Saturday, 12 December 2020

Step 2, Exercise 1: Our Thoughts & Behaviours

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to a normal way of thinking and living.

Step 2, Exercise 1: Our Thoughts & Behaviours


Abnormal Thoughts vs Normal Thoughts

Gambling will make this situation better vs gambling will make this situation worse - When in active addiction I believed that gambling would enhance any situation. I just have to look at questions 15, 18 and 19 of The Twenty Questions to prove it: worry; trouble; boredom; loneliness; arguments; disappointments; frustrations and of course, my favourite; celebrating good fortune. It didn’t matter the situation, because I had gambling above everything else in my life which meant it was always going to improve things in my eyes. 

Now I’m in recovery I can actually see what I have to lose but more importantly than that, I understand how gambling will make any situation worse, no matter how shit I think life is. This was an important realisation for me to come to because, in recovery, I still have shit moments that I need to deal with. I don’t deal with those situations by escaping from them through gambling because, once I finished my gambling session, the shit situation would still be there along with additional problems caused by my gambling.

Gambling makes me happy vs recovery makes me happy - I still say that I loved gambling when I talk about my past and that is because it is how I felt at the time. While I was gambling I thought that I was genuinely happy, it was the only thing that really made me happy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in my head, I loved gambling more than my kids and my family. Looking back I can now see that it was gambling and my addiction that was causing me to be unhappy, only I blamed everything else around me and gambled to escape it. I couldn’t see until I could see. 

My eyes are wide open now and I can say that I believe I am truly happy in recovery and that is because I am living a completely different lifestyle. I am living a lifestyle of HOW: Honesty; Open-mindedness and Willingness; which has been the foundation upon which my recovery has been built. I can see that gambling never truly made me happy, it just numbed me and allowed me to escape. The addiction exposed my underlying character defects and I wasn’t equipped to deal with them so I pretended to be someone else. I don’t need to do any of this in recovery because I can accept who I am now and I have the tools to deal with things that life throws at me.

My actions only affect me vs my actions affect me and those around me - This was how I justified my behaviour to myself, that it was just my “hobby” or my way to relax and at the end of the day, the only real consequence was I would lose some money, which was also mine. I worked hard for my money and I deserved to enjoy myself now and again. I rarely went out, I worked two jobs, I looked after my kids, this was my way to unwind. What a load of bollocks.

Once I got out of the fog of gambling I could see how my actions were far reaching beyond just me and the longer I stayed in recovery and the more I worked on myself I realised it was far deeper than just finances. The person who I became during my gambling, the character defects that got worse over time, they impacted those closest to me. The good news is that the benefits of recovery not only help me but also help those around me. It also makes me accountable for my actions.

I can gamble my way out of debt vs I can work and pay my way out of debt - It’s not a financial problem, it is an emotional problem. That was one of the biggest realisations that I came to early in recovery because I convinced myself when I was gambling it was all about the money. I was gambling under the illusion that I would win enough money to pay off my debts and be able to “start over” but it never happened. Everything I won went back and more, no win was ever going to be enough.
Now I realise that the only way to get out of debt is to pay it back in a manageable monthly amount and I get that money by working and earning my salary each month. Sure, it’s going to take me years to pay off, but that’s okay, because it is being paid off slowly and steadily at a rate that both me and my creditors are comfortable with.

I can control my gambling vs I was powerless over gambling - Although I used various “responsible gambling tools” during my years of gambling I can’t say that I ever thought I had lost control. It was always viewed as a cash flow problem rather than a gambling problem and I would take breaks accordingly. The first time I truly admitted to myself that I had a gambling problem and needed help was when I spoke to a friend of mine on April 2nd 2019. That started the process of admitting to my partner and my parents and going to Gamblers Anonymous. Up until that point I always thought I was in control but it’s obvious I was just in denial.

Once I was in Gamblers Anonymous, I started to listen to other members, I read the literature, I worked The Steps and slowly I began to accept that I was powerless over gambling and that I will never be able to control it and go back out there. It’s one thing to admit I was a compulsive gambler but it’s another thing entirely to accept it and to accept that I was powerless over gambling, but it was one of the keys to my recovery process. Now I am in the position that if a thought about gambling pops into my mind it’s usually easy for me to get rid of it because I have accepted I was powerless rather than trying to convince myself it was a lack of discipline and that things would be different if I gambled again.

