to my memories

How much action I take towards my goals

How much I focus & engage in what I do

What I say & do to influence other people

How much I use my values for motivation

Whether or not I act like the sort of person I want to be

The values I live by, whether or not life gives me what I want 

How I take care of and look after myself

How I talk to myself

How I talk about myself in front of others

How much I hug my children

How I react to others

Whether I seek help

The people I turn to for help

When, where and how I say “yes”

When, where and how I say “no”

How I practice self care

How I love others

How honest I am

How much I pay attention to my surroundings

Whether I do something that is outside my comfort zone

Whether I forgive myself

My priorities

The music I listen to

The people I listen to

Whether I take responsibility for the things I am responsible for

What I do with my racing thoughts

What I do with my regrets

How kind I am to others

Whether I put myself in someone else’s position and perspective

How patient I am

What I do with my anxiety

What I do with my anger

What I do with my sadness

What I do with my envy

Whether I communicate my needs

How much inspiration I let into my life

How I respond to my needs

The boundaries I set

Whether I savour what I eat

What I do with my self-doubt

Whether I find beauty in the things that seem to have none

How grateful I am

Whether I explore my dreams, intentions and fears

What I write

What I learn from my missteps, mistakes, missed opportunities, bad decisions, tough times

What I watch: the types of shows and movies and news coverage

How often I say “thank you”

Whether I try new things or do what I have always done

The attention I give my loved ones when I see them

How much time I spend trying to convince people that I am right

Whether or not I communicate something that is on my mind

Whether or not I judge people

How often I tune into my senses to pull myself into the moment

How quickly I try again after I fail

I did a good search on the internet for ideas of what is in my control and the list above is obviously not exhaustive. I will probably draw on my mindset the most during recovery as I feel that it covers a lot of the finer points mentioned. A few of them are very much character defect issues that I have and still continue to work on. I have learned a lot from this exercise, especially compared to when I worked The Steps the first time around and there are some good ideas there for me to focus on and implement in my life. 

Also write about:

The most meaningful thing you learned about yourself through working Step 1.

I have learned this time around and trying to limit it to one will be hard but I think overall, the fact that I have the desire to work The Steps again and not only that, I am realising how much deeper I can go as I work them. To be brutally honest, the first time I went through The Steps I’m not sure I did them to a high enough standard, at least looking back on them now. In saying that, I still did them and got a lot from doing them. This time feels different though. Maybe it’s having some more time in the program and I can approach the questions a little bit differently, maybe it’s the people I’m surrounded by now in recovery and the experiences I have had with them. Whatever it is, I think it is going to really help me and hopefully help others who read it. 

To just pinpoint a particular exercise I really enjoyed, it would have to be exercise 3 and especially when I learned about stress sensitivity and began to realise how it has impacted me for many years. That whole exercise and looking up the meaning of the words in the dictionary and figuring out how each one plays a role in my recovery has given me plenty to work with going forward.

One thing for which you've become grateful while working Step 1.

I am grateful for how far I have come in my recovery as that has become noticeable to me and I don’t say that as a way to brag because I know I will never be perfect and I am far from even being able to try and convince myself I am perfect. I feel like when I am answering these questions I am looking at them from where I am now in recovery and how I can continue to improve myself and work on my character defects. I find I want to write more about recovery and how my recovery has come about and evolved than what got me into recovery. That’s not to dismiss my gambling or to forget about it, far from it. I will continually look back at the past and learn from it but for me, the most important part of my journey and my story is the recovery portion and I am grateful that I am in a position where I can focus on moving forward with that. Of course, Step 1 has also reminded me just how close I am to going back gambling if I lose focus which I find is always a nice reminder to have.

The kindest thing you’ve done for yourself recently.

Taking up the invitation I received from my good friend Jake to be a part of the Georgia G.A. meetings via Zoom. I have been attending since the end of June and I have met so many wonderful people and found a place where I feel like I belong. My recovery has gone from strength to strength and not only that, I have met people who have become true friends of mine. The meetings are exceptional, well run and always well attended and I just get so much from everyone who is there. Being in Georgia has also seen me add Sheffield G.A. to my weekly schedule which is run by my good (albeit English) friend Mick.

