Monday, 12 April 2021

Step 3, Exercise 1 & 2: Surrender & Wisdom

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Power of our own understanding.


Step 3, Exercise 1: Surrender


Step 3 asks us to surrender – to turn our will and our lives over to the care of our Higher Power. Notice that the step says care of, not control of. There’s ease, gentleness, comfort and support in this kind of surrender. Step 3 asks us to make a commitment to let go of our stubborn, habitual or irrational need or desire to control things that are clearly beyond our control. These are “things we cannot change” – like the actions of others, the weather, the passage of time, and our compulsive gambling. By allowing our benevolent guiding spirit or Higher Power to handle these things, we free ourselves to address the things that are within our control. These are all the things we listed in Step 1, Exercise 4 – like remaining abstinent, attending meetings, being honest, finding spirituality, achieving balance. If we allow ourselves to be cared for in matters over which we have no control, we can direct our energies to effecting change within ourselves.


Write about three things you could lose – or you’re afraid you could lose – if you were to make a decision to turn your will and your life over to the care of a Higher Power. Write about three things you could gain.


Control - Since I’ve come into recovery, I have struggled with spirituality and I have spoken about it throughout my step work. One of the reasons I struggled was this sense that I would be losing control over certain things if I “turned it over”.  I had this idea that if I was to put my faith in a higher power, then that meant I wasn’t putting any faith into myself. That I would lose control over the decisions I was making in my recovery. That I would have to look towards this higher power and instead of controlling my journey, it would be controlling my journey. My thoughts on control extended out beyond me and towards other people, places and things. I wanted to be in control of where and when I did things or how I responded to situations or how I behaved. If I turned it over I would lose that and become this generic “recovery robot” which is something I have always said I never want to become. I also had a view that people who “turned it over” were mentally weak or unable to cope with issues on their own. I pretty much thought the idea of a higher power was a cop out. Which of course, I have come to realise, was utter bollocks.


The fact is, I’ve figured out that control is one of the things I have been able to gain since “turning it over” and this is because I have realised and accepted that the only thing I can control is my mind. I can’t control the thoughts inside there, but I can control how I respond to situations and what people, places and things I allow to occupy my mind. I can disagree with someone, even get pissed off at them, I can feel that emotion but then I have the control not to dwell on it. Not to let it live rent free in my head. It’s difficult to do and a lot of the time I struggle with it and that is where I reach out to someone and talk to them. They usually allow me to vent about it and I realise that I can’t control what has happened and I just need to let it go. That is a level of control I never had before when practicing my addiction. I was never in control during that period of my life and even when I was internally fighting the spirituality side of recovery, I wasn’t in control then either.


Reading about Stoic philosophy helped me realise this about my mind. From reading ‘The Little Book of Stoicism’ now I’m aware that only I have access to my mind and only I can ruin my life. I’m responsible. The emotions I feel, as real as they are, don’t come from the outside, they come from the inside. I generate those emotions, I generate my pain. If something happens, my judgement or my reaction is what causes me to feel how I feel. Marcus Arelius says, “remove the judgement and the hurt itself is removed.” Don’t judge the event and I won’t get harmed. That of course, is easier said than done but it is something I try to work on daily. I am still a judgemental bastard but where I am seeing progress is in responding vs reacting to events outside of my control. So my mindset now is that no matter what uncontrollable challenges I am facing in life (things I was scared to lose control of before), I have the power to decide what these events mean to me, only I have the freedom to choose my best response. My response will either delight me or my reaction will harm me.


Epictetus advises to always have two rules ready at mind: (1) there is nothing good or bad unless we choose to make it so, and (2) we shouldn’t try to lead events but follow them. Resistance is futile, take things as they come, and make the best of what’s in your power.


Independence (Definition - not requiring or relying on something else: not contingent/not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct) - Those definitions of independent are what I was afraid I would lose. I was concerned I would have to rely on others for the rest of my life, that I wouldn’t be able to stand on my own two feet. I would constantly have to ask others for their opinions and guidance, especially a higher power. I wouldn’t feel free to make my own choices as I would be too busy worrying about what other people would think. I would have this image to try and adhere to in recovery and be this person that other people wanted me to be. Again, as with control, this was all bollocks and my old addictive behaviours trying to maintain dominance in my brain. 