I can’t afford this, I’ll gamble to get it vs I can’t afford this, I won’t get it - Gambling to get shit for “free” was another way that I justified my gambling to myself. I would convince myself that I was gambling to get enough money for a pizza and I’d lose enough money to open a franchise. The fact was, I was reluctant to use gambling money for normal expenditures (question 12) so I would try to win it and this was a theme throughout my gambling.

When I contrast those thoughts to today I am getting a lot better at saying, “I can’t afford this” but I still need to work on the second part of, “I won’t get it”. Patience isn’t one of my strengths and if I get something into my head that I want I will probably find a way by borrowing money. It’s not as often these days and the borrowing is usually a small amount for a short period of time and usually it’s for the right reasons but it’s something I do need to work on. 

A bet on this game would make it interesting vs I’m either interested in watching this game for what it is or I’m not - As a sports gambler I assumed that my passion for sports combined with my passion for gambling was the perfect partnership. I was obsessed with sports and I would basically watch anything: football; tennis; soccer; horse racing; golf; basketball; baseball; cricket; rugby; snooker; pool; darts; boxing; volleyball; curling; kabaddi; I loved all these sports, or so I thought. The truth is I loved gambling on all those sports and for a lot of them, the only reason I was watching was because I was gambling on them.

The first or second weekend after I entered recovery the Grand National was on and Tiger Roll was trying to become the first horse since the 70s to win back to back Grand Nationals. Now, I thought I loved horse racing and I told myself as I entered recovery I would still be able to watch it for the sport and still enjoy it. This Grand National felt early though, too early in recovery to risk it, so I decided not to watch it. I checked the result after and sure enough, Tiger Roll won and I had missed a major moment in horse racing history. I was gutted. From that point on I promised myself that I wasn’t going to be scared of watching sports that I truly wanted to watch. Which was a good thing because shortly after the Grand National was The Masters that was won by Tiger Woods and I watched the whole thing and loved it for what it was; sport at its finest. Now, this Tiger win was extra special because he was my Granda’s favourite golfer and he passed away in January 2019 so it meant a lot to me to be able to watch Tiger win another major.

Although, a funny thing happened with a lot of the other sports; I stopped watching. The reason is I wasn’t actually interested in watching the sport for what it was. I still love watching football, I will watch Rangers and Leeds in soccer and I’ll watch the majors in golf and tennis. The rest will be dependent on if I actually want to watch and a lot of the time I do not. I have watched one horse race since I have been in recovery and I have no interest in watching another. Today I am a huge sports fan and I can say that knowing it is true because previously I was simply a huge sports gambler, and to me there is a massive difference. 

I can bounce a direct debit this month vs I will pay all my bills this month - I never fully grasped the consequences of missing payments when I was younger as it is pretty much something I have always done. I would miss payments here and there when I was in the early stages of my addiction which progressed to just flat out ignoring debt payments and defaulting. In a way this was a blessing in disguise because for my final years I was unable to access any decent amounts of credit which meant I had to be a paycheck to paycheck gambler. Had I access to credit for those last few years the financial damage would have been so much more.

These days I pay my bills on time and I’m not sweating if there will be enough money in the account or not. My budgets have been set, the money is there for them each month and I pay my bills like the adult I am supposed to be. Getting out of that cycle of immaturity, where I didn’t even consider the consequences of my actions on me or on my family has been huge. Yeah, paying bills is boring and mundane, but it’s life and honestly, it feels nice seeing my bills paid on time each month. 

Other people are to blame vs what’s my role in this situation? - Shaggy said it best, “It wasn’t me.” I blamed everybody and everything for problems in my life when I was gambling and this even goes for the times I wasn’t gambling. If I dropped something in the house and broke it and someone was near me, it was their fault. If I wasn’t paying attention when I was outside and bumped into someone, it was their fault. Bad day at work? Someone else caused that. If I was late? Wasn’t because I slept in, it was because of someone else. The list is endless because I never took responsibility for my actions or anything that occurred around me. 