#GoDawgs

I also had to read the first five pages of Step One: The Foundation of Recovery For Compulsive Gambling booklet (for the first time might I add)  which I have copied below. 

Part 1: We admitted we were powerless over gambling... 

This is the first part of Step One of the Gamblers Anonymous Recovery Programme. It is significant that the creators of the Twelve-Step Programme placed the emphasis on powerlessness. 

Many times we have observed people taking powerlessness for granted or with a casual attitude. UNDERSTANDING POWERLESSNESS IS THE FOUNDATION of any successful approach to recovery from compulsive gambling.

Accepting powerlessness can be compared to laying the foundations of a building: foundations must be solid for the building to stand. A thorough understanding of our individual powerlessness must be solidly and firmly founded or we will fail to arrest our addiction.

Some people we see in the programme have the attitude, “If I can discover why I gambled I’ll be alright.” For example, we often hear, “My only problem is my job: I'm not getting raises fast enough; my spouse is spending more than I am making; no-one understands that I need to gamble to make ends meet.” Some people blame a neighbour or a neighbourhood. The most common example we hear is, “I really don’t have a problem with gambling, I’m just having a little run of bad luck.” With such attitudes, the compulsive gambler is failing to see the psychological influences powerlessness has over his addiction.

We cannot deny that there is a psychological dependency upon gambling. Psychological dependency is verified by the medical profession, and it is important to stress the psychological aspects of addiction. To be specific, as dependent people, we have an urge to gamble. We all probably started gambling for many of the same reasons - to relax, to have fun, to make money - but not one of us started gambling with the express purpose of becoming a compulsive gambler.

When we talk of the urge for the gambling-dependent person, we need to be aware that it can and does surpass all other urges. The urge to repeat the experience of getting high is so strong that we will forsake many, if not all, of our responsibilities and values. We have thrown away things that are seemingly most important to us (such as families, jobs, personal welfare, respect and integrity) in order to satisfy the urge to gamble. We remember the good times and occasional big wins we had during the early stages of our gambling, and the psychological urge to repeat these experiences arises. Once the urge exists, it becomes totally self-sufficient, and will come to us of its own accord. We do not think continually of gambling, but the urge to gamble can occur at any time.

Reluctance to examine our powerlessness is as much a symptom of our illness as withdrawal or indigestion. We often tell ourselves and others, “I don’t need to gamble: I don’t gamble all the time.” Social pressures, centred on the myth that willpower is all that is needed to control a gambling problem, can result in unwillingness to study our powerlessness.

The social image of being macho or financially independent is very demanding. It is not easy for people to admit powerlessness over anything, especially if they have experienced the social disapproval of uncontrolled gambling.

Negative attitudes are changing, however, with the gradual public acceptance of compulsive gambling as a disease. But the change is coming too slowly for some. Many times, when talking with families of compulsive gamblers, we have heard, “Thank goodness it’s only a gambling problem, and not a drug-addiction.” This kind of attitude may interfere with people seeking the necessary help to control their addictions, until a major crisis arises in their lives.

Often the stress and strain of daily life, gambling losses, family problems, job hassles and other factors directly relate to the continued gambling. This further demonstrates powerlessness in our lives.

An honest look at these symptoms will help us understand powerlessness. It will also help us deal with the self-deceiving shadow of fear that surrounds our compulsive gambling.

Understanding and accepting powerlessness is a path to freedom. We will be releasing ourselves from the insanity, the loss of respect and the loss of interest in activities that have been important in our lives. We will be freed of the necessity to withstand the depression caused by our gambling. We will lose the faulty thinking, the deceit and lying that have become so much a part of us that we have begun to believe our own lies. We will become less affected by the moral deterioration and the loss of regard for our individual value-systems. Ask yourself, “What am I really giving up?” You are really giving up misery, pain, discomfort and a fight for mere existence in your life.

Dependent people have an x-factor. This is a physical powerlessness. The x-factor is so called because no-one knows exactly what it is or why it exists. Many studies have been, and are being, made, but so far, none has explained why some people become compulsive gamblers.

