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


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