It would be nice to say that in recovery this doesn’t happen anymore but unfortunately I still have character defects and it does happen, although definitely not as frequently and when it does, I am usually pretty good and asking myself, what’s my role in this situation? That for me has been an important question to ask because I would say 99% of the time I play in a role in a situation that I am able to reflect back on and say, “I was wrong”. It can range from me causing an issue to how I react to an issue and anything in between. When I define what my role was, I am able to be honest with myself and admit that I was in the wrong. I can take that situation and learn from it. I can apologise if necessary but it’s more important to try not to repeat the same mistakes again and again. Once I do that then all that is left is the other person's role in the situation and I cannot control that. It helps me deal with resentment and anger in a big way. 

I’m the smartest person in the room vs I could learn something from people in the room - Why would I listen to other people's opinions or ideas when mine were always better? It was just a waste of time. Time that I could spend gambling. Although that feeling of being right or coming up with the idea that everybody agreed with, I got a buzz out of that as well and it was a part of my persona that I really wanted everyone to see.

This character trait followed me into Recovery and it is something I have had to work hard on, especially early on. I was told in my first G.A. meeting to “close my mouth and open my ears” and I did just that but it wasn’t easy. I found myself zoning out when it came to certain subjects or certain people sharing but over time I realised that the problem wasn’t with what was being shared, the problem was with me. I was still acting like I was the smartest person in the room. So, these days, I can catch myself when I am doing it fairly quickly and I do try to listen to what everyone has to say, even if I think it will not benefit me. The ego is easy to inflate, but hard to deflate. 

Want vs need - Both of these words are interchangeable and the difference for me is when I want something, it probably isn’t necessary or required compared to when I need something which is probably necessary and required. When gambling I always wanted things, be it more money or just more material things, I always wanted stuff and I was never satisfied. What recovery has taught me is the difference between the two and now the things I need are prioritised and become important vs my own wants which can wait.

I don’t have time to help anyone but myself vs I can make time to help someone else - I used to hate other people and all they ever did was annoy me or cause me problems and I was a much happier person when I was in my own company. If somebody asked for my help I would potentially do it but I would resent it. Even helping out my family seemed like a big ask and I would make an issue about doing something as simple as going to the shop for my partner because it would eat into my own time which of course I normally spent gambling.

The idea I had in my head of what meetings would look like is everybody sitting in a circle singing kumbaya and telling each other their problems. Which would have been my idea of hell. Turns out all that was missing was the kumbaya and you know what, telling other people my problems and listening to their problems wasn’t so bad. In fact, it helped me. It was then I started to realise that the opposite of addiction is human connection and these connections not only help me, they help the other person as well. The longer I stayed in recovery the more I realised that I wanted to make myself available to help other people if I could. I started slowly by sharing in meetings. That to me is the first thing that someone can do to give back. Giving out my number and being available for somebody if they need to reach out. Then I was chairing meetings which was a great opportunity to give back even more. Once I was ready, and people asked me, I began sponsoring other members which gives me the opportunity to help people work through the steps and hopefully progress onto sponsoring somebody themselves when they are ready. People gave up their time for me when I first came into the rooms so the least I can do is the same thing. 
You’ve got to give it away to keep it.


Self-Destructive Behaviours vs Healthy Behaviours

Isolation vs ConnectionFor as long as I can remember I have always enjoyed my own company and being alone. Gambling, although it tends to be advertised as a social thing, is quite an isolated activity, especially online gambling. Compulsive gambling thrives on isolation so it was the perfect match of personality and addictive behaviour. I drifted away from people because I didn’t have the money to go out or I had two young kids, whatever the excuse I used was, that’s why I drifted away from people. Then I turned to gambling more and more because it was something I enjoyed and it was convenient. I wasn’t able to put two and two together that it was the gambling that was causing the lack of money to be able to go out, that it was the gambling that was making me use my kids as a reason I couldn’t be bothered to do anything with friends and that it was the gambling that was pushing me closer to gambling. It was a vicious cycle.