It is important to know that we are not responsible for the x-factor. For some reason, we respond with intense pleasure during the first stages of gambling. This pleasure is what allows us to develop the psychological dependency on gambling. This same effect could have taken place while drinking or using drugs, and the same results would have occurred.

Dependency: Non-compulsive gamblers may reach a level of pleasure while gambling, but the length of time that the pleasurable sensation is maintained is much shorter than for those of us who eventually become dependent on gambling. This may be a result of the x-factor. It is a fact of our existence. As some of us develop a heart-condition or diabetes, some of us become dependent on alcohol, drugs or gambling. Understanding the x-factor and powerlessness is essential in helping us overcome the moral implications and social stigmas which suggest that compulsive gamblers are bad, wicked or weak willed. It is very important to understand that we are not bad people trying to become good, but sick people trying to get well.

As we continue in recovery, we will begin to develop a programme and a deeper understanding of how to live with compulsive gambling, as we understand it to be an illness we are not personally responsible for having. It is a progressive illness, and one that is more likely to destroy us than any other illness. If it is not arrested, it will destroy us totally as a person, not only physically and emotionally, but spiritually as well. As we develop a thorough understanding of compulsive gambling, we will begin to understand our personal powerlessness over the illness. We will not be ashamed to admit that we are powerless over it, just as we would be powerless over any other illness. We will also learn that we will not be able to adapt our lives until we have a thorough, ongoing programme of recovery, in the same way that a diabetic or heart-patient has an ongoing programme to keep their disease in check.

Personal responsibility for compulsive gambling occurs when we have recognised it in ourselves, or others have pointed out the symptoms to us and we realise we are afflicted with an illness. It then becomes our responsibility to start a recovery programme. At this point, it is self-defeating to condemn ourselves for being compulsive gamblers.

It is imperative that we work hard to understand personal powerlessness. It is apparent to me from my own history and from working with people in this field that what has helped us the most to identify powerlessness was taking an honest look at what gambling has done to us. Instead of living as free people, we were reduced to fighting for survival in life.

The process of identifying powerlessness involves a certain amount of emotional pain, but dependent people seem to have a low threshold of tolerance for pain. Thus, it is crucial that we have an atmosphere of care, concern, and reinforcement in GA and other treatment-programmes. Dependent people seem to walk a tightrope: the precariousness of their exact situation. We must be made aware of the painful side of our gambling and then be given emotional support as we work through it. The need for the rest of the Programme is not diminished by stressing powerlessness. However, the significance of powerlessness in a personal recovery programme is the essential foundation of recovery.

Part 2: …that our lives had become unmanageable.

Unmanageability is related to powerlessness. Many types of social pressures and stresses prevent us from directing completely our own lives. There are two forms of unmanageability: social and personal.

Social unmanageability follows directly the act of compulsive gambling. There is little doubt that for some compulsive gamblers, after a loss, driving a car is unmanageable. Someone who is gambling all hours of the day and night is pushing his or her body beyond the point of physical exhaustion. This person is unmanageable.

Unmanageability may be obvious in the number of bounced cheques, white-collar crimes, familial arguments or fights before or after gambling episodes, but this behaviour is not unique to the compulsive gambler. Any person who gambles as much or as often as we do would act in the same manner. Often such behaviour can readily be pointed out in many peoples’ pasts. Think back to the family gatherings, birthdays and other social events that were missed due to gambling. Such behaviour could definitely be classed as unmanageability.

Our addiction affects directly every area of our lives. Our emotions and behaviours become affected. In the area of work, lost hours and shirked responsibilities are caused by gambling. Many people want to deny the effects of their gambling. A popular idea in our society is that gambling is the demon in our lives. We respect this view, however, we are more inclined to believe that it is we alone that cause most of our problems, and not gambling. The gambling will not bring destruction upon a person until that person learns to justify continual use and abuse of gambling.

Personal unmanageability relates to the attitudes and beliefs that we have about ourselves, our environment and the people with whom we live. In many cases personal unmanageability was present many years before compulsive gambling.