It turns out two of the other definitions of independent are, not subject to control by others and showing a desire for freedom. Those two definitions, plus the two from above I want to break down separately to show that by “turning it over” I haven’t lost independence, I have actually gained it because, like control previously, I never truly had independence in active addiction and I certainly didn’t have it in early recovery as I struggled with the spirituality aspects of the program.


Not requiring or relying on something else: not contingent - Do I require recovery to stay away from the first bet or to prevent myself sliding towards another addiction? I believe that it is likely, but not certain to happen, which is the not contingent part of the definition. My main reason being in recovery is about growing as a person and living a happy and smoothly flowing life. The Stoics call that eudaimonia and one of the corners of the Stoic Happiness Triangle is Live with Arete which is basically expressing the highest version of myself moment to moment to moment. I fail at doing this very often but it's something I focus on trying to improve daily. I’m not tethered to my recovery for fear of relapse or going back to my addiction, I am in recovery because I want to be in recovery. I can see the benefits and the opportunities with my own eyes. I can choose either to be in recovery or not to be in recovery and when I compare that to the lack of choice I felt when in active addiction, then I have gained independence.


Not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct - I have really struggled with this step for a long time and all I had to do was open my eyes and read it properly. I now have a clear interpretation of this step and it pretty much explains it at the start. I made a decision to let go of what I can’t control and allow my higher power to handle that shit so I can focus on taking deliberate action for change in my life. So again, by me being open to guidance from my higher power, it has given me a new level of independence that allows me to focus on taking action to change my life for the better. When it comes to other people, I seek them out for opinions and guidance in conduct because I am teachable, because I want to learn. Again, there is choice here. I am always open to suggestions from others in recovery because, in my opinion, this is a program built around suggestions. I don’t give advice to anyone because for me the power of suggestion is much more successful. 


Not subject to control by others - I’ve already written enough about control earlier on but I just want to link that for me, realising that I control my own mind helped gain independence. Back in active addiction I was controlled by it, by gambling and it felt like I had no available options. All I could do was continue to gamble and try and fix things myself. Compare that to now where I am in control of my own mind. When my mind is clear and in a good place I can make good choices. I can respond. When it is not clear I can make bad choices. I can react.


Showing a desire for freedom - Desire is all that is required to gain access to recovery and from there it is up to each individual person. I don’t think it gets much more independent than that. The beauty of it is that independence doesn’t mean doing things alone, as I have touched on. I never have to feel alone in recovery if I do not want to. So many people are breaking free of their chains of addiction and cultivating a better life for themselves and together we walk this journey because we are all showing a desire for freedom.


My personality - Again, this is another one that I felt like I could lose but it turns out I have actually gained it by “turning it over”. Being this generic, literature quoting, constantly happy (like seriously, who the fuck is THAT happy) fake recovery robot was and probably still is something I fear. I was afraid I would lose who I was. I would lose what made me, me. I would lose that spark, that charm, whatever way you want to put it. I worried that I would turn into this generic person in a room full of generic people and it would all be a lie. That all sounds a bit extreme but I have seen people like that in rooms (they walk amongst us).


In all seriousness though, this program has given me a personality that I could only ever dream of back when I was in active addiction. It has brought out a personality that quite honestly, I didn’t even know was inside of me and I’m genuinely happy. Yes, I’m still a judgemental prick at times and yes my humour can still get very dark but those things (and more) that I was afraid I would lose have been enhanced and improved. I also think my personality has allowed me to relate the literature to my own experiences more because I’m not a fan of quoting with zero substance or leaving out how it has impacted my recovery. I’m not afraid to show in a meeting that I have flaws and character defects that need working on. I don’t believe in a set way that I should speak to a newcomer. I have a personality, flaws and all, that I am not ashamed about. This is who I am and if you don’t like it, that’s fine. I quite honestly couldn’t give a shit. 


How do we become willing to open our minds and hearts to the benevolent guidance of a Higher Power? We can start within the program itself. Many of us in G.A. have come to experience the meetings and the fellowship as a power greater than ourselves. Through sponsorship, we can align ourselves with members who practice the principles of the program and embody its spirit.