Ever since I stepped foot in recovery I have surprised myself with how much I have enjoyed connecting with other people. I always hated other people, made excuses not to socialise with them and yet, it turns out that I have been missing it from my life. Recovery has developed and nurtured this healthy behaviour, so much so, that I now believe this is what I have been searching for during my adult life. A place that I belong and can be myself and be accepted for who I am. I have found a place where I can improve as a person and thrive. I truly believe that the opposite of addiction is human connection.

Unhealthy relationship with money vs healthy relationship with money - My whole adult life I’ve just viewed money as the fuel to get what I want. That could be getting a product or an item that I want or chasing a feeling that I want through gambling. I’ve always had a fucked up relationship with money and it isn’t because I was brought up that way, it’s just because I didn’t listen and thought I knew better. I wouldn’t pay bills (as mentioned above) and I let myself get into debt because I didn’t think of the consequences down the road. The bottom line was, if I wanted something, I wanted it there and then and I was not going to wait for it, no matter the cost.

Today, it is different. It isn’t a perfect relationship but it is a better and healthier relationship. I struggled at the start of recovery because I had money that I had budgeted for myself each month and nothing to spend it on. So I bought shite I didn’t need. That was fine early on but I had to address it and I sort of have. Amazon is just too easy and sells so much stuff I would like. Now, I know the value of money far better than I ever have and that is a positive. Is there more work to be done? Absolutely, but I can see in myself that I am making progress. If I see something I want and I can’t afford it, and I don’t really need it, then I can wait. 

Low self-esteem vs self confidence - “Lack of confidence and satisfaction in oneself” vs “confidence in oneself and in one’s powers and abilities.”

I find these two behaviours very interesting to talk about as when I was gambling and when I have been in recovery I have suffered from both. Gambling in a way gave me confidence that I was lacking in other areas of my life, especially when I was talking to other people. I was very much into stats and facts when it came to sports and gambling and this gave me an ability to talk to a lot of people. Under the surface that low self-esteem was always lurking and if I was put out of my comfort zone it would begin to take over. With hindsight I can say that I gambled to feel confident and without gambling I would have felt shit about myself.

In recovery I found it hard to get a handle on my low self-esteem, especially for the first year. If I was sharing in a meeting, or writing this blog, I would be very critical of myself and I just couldn’t shake it. Part of it was to do with my ego (which I will get to next) but there was also another issue and it wasn’t until I was given two pieces of advice from somebody that has stuck with me to this day that I was able to build my self confidence. First of all, “people who give you compliments give you them for a reason, they want you to hear them.” Part of my low self-esteem was questioning why people would say I was doing well and I wouldn’t believe it. I’d convince myself they were just saying it because they felt they had to. Secondly, and this was the main issue, “it doesn’t matter what people think or say about you, the only person who needs to believe in you is you.” That was the issue right there. I didn’t believe in myself and until I did, nothing was going to change. I still suffer from low self-esteem on occasion but I am in a much better place to centre myself quickly due to that advice.

Egotism vs humility - “An exaggerated sense of self-importance” vs “freedom from pride or arrogance : the quality or state of being humble.”

My ego was huge when I was gambling and I thought I was better than everyone else. It was that simple. I had to be the one making decisions because everyone else had shit ideas. I had to be the one winning an argument because I was never wrong and even if I was, I wasn’t going to admit it. I just didn’t have the time for other people and their shit to be brutally honest and I felt like dealing with other people was just a waste of my time, unless of course I was getting something from them. In saying that, the thing with ego is that it likes to be fed and the best way to feed it is through praise by other people. So although inside I fucking hated dealing with others, I people pleased so that they would feed my ego with praise or thanks.
For me, once I came into recovery it was hard to deflate my ego because I was getting more praise than ever before. Hitting so many milestones early on, people telling me what a good job I’m doing, how great my shares are and how my blogs help them etc. My ego was being fed in a big way and I began to chase that praise and look for it. I wanted people to tell me how good I was at whatever I did and if they didn’t I would begin to question myself. I would see new people come in and they’d be the most important person in the room (rightly so) but the longer I was doing well in recovery the less praise I received and that bruised my ego, which wasn’t a bad thing. It didn’t feel great at the time but it was what I needed to happen and slowly I have begun to move towards humility and away from egotism. Humility is hard to find amongst addicts but I have seen it and I will continue to strive for it. 