GA’s belief is that stopping gambling is not enough. We need to rejuvenate our personalities. We need to learn about ourselves on an intimate level. We need to discover what the GA Programme calls our character-defects and -shortcomings in order to accept ourselves as human beings with strong and weak points like everyone else. There are some character-weaknesses that compulsive gamblers do seem to have in common. One is self-centredness. This defect must be present in each of us for our illness to prosper. It seems to require a direct assault to break our denial-system and rebuild trust in our concern for other people.

Another area of common personal unmanageability is the basic immaturity that seems to be prevalent amongst compulsive gamblers. It causes us to respond to life in a self defeating way. Immature behaviour can also occur when we are not gambling.

Immaturity may not be obvious. A person may be able to function very well when not gambling, but the smallest agitation or disruption of the normal pattern will cause extreme reaction. Overreacting is immature. Any behaviour that would result in diminishing self respect or dignity is also immature. Some examples are: temper-tantrums, not sharing feelings and emotions honestly with others, and insisting on having one’s own way. Such behaviour-patterns enlarge and gradually take over a large part of one’s personality.

Personal unmanageability covers a wide range of behaviour-patterns because of the many variables within each person. We do have, however, basic common desires. We want to love and be loved. We want to feel worthwhile as people and in our everyday lives. Fulfilling these desires can be much easier if we meet life on life’s terms instead of trying to battle and mould life to our own specifications.

The realisation that life is bigger than any of us may be hard to accept at first. Acceptance of the First Step and all its implications will help us learn to try different types of behaviour, and it will lead to attitude- and value-changes which will allow us to become comfortable with ourselves and others.

We challenge everyone reading this pamphlet to join the rest of us in the marvellous experience of becoming more aware of ourselves, our reactions to life, and the realisation of our potential as people. This can come naturally with continued work on the Twelve Steps of the GA Programme, which is based on understanding and accepting powerlessness and unmanageability.

Russ

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Step 1, Exercise 3: Reality Check

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

Step 1, Exercise 3: Reality Check

You may have admitted that you are powerless over gambling but have you fully accepted it? Write about any lingering doubts, fears, qualifications, justifications, guilt, blame or rationalisation you may have.

All of the quotes at the beginning of each part are the definition from Merriam-Webster which I most related to. I have used a dictionary more in recovery than I ever did in my entire life and I find it extremely useful to help me learn and grow.

Lingering doubts - “to call into question the truth of: to be uncertain or in doubt about.”

If I am being totally honest there are times I have doubts about the G.A. Recovery Program and it stems from my split with my former sponsor. Although I held my hands up and said I was at fault for a lack of communication, he didn’t act how I would like to think I would react with his length of time in the program. Is it fair to blame the G.A. Recovery Program because one person was an ass-hole? No, but I’ve seen behaviours with other people who have been in recovery for a long period of time that makes me wonder if the program really works. In saying that, what I try to do now when I think of other people's behaviours is I look towards myself first. I see if I am the problem and a lot of the times I am. Maybe not in my behaviour but in my thinking. Then I remember that no one is perfect and no one will be perfect. I will have defects of character until the day I die and this program is what can help me work on them so that I try to do the right things on a daily basis and try to become a better person. Despite all that, the doubt lingers but it is rare that this causes me any issues and if it does, I usually find it easy to move on after I talk with someone.

Fears - “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”

My biggest fear from day one, and it is still there to this day, is complacency. The definition of complacency is, “self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies”. The original fear is still there but it has also evolved into another fear. Originally, as I have heard many people say, the fear is that I think I am cured and stop coming to meetings, stop working the program and think that I have the addiction under control. Then, slowly, I will drift back towards gambling and once I have that first bet I know I’ll be right back to where I was before I came into recovery. Now, where it has evolved, is with the last part of the definition of complacency, “self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies. I do have a fear that I will feel like I’ve done all I need to do in recovery and be unaware that my character defects are beginning to worsen. I’ll be so unaware that just like above, I’ll slowly drift back towards gambling and the reason is that if I stop working my program of recovery, I will go from recovery to simply abstaining from gambling which, in my opinion, eventually leads back to active addiction. The basis for these fears is knowing myself and knowing how I have behaved in the past. Quite frankly I’m still shocked at times I haven’t given up recovery because that is what I used to do with everything else. I would go full on at something for a short period of time, get bored and move on. Thankfully, recovery seems to be different, but things can change quickly around these parts.