Do you have a sponsor? If yes, write about how the relationship connects you to G.A. and supports you in your life. If no, list the qualities you would look for in a sponsor and write about how a nurturing relationship with someone in G.A. could enhance your recovery. Are you willing to make a commitment to choosing a sponsor within the next 60 days?


I do have a sponsor and this is my second sponsor in the program. I had about a 6+ month gap there where I didn’t have a sponsor and for a while I probably had an attitude, and ego, that I didn’t really need one. One golden rule I have though is that if it’s in the step workbook, I’m going to do it and I knew this question was coming up in step 3 so I made the decision to look for one. 


I didn’t really look for long as I knew who I wanted to ask because in my sponsor I see someone who has humility, is at peace with themselves and they are considerate of others. One other massive trait they have is that, even after a lot of time in recovery, they remain teachable and that is something that I currently have and want to retain. These qualities and more is what made me reach out and ask if they would sponsor me and they are qualities that I feel help connect me with recovery.


Step 3, Exercise 2: Wisdom


Surrendering our will to our Higher Power enables us to know our Higher Power’s will for us. Letting go of our need to control (or be controlled) opens the door for us to develop the wisdom to know the difference between the things we can change and the things we can’t. Because we’re not attempting to exert out will, acquiesce to the will of others or force an outcome, we are empowered to see situations as they really are, determine whether our participation is appropriate, assess our options and make productive choices.


1) Does surrendering your will mean sacrificing your independence? Even if it does, might it not be worth it?


I covered this in exercise 1 above - Independence (Definition - not requiring or relying on something else: not contingent/not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct) - Those definitions of independent are what I was afraid I would lose. I was concerned I would have to rely on others for the rest of my life, that I wouldn’t be able to stand on my own two feet. I would constantly have to ask others for their opinions and guidance, especially a higher power. I wouldn’t feel free to make my own choices as I would be too busy worrying about what other people would think. I would have this image to try and adhere to in recovery and be this person that other people wanted me to be. Again, as with control, this was all bollocks and my old addictive behaviours trying to maintain dominance in my brain. 


It turns out two of the other definitions of independent are, not subject to control by others and showing a desire for freedom. Those two definitions, plus the two from above I want to break down separately to show that by “turning it over” I haven’t lost independence, I have actually gained it because, like control previously, I never truly had independence in active addiction and I certainly didn’t have it in early recovery as I struggled with the spirituality aspects of the program.


2) On what do you usually base your decisions? Anger? Intuition? Fear? Logic? How has that worked for you in the past? Is it working for you now? Are you willing to consider another path?


This is an interesting question and one that I will break down into three parts, active addiction, early recovery and now because I feel like I have based my decisions on these four things throughout each stage, but in a different way each time.


Active addiction - This is the stage where I would have used intuition combined with one or more of anger, fear and logic. Intuition is defined as “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.” For me it’s clear now that I never gave rational thought to any decision I made and there was always a level of intuition running through every decision. The outcome was always going to involve gambling as that is what I felt like I enjoyed doing and no matter how I felt, good or bad, it would always make the situation feel that much better. I would combine it with anger if somebody pissed me off, which is self explanatory but I would also do things based on anger if I felt hard done by or unfairly treated. Fear was largely based on decisions that could end up getting me caught or expose my gambling to those around me. When it comes to logic, I do like to think of myself as a logical person and I would have used this to my advantage to manipulate people or situations to my benefit. 


Early recovery - This was the stage when the intuition became less of a constant running through each decision and I would say that decisions based on anger were rare. I’d still get angry, don’t get me wrong but I would usually vent to my sponsor or a close friend before deciding my next step. The intuition was lacking because I was giving a little bit of rational thought to what I was doing some of the time. I was still a work in progress but I was at least aware that I didn’t know everything. Fear was probably more to do with my low self-esteem and focusing too much on if I was doing a good job sharing in meetings, helping people, writing my blog etc. Logic, again, played a role. I was trying to see situations from all sides, learning to be aware of other people’s feelings but I was still manipulating situations from time to time.