Impatience vs patience - “Restless or short of temper especially under irritation, delay, or opposition” vs “bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint.”

I have written a full blog on my struggles with impatience both during addiction and in recovery and it’s still something I’m working on. For me a lot of this stems from my struggles with egotism which I talked about above. That exaggerated sense of self-importance would cause me to become restless or short of temper when somebody else didn’t do either what I wanted or what I expected. I needed to be in control of situations and have everyone dancing to my tune. If I wasn’t in control or was letting other people take the lead I was just an impatient prick. 

It is still a struggle for me in recovery at times but I notice it more at home with my two kids, who I feel are sent to test my patience on a regular basis! I’ve also improved in how I respond to situations these days and the main way I do this is by responding instead of reacting. When I was gambling I was always reacting, never responding. 

Patience is a strength I strive for but it takes time and as Santa Claus would say when reading the yellow combo book, “Be patient! Be patient! Be Patient!” 

Self-pity vs mirth - “Pity for oneself: a self-indulgent dwelling on one's own sorrows or misfortunes” vs “gladness or gaiety as shown by or accompanied with laughter.”

I spent a long time with this personality defect when I was gambling as I always felt my problems were worse than everyone else's. I would look at other people’s lives and think to myself why do they have x, y or z and I don’t? I would lose my money gambling and I wouldn’t be able to afford to do anything and I would feel sorry for myself, even though it was my own fault, I didn’t see it that way. I lied so much that I believed my own bullshit. It is an insidious personality defect and the longer spent self-pitying the more trouble builds up.

Thanks to recovery my days of self-pity are few and far between and I love the definition of mirth and it sums up how I feel most days. I am usually laughing in meetings and joking with my friends and I hope that I come across as happy as I feel inside. Recovery has given me the opportunity to create a life for myself that is full of joy and yes, the shit days will come, they always do, but I know how to navigate them to allow myself to be full of mirth relatively quickly once again.

Unmanageable vs teachable - “not manageable : difficult or impossible to control or manage” vs “apt and willing to learn.”

Not only was my life unmanageable, I was personally unmanageable because of my many character defects. My gambling created an environment that allowed my addiction and my character defects to grow and thrive. I stopped gambling for short bursts during my addiction but nothing ever changed because simply removing gambling was never going to be enough to stop my life and myself being unmanageable.

Coming into a G.A meeting wasn’t going to be enough either because even though I removed gambling from the equation, the character defects remained. I needed to become teachable and I did that. I began to listen to the experience of others and started to work the programme. I read the literature and took direction from various people and places, even if it meant doing things I didn’t like to do. I’m still teachable to this day and it is a trait that I am proud of.

“If you are green, you will grow. If you are ripe, you will rot.” - Big Vito

Hatred vs love - “Extreme dislike or disgust” vs “affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests.”

Other people, myself, the world around me, I hated everything and everyone. My issue was it all inward and kept inside, very rarely did I let the mask slip. My thoughts and feelings were dark and angry and gambling was a way to escape those and not have to deal with them. Addiction was a vicious cycle for me, a cycle that was only going to get darker the longer I stayed in it. I blamed everything else around me except myself and gambling. Then I used gambling as a way to cope which only made me hate everything more. Rinse and repeat. 

Turns out it wasn’t other people or other things that caused issues in my life, it was me and I used gambling as the means to cause those problems. Now I can see clearly, I love my life and I have always had everything I ever wanted right in front of me, I just could never see it. I love my family and wouldn’t change anything about them and I love my recovery family that I have built relationships with. Heck, I’m even beginning to love myself, in a healthy way. I admire how I have come into recovery and taken the opportunity to improve myself, which has a ripple effect on those around me. 

Resentment vs forgiveness - “A feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury” vs “to cease to feel resentment against.”

