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


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