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?
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
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.
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.