Qualifications - “a quality or skill that fits a person (as for an office).”

The qualification standing between me and my former career as a compulsive gambler is the first bet. It’s not a career I want to go back to, but I have the experience that makes me a strong candidate. As long as I don’t make the first bet then I will stay retired. The issue is that the qualification stays the same in matter how long I am in recovery and it is something I always have to be wary about. The positive to take away though is that I am in control of whether or not I place that first bet. What I also need to watch out for is the potential build up to any first bet. It’s extremely unlikely (but not impossible) that I will wake up and place a bet. What is more likely to happen is that I will slip back into old patterns or old behaviours. I will stop going to meetings. I will stop reaching out. Again, all of these things and more are under my control to keep doing and keep myself away from that first bet.

Justifications - “An acceptable reason for doing something : something that justifies an act or way of behaving.”

I find that looking back now, I sometimes look back with rose tinted glasses at times. I don’t always remember the pain that brought me into recovery but remember the “fun” times when I was gambling. The stories that I can tell and laugh about now which were, for me, complete insanity. I could see a situation where, if I wasn’t careful with my recovery, mainly if I stopped having a connection with other people, I would justify going back to gambling. I would be able to tell myself I am cured and start to think I could “gamble responsibly.” I do believe that connection is the opposite of addiction and that is a big part of my recovery. I used to hate other people but now I actually enjoy the company of others: it’s a strange feeling sometimes. 

Guilt - “Feelings of deserving blame especially for imagined offences or from a sense of inadequacy,” see self-reproach, “harsh criticism or disapproval of oneself especially for wrongdoing.”

This is something I really struggled with early on in recovery and to this day it can still be an issue. I can be my harshest critic from thinking that my blogs and writing are terrible to how I act or what I say in a meeting isn’t good enough. It’s a lack of self-esteem which I have realised contributed to my huge ego. I have definitely gotten better and I realise that the only person who needs to believe in me; is me. I also need to stop worrying about what other people think and learn to realise that if I work towards being my highest possible self in every moment then that is the beginning of the journey to finding true happiness. If I am doing the right things then I tend to find the guilt, criticism and disapproval of myself isn’t there. It’s only when I am thinking the wrong way that these issues tend to arise. 

Blame - “To find fault with.”

Other people, that is who I find fault with the most these days and I am aware it is an issue. Do I try and address it? Not as much as I should. In the past, if I found fault with another person, that was it, the chances of me ever changing my mind were slim to none. In fact, I’d go out of my way to make sure I wouldn’t change my mind and probably find more faults with the person in question. In recovery, I am learning that more likely than not the fault lies with me and not the other person. Still, doesn’t mean I don’t still do it. The biggest difference these days is if I find faults with someone there is a really good chance I’ll change my mind about them because I now realise how stupid it is and how it is most likely me that needs to change and not them.

I also do it at home as well and I know exactly when I find fault with things at home: straight after I have fucked up. It’s my go to thing: deflection. I even realise during it how I am acting and it is cringe worthy but I usually see it out since I can be a stubborn son of a bitch.  Again, it really is something I need to work on as I go, not just through The Steps, but as I go on this journey of recovery. 

Rationalisation - “The act, process, or result of rationalising : a way of describing, interpreting, or explaining something (such as bad behaviour) that makes it seem proper, more attractive, etc.”

To this day I still find myself at times rationalising my choices or decisions, mainly to myself.  Ego and control (or lack thereof) are difficult things to deal with at times for me and I still resort back to my old ways of wanting to always be right or to control situations. When my character defects come to the surface I try to recognise it as fast as I can but sometimes I will tell myself it’s okay to act out this way because of x, y or z. It’s not okay. It’s not okay to rationalise my behaviours in that way and to enable my character defects because that is how I go backwards in my recovery; it is a process.