So, for these two stages there is a theme that I can see and that is the theme of control. I was using anger, intuition, fear and logic to try and control situations in active addiction and in early recovery I was doing exactly the same thing, albeit I framed it in a healthy way. Which it wasn’t. It didn’t work in active addiction and it wasn’t working for me in early recovery.


Which takes me to now. I am much more willing to let things go and play out as they do without attempting to control or manipulate the situation. Yes, I still get fucked off at people, places and things. Yes, I still vent to people I trust before reacting to a situation so that I can instead respond to a situation, if required.


The intuition I am working towards would be defined as the power or faculty of attaining the wisdom to know the difference between the things I can change and the things I can’t change without having to think about it. That is some top level shit if I can get to that point so for now I’ll have to make sure I keep thinking about it which to me is using my higher power. 


Fear doesn’t often play a role in my decision making for two reasons. One, I know if I am being honest I have nothing to fear and two, if something does happen that makes me fearful, I know I’m not alone and can reach out and talk to someone which I have found usually removes the fear before I make a decision.


Finally we get to logic and yes, I still use my logic but it is to realise that I can’t manipulate situations anymore and I can’t control situations anymore. In fact, it’s more than that. It’s that I don’t need to manipulate or control situations (or people) anymore and I use my logic to see that there is another path that I can take. A better path. 


3) What does the phrase “Do the right thing” mean to you? How does it work? Cite a recent example from your life.


I always say that if I wake up today, try to do the next right thing each time, then I know I won’t gamble today, and I believe that. It’s worked for me so far. That takes a lot of pressure off me worrying about whether I will gamble and allows me to focus on my recovery. So to me, trying to do the next right thing is simply dealing with situations as they arise and try, I like to emphasise try because rarely do I get it right, to handle that situation the best that I can. How I know it should be dealt with. Using what I have learned on my journey so far and trying to apply it to everyday situations. It’s about putting into action what I am learning in recovery.


How does it work? This is the point where I imagine it wants me to say I turn it over to my higher power. Let my higher power guide me. I guess I kind of do, in a way, just not worded like I’m on my knees looking up at the sky. Instead, as I said in exercise 1, I made a decision to let go of what I can’t control and allow my higher power to handle that shit so I can focus on taking deliberate action for change in my life. For me, one of the key things is asking myself if I know how to handle the situation in question. Sometimes I do, or think I do, and proceed and sometimes that is a mistake. Other times I realise I don’t know how to handle the situation and reach out and ask someone else. It could be that instead of reacting I take a moment to compose my thoughts and respond. It’s all about getting honest with myself and implementing what I am learning. It’s all about action, not words.


A recent example and I’m sure there are many failures I could talk about, most of which are situations in which I lose my shit and shout at the kids for something, but a positive example recently of it working well was when I was moved teams in work, which wasn’t my choice. I could have bitched and moaned about it but instead I just realised it was something outside of my control and I accepted it was happening and moved without issue. My manager was grateful I took the news well and that the transition was smooth and I am also enjoying my new team. If I had bitched and moaned it probably would have happened anyway only with me causing unnecessary waves in the process.


Russ


Wednesday, 3 March 2021

Step 2, Exercise 4: Restoration

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 4: Restoration


Restoration to a Normal Way of Thinking and Living.


At the start of Step 2, we examined what a normal way of thinking and living might look like and wrote down some things that were meaningful to us. Things like taking better care of ourselves and others, acting with integrity, being accountable, driving safely, eating better, developing healthy diversions, respecting the value of money, becoming more spiritual, achieving balance.


Take another look at your list. Note how many of those things have been restored or begun to be restored in your life. Has willpower alone made it possible or is some other power at work in your life.


When I look back at the list the vast majority of my time right now is spent in the normal way of thinking and living side of things. That’s not to say there are not moments where I start to lean over to the other side, or even stay there a bit too long. The good news is that I am usually able to right the ship, but not by myself. It takes G.O.D (Group of Degenerates) to help me get back on the right path and it also took G.O.D to restore these things in my life.


Willpower - control exerted to do something or restrain impulses.


There is only so far my own thinking and doing will get me in this program and I understand that now. Willpower, in my opinion, is all about my want and need to control situations and by using it, I am not willing to allow other people in to help me. If I focus too much on willpower then I start to isolate myself from G.O.D which in turn starts to isolate me from all those closest to me in this program. Once isolated and fully relying on willpower alone, that is when the addiction will grow stronger and I could find myself sliding back towards it’s control. If I am under the control of my addiction once again, then I know that means I will gamble.