I constantly felt resentment during my gambling days, especially towards my kids and my partner. I resented the fact I had no social life, hardly any friends that I saw on a regular basis and that for a long time I worked two jobs. I resented that I had very little money to buy myself anything and I always felt like I was the one going without. Turns out, the only person I should have resented was myself because it was my actions that caused all these problems, not anyone else's. 

Which is why I found it difficult to forgive myself when I came into recovery and for a long time I said it wasn’t really important if I forgave myself, it was more important that I accepted what happened (will touch on that a bit more below). Over time though, I have forgiven myself for what happened because I don’t feel indignant displeasure or persistent ill will towards myself for what I did. I’m actually grateful I was a compulsive gambler because it has led me to this point and given me this opportunity.

“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” - Malachy McCourt

Denial vs acceptance - “Refusal to admit the truth or reality of something” vs “the act of accepting something or someone : the fact of being accepted.”

Living in a constant state of denial is exhausting but it’s only now, reflecting back, that I can see that because at the time it was just how my life was. Up until April 2nd 2019 I genuinely didn’t admit to myself that I had a gambling problem and it was fucking obvious that I did. Even when I would take a break from gambling it was never because I had a problem or I needed help, usually it was a financial decision and I quickly returned. I spent about 14 years refusing to accept the reality of my situation and lied to myself day after day after day. 

It’s not like that today in recovery though because now I have firmly accepted who I was (a compulsive gambler) and who I am today (a person in recovery). I can look in the mirror and accept the person looking back at me. Accepting what had happened in the past early in my recovery was key for me to get to the stage where I forgave myself for what I had done. I realised that it wasn’t healthy or a good use of my energy to punish myself for what had happened. So I accepted it had happened and I accepted that I couldn’t change the past. I also accepted that, today, I have the courage to change the things I can. 

“Grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

Dishonesty vs honesty - “Lack of honesty or integrity : disposition to defraud or deceive” vs “adherence to the facts”.

I wasn’t just a compulsive gambler, I was also a compulsive liar and I lied so much I didn’t even know what was the truth and what was a lie by the time I admitted my problem. I was lying about my gambling, my finances, my emotions and feelings, you name it, I was lying about. That was another behaviour that looking back I can see just how much that must have taken out of me because it isn’t easy living in a constant fear your lies will be exposed.

Out of all my character defects I brought into recovery (I feel like this has morphed into a mini Step 4) honesty was the one that went from a weakness to a strength fairly quickly. I can say I’m an honest person now and the only reason I wouldn’t be totally honest in a situation would be to not hurt someone's feelings unnecessarily. In general, especially about important things, I am an honest person and it is so much easier than lying all the time.

“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.” - Mark Twain

Preconception vs open-mindedness - “To form (an opinion) prior to actual knowledge or experience” vs “receptive to arguments or ideas.”

This would be something I would do all the time, form an opinion about someone or something because I thought I knew better and if it was something I didn’t know then it clearly wasn’t worth knowing. If it was someone, then I would just be extremely judgemental and if I came to the conclusion I didn’t like somebody, then nothing would change my mind about them. I’d even go out of my way to point out their bad points and try to get others to take my side, even though it was all in my head and there were no sides to take. (Insert Nick Young GIF)

I am much more open-minded in recovery and I enjoy listening to other people’s ideas and for people to challenge my own thinking, it’s the best way for me to grow. I’m not going to lie, I do find myself reverting to my old behaviour and forming opinions and being judgemental about others but where progress has been made, in my opinion, is that I will change my mind and be open-minded that I could be wrong about someone. That’s a big leap forward for me and hopefully, if I keep working on myself, I can improve on that even more.

Unwillingness vs willingness - “Not willing” vs “inclined or favourably disposed in mind.”

This is the final part of HOW: Honesty, Open-mindedness and Willingness and those three things combined helped me lay strong foundations upon which my recovery has been built. When I think back to when I gambled it is clear I was never willing to do anything except gamble. That’s all I focused on and cared about. So coming into recovery and hearing that I needed willingness I was unsure exactly what that meant. When the gambling fog lifted and I was still going to meetings, when I started working on The Steps, writing my blog and all the other stuff that was me being willing. I was ready. I was prepared mentally for some experience or action. I was willing to do something about my gambling and more importantly, I was willing to change.