Write about any withdrawal symptoms you may be experiencing. These may include some or all of the following, and may be frequent or intermittent:

  • Thinking problems
  • Memory problems
  • Emotional extremes
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Physical sensation
  • Stress sensitivity

Thinking problems - “the action of using one's mind to produce thoughts” + “a source of perplexity, distress, or vexation.” So based on those two definitions the question is; do I suffer from thoughts that perplex, distress or vex me? 

There are times when I am unable to grasp something clearly or to think logically and decisively about something. A recent example was the other week when I had a really frustrating morning. My kids were being so fucking annoying and doing my head in; they were loud and distracting. Not that I've anything to be distracted from, which was something else that was pissing me off. I was waiting for someone in the office to do something for me so I could finish a piece of work. I had sent it in a few days previously but it still wasn’t done and I was just sitting there; waiting. Which I fucking hate doing. Also, on top of that, I had an argument with my partner the night before. She did apologise but I was still thinking about it that morning, going over it in my head. This is where I come into issues with the question at hand, the inability to think logically about something. I was just getting stuck inside my own head and getting more and more angry. I could feel myself bubbling up inside. 

So I reached out to two friends in recovery and vented at them. Told them what was going on and while doing this I was able to think logically. I was able to break down each problem I was facing logically and decisively. First of all, my kids were just being kids. They were just enjoying themselves and playing together and not actually being as bad as I thought they were being. As for work, the person who was dealing with my query was off and they probably had more than just what I wanted done to sort out. The universe doesn’t revolve around me. Finally, I should have stopped thinking about the argument with my partner when she apologised. She held her hands up and said she was wrong. She is under a lot of pressure organising home schooling and I was trying to help but it wasn’t working out so well. I don’t like helping and not being appreciated which is something I need to work on. Also, she fails at multitasking. If she's looking at something on her phone she doesn't hear me when I am talking to her and that fucks me off. Feels like every time I speak to her it's not the right time. Thing is, I do that as well so I can't really complain because it is exactly how I feel when she speaks to me. Always when I'm in the middle of something. 

In conclusion, all the things that were annoying me were out of my control and/or were my issues and the lesson is, by reaching out and talking to others I was able to solve my thinking problem. If I had sat there and done nothing I probably would have just caused more problems for myself at home.

What about thoughts that cause me to worry or to be troubled? I would say, on occasion, this still happens because, in my opinion, I am never going to go through life without having these thoughts. What matters is how I deal with these thoughts when they arise and what works for me is talking. Either reaching out to people via text or talking in a meeting and sharing what is going on. In the past I have put my hand up before a meeting starts and said that I have a pressing problem. I have found this is one of the best ways to get a lot of help in a short space of time.

Memory problems - “the store of things learned and retained from an organism's activity or experience as evidenced by modification of structure or behaviour or by recall and recognition,” + “difficulty in understanding or accepting.” So based on those two definitions the question is; do I have difficulty in understanding or accepting what I have experienced in active addiction?

As I wrote about earlier, I do feel like I suffer from difficulty in recalling the bad parts of my active addition when I am thinking back to how it used to be. The further I get from my last bet the easier I find it to look back fondly on the gambling memories. The pain subsides quicker for me and I’m left with the “good times.” This is why I find it extremely important for me to continue to work on my recovery on a regular basis through such things like meetings, Step Work, sponsorship and writing. It allows me to think back and dig deeper as to what it was really like back then and not just recall the happy memories. If I wasn’t constantly working my recovery this is how I see myself drifting back towards gambling because I would start to buy into the narrative that it wasn’t so bad. That I didn’t really cause anyone harm and that I was just gambling as a hobby or for fun. Those sorts of ideas would start to come into my head and it would only end one way for me.

This is also true of recognising character defects that come back (or never go away) during recovery. It would be easy to think that by removing gambling from the equation that life will be great and I automatically become “my old self” and a great guy. The thing is; my old self was a wanker. Take the gambling away and he is still a wanker because of all the underlying character defects that need to be worked on. Remembering how I acted during my active addiction, especially focusing on my behaviour, is more important than remembering the war stories of my gambling because unless I change myself then my life will still be unmanageable.