So for me, instead of using willpower, I have surrendered and I know, through faith in my higher power, that if I try daily to do the next right thing, I won’t gamble today and a normal thinking and living will be restored to me. There’s no struggle, there’s no restraining impulses and there is no attempt of control by me, instead I have G.O.D who I can turn to at any point and ask for help or guidance through ANY situation. Maybe I work The Steps or attend a meeting or be there for someone else, whatever it is that my higher power presents to me, that’s what restores me to a normal way of thinking and living. 


Step 2 allows us to become reacquainted with what we believe and trust to be true for ourselves and moves us in the direction of faith.


Do you have a better sense of what’s right for yourself today? Are you willing to continue to move forward in faith?


Write about:

The most meaningful thing you learned about yourself through working Step 2.

Something for which you've become grateful while working Step 2.

Something good/positive you've done for yourself recently.


Absolutely I have a better sense of what is right for myself today and it is because I no longer need to think or worry about it. I feel like for so long in my recovery I told myself that I was fully working the program but the reality is I had never truly believed in the concept of a Power greater than myself. Now that I do, I feel like this weight has been lifted. 


If you have ever watched the TV show Westworld, they have what is called The Maze. One of the characters, The Man In Black, is obsessed with it and figuring out what it all means. I feel I was like that with recovery to a certain degree. That it was almost a puzzle to solve, when in fact, it’s not. The Man In Black is told that The Maze isn’t meant for him and he gets angry (really fucking angry) when he doesn’t understand the meaning of it. Instead, The Maze is actually meant for the hosts in the show and it is to allow them to find consciousness. Arnold, who created The Maze, initially believed that consciousness was an upward journey, but he was wrong. He realised it was a journey inward, like a maze. That’s how I feel now about recovery. I realise that it is a journey inward and for me to realise that I had to fully believe in Step 2.


So the most meaningful thing I have learned about myself through working Step 2 is that I am teachable and that Honesty, Open Mindedness and Willingness are still the key principles that my recovery is built on. I was able to be honest with myself that I didn’t believe in a higher power, even though I convinced myself that I did. I was open minded enough to be able to tackle and get past my struggles with separating religion and spirituality which was one of, if not the main reason why I didn’t have a higher power. Then I was willing to actually embrace what Step 2 was all about. Willing to admit I was wrong and that I do need this part of the program for it to fully work for me. 


When it comes to what I am most grateful for while working Step 2 I think that has to be the people that I have around me now I am in recovery. With each passing day, to the point of boring myself sometimes in meetings by mentioning it, I can see how important these human connections are in my life and that this, for me, is not only one of the best things to come from my recovery but also one of the most important. No one will be able to solve problems in my life. They may be able to give me suggestions or guidance but I still need to implement it. What I do know is that I will never be alone going through anything anymore. There will always be somebody there who is willing to listen or willing to be there with me. That is what I am most grateful for.


Finally, something positive I have done for myself recently is I have started yoga and I have also got mala beads so I can start meditation. Both of these, I hope, will enable me to reach a more relaxing and calm sense of being, especially in my home life, on a more regular basis. I have two young kids and they can be full on and my patience (or lack thereof) is something I have been trying to work on for a long time with limited success. So this is my next step of trying to work on some character defects.


Russ


Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Step 2, Exercise 3: Willingness

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 3: Willingness


Step Two asks us to open our minds to the possibility that there is a Power greater than ourselves. YOU create YOUR OWN concept of a Higher Power. There can be many sources and inspirations for it: religious upbringing, family tradition, life experiences, group membership, reading, training, travel. Ultimately, it is a personal, spiritual choice -- one of YOUR OWN understanding at this time. Keep in mind that, as the fog from gambling clears and you let go of your need to control people, places and things, that understanding may change, grow or deepen. At this point, we need only become willing to make it part of our recovery process.

Is your mind open to the possibility of a Power greater than yourself/ If not, what things are keeping your mind closed? Pride? Ego? Self-centeredness? Stubbornness? Fear? Would you be willing to set them aside, just for today?