Emotional extremes - “markedly aroused or agitated in feeling or sensibilities,” + “exceeding the ordinary, usual, or expected.” So based on those two definitions the question is; do I suffer from feelings or sensibilities that exceed how I usually feel?”

The longer I am in recovery the more zen I feel about everything going on in my life and around me. After a recent meeting I was called “the Buddha of the group” not because I was rotund (that was clarified) but because I seem very zen like. In saying all that there is one extreme that I do suffer from and it is that I can’t seem to express emotions the way I see other people in recovery express them. I have seen people crying with sadness and with happiness. People get emotional at shares and are able to express it in that way whereas I don’t seem to be able to and that feels like an extreme to me. Maybe it is something that will come in time, maybe it won’t, but either way I just hope that I am able to at least feel those emotions in an ordinary way in the future as I feel very cold towards it all at the moment and I struggle to empathise with others at times.

Sleep disturbances - This isn’t something that I suffer from except when it is self inflicted such as being a member of the Georgia G.A. Zoom groups that meet at midnight my time and the after meeting has been known to continue on until after 2am. In recovery I have realised how important it is to have a sleep routine and I try to keep to it as best I can. I need to start being more mindful of Tuesdays/Wednesdays/Fridays and Saturdays when I don’t have a midnight meeting and make sure I am getting to sleep and have my electronics off by midnight as much as possible. 

Physical sensation - Although currently I do not suffer from urges or a desire to gamble, when I start talking about gambling or see something to do with gambling I do get physical sensations. I find myself getting excited when I start talking about gambling that I used to do and I can feel my heart beating faster and I have butterflies in my stomach. My pupils dilate and I can get sweaty palms, it’s like I can almost taste it. The same is true when I see something to do with gambling and depending on what it is determines how extreme the sensations get. For example, seeing the odds of an event or a gambling advert online doesn't really move the needle as I can move quickly past it. If it’s a TV advert I find the physical sensations can be longer and stronger, especially if it is an advert for something I used to gamble on. Where I have had the most physical sensation so far in recovery was when I watched the Adam Sandler film Uncut Gems. It is all about sports gambling and I thought it was absolutely fantastic and I could relate to so much of it. There were certain scenes where I will be honest, it felt like I was there gambling with him. It was so intense. My toes were curling watching it and are curling as I think and write about it. This is why the literature suggests, on page 17 of the combo book, “don't test or tempt yourself. Don’t associate with acquaintances who gamble. Don’t go in or near gambling establishments. DON’T GAMBLE FOR ANYTHING.”

Stress Sensitivity - the following was taken from https://www.stress.org/are-you-stress-sensitive - If you’re stress sensitive, little things get under your skin. Stuff bugs you that doesn’t bug other people. Perhaps it’s noise, or waiting in lines, maybe it’s traffic jams or constructive criticism. It sticks with you, you resent it more or you hold a grudge. You assume that everyone is bothered by the same things you are but they just aren’t.

Stress sensitivity can manifest itself in other ways too. Maybe you’ve noticed the mild sense of anxiety you feel about going to the doctor, or driving on the freeway, or getting on a plane or going to the top of a tall building. Or maybe you have noticed the inordinate amount of time you spend worrying about your kids, your finances or your job security.

Reading this was pretty eye opening to me because although I am aware that things seem to bother me more than other people, or that I get frustrated and annoyed by simple things that others don’t seem to, I didn’t realise it was called stress sensitivity. 

When I was physically or virtually gambling, I would be numb to all this, even though I would get feelings of stress around what I was betting on, it was different. Where the stuff listed above really annoyed me was when it interrupted my gambling and I would fucking resent it. I would resent the people who I thought were ruining my gambling experience and taking me away from it. This is why I loved gambling overnight because the vast majority of people who could annoy me were asleep and I was able to just escape via online gambling without the worry of being interrupted. Any feelings of stress or frustration would disappear as I logged on and started gambling.

I now also realise areas where it has manifested itself in other ways. I can’t leave the house without checking if everything is turned off, several times. Same with locking the car. I can’t just lock it and walk away, I have to double check and triple check. I always get anxious waiting for appointments or waiting for something to happen. Basically, anything that is out of my control makes me anxious and maybe explains why control is one of my big character defects because I don’t want to feel that way. 

I still suffer from this in recovery but it isn’t as often as when I was in active addiction. I think the reason for that is the Recovery Program and what I have learned so far. The serenity prayers is a huge part of this and realising what I can and cannot control. Figuring out that it is a waste of time to stress and worrying about what is outside of my control has allowed me to focus a lot more on dealing with what I can control and, for me, the biggest thing I can control is my own mind. 

I will definitely be looking into stress sensitivity more and ways to combat it because I feel like this could help prevent me from losing my patience with other people and can help me deal with any stressors that come my way in a better and healthier way.

Think about the idea of meeting power vs. willpower. IS the Meeting a power greater than yourself? Write about specific examples from your experience that illustrate how meeting power succeeds where your own willpower fails.

I am a huge believer in the power of going to meetings and I can personally see the difference it has made to my life. When it comes to willpower I know that it can only take me so far. The definition of willpower is “the ability to control one's own actions, emotions, or urges,” and when thinking about this it reminds me of a quote from early on in my recovery; “you are not in control of your first thought but you are in control of your first action.” That quote really helped me early on and on face value, based on the definition, it is willpower but I believe it shows how meeting power succeeds. If I was not going to meetings I would not have learned what my first action should be if I am having a thought about gambling. I would not have heard how I should reach out to other members if I was struggling or how it helps to open up at a meeting and discuss a pressing problem, for example, suffering from thoughts or urges. If it wasn’t for meetings, my willpower would have eventually ran out because my first action would have been to do what I always did when I was struggling; try to deal with it on my own, suppress it and do nothing to fix the actual problem. This would eventually lead me back to gambling.

I also feel that if I tried to abstain on my own, only using willpower, it would eventually fail and I would end up gambling again. The reason for this is quite simple; the opposite of addiction is connection. If I am trying to do everything on my own then I will not learn anything new and will just repeat the same mistakes I have always made. Having a connection with other people is how I learn and grow. It’s how I develop my feelings and emotions again and how I find my voice. I fucking used to hate people and the idea of me sitting in a meeting listening to people talk about their shit and then me share my shit would have seemed insane when I was still gambling because I had no interest in anyone but myself. For a specific example, my partner was sick about 6 or 7 months into my recovery and if I had been abstaining on willpower alone I could have gambled but it wasn’t even on my radar because I had people around me who were there for me. I knew what I had to do because I had been attending meetings but more importantly, listening in meetings. 

Attending meetings also gives me a structure in my life that was vital in early recovery and is still important to this day. With no meetings I would have just had all this free time to fill and no ideas how I could fill it. By going to meetings on a regular basis I was able to fill a lot of that time at the start and also begin to figure out the G.A. Recovery Program and how it works and how it could work for me. As mentioned above about connections, going to meetings regularly enabled me to create and develop these connections with other people. It is fantastic to have a close circle of friends and family who know about my addiction and support me but they don’t understand the addiction the way other compulsive gamblers do. It’s also not fair for me to just dump my shit at their feet if I am struggling or if I am confused about what to do with something.

So, is the meeting a power greater than myself? Absolutely. I’ve struggled with the whole concept of a power greater than myself, higher power, god etc. as it’s all used so interchangeably by people in recovery. For me, a power greater than myself can be anything that resonates with me or that helps me and that includes meetings. In recovery, I have found a place that I belong, a place that I can be myself. Quite honestly, I feel I have been searching for this for a long time and before I used to think that place was gambling online but that was just an illusion: a means of escape. Now I don’t need to escape. Now I have no reason to run away. Now I have a reason to be the best version of myself each day and a big part of that is because of the power of meetings. I struggled with the concept of god before but now I believe in god - Group Of Degenerates - as this god of my own understanding is my higher power and a power greater than myself as without god I wouldn’t be who I am today.

Russ