This was the part of recovery and The Steps that I genuinely struggled with for a long time and it has only been recently that I have started to figure out what exactly my own concept of my Higher Power is. Before I used my kids and that was fine, it worked for me at the time because although I struggled with the idea of all this spirituality stuff, the literature said to have a Higher Power so I picked one but I can’t honestly say I bought into the idea completely and I want to touch on why I think that was. Firstly, here are the definitions of religion, spiritual and spirit from Merriam-Webster:


Religion - the service and worship of God or the supernatural/commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.


Spiritual - of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit.


Spirit - an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms.


I really struggled to differentiate between religion and spiritual and no matter how many times I read about it, looked at definitions or listened to people tell me that it’s not the same, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when I heard the word God or someone talking about their Higher Power from a religious point of view. I would zone out when someone spoke about their Higher Power and how it had helped them in a situation and think to myself, “what a load of bollocks.” I had to ask myself why I thought like this.


Firstly, I was born in Northern Ireland and although I wasn’t alive for the worst of The Troubles and I was too young to really remember or be aware of the final few years of them (the Good Friday Agreement was in 1998 when I was 11), I have lived in the aftermath of this sectarian conflict. Religion has been and continues to be a divisive part of Northern Ireland and growing up in this environment removed any possible religious interests or beliefs I had. It’s not like I didn’t have any involvement in religion growing up as I was a member of the Boys Brigade until I was a teenager but the religion side of things just were not for me and the older I got the less interested I got. 


So that’s part of the reason why I’m not interested in religion but why did I have such an aversion considering spirituality and seeing the difference between the two? That more came down to me and, as listed above in the question, the various character defects I have. Quite honestly, I thought it was for people who just needed something to believe in because they couldn’t go through recovery on their own. My ego was telling me I didn’t need to rely on that stuff.


There was a stubbornness about it all as well because at the end of the day, I was doing quite well. I hadn’t gambled in over a year, I was working through The Steps and I was generally in a good place. Looking back to Spring/Summer of 2020 I can now see that I wasn’t in that good a place, at least spiritually I wasn’t and that was me getting closer to the edge of a slippery slope but I was too stubborn to admit it. When I left my original group, cut ties with my ex sponsor, I’ll be honest, I started questioning the whole G.A. thing and if it really worked. I had a small group of people who I stayed close to and we sort of drifted along together trying to find our people. Without this group I would have struggled and I am forever grateful to the role they have played and continue to play in my life, especially Danielle, who has been a mainstay in my recovery for the past 12 months and has become one of my best friends.


I never actually found my people, my people found me via Twitter when Jake, who is now a close friend, DM’d me out of the blue, and asked me to come to a Georgia G.A. meeting on Zoom. So I went along to see what it was like and I knew from my first meeting that this was for me, this was where I belonged but I still had this fear inside. 


That fear probably stemmed from what happened with my old group, a fear of growing close to a new group for it all to disappear again. A fear of becoming vulnerable and relying on other people when I need them instead of just myself. The more I went to these meetings the more I was getting out of them and the more connections I was making. I met Mick who, even though he is English, has also become one of my closest friends and he introduced me to his Sheffield Zoom meetings. There are others who have become big parts of my life and our connections are growing each day. They help me more than they know from a wise word, opening up or just having a laugh and making me smile, they make a difference to me.


By listening to other people and their dealings with a Higher Power in these new meetings, especially Georgia, and from creating more connections with people I started to grow again. I started to really look deep inside again and I wanted to begin working The Steps for a second time. My faith in the programme was not just becoming restored, it was becoming something more to me.

Have you ever seen a “Greater Power” at work in the lives of others? Have you ever experienced such a Power at work in your own life?


The more I have paid attention in meetings, listened, been aware and kept an open mind, the more I have seen a “ Greater Power” at work in the lives of others. From people completely turning their lives around to those who relapse and come back to the rooms before destroying themselves. I’ve seen people who seemingly surrender overnight and explain the experience as something bigger than themselves. Stories of people who almost relapse and stop, even though 9 times out of 10 they would have made the bet in the past. People on the brink of suicide who had a distracting phone call or a thought that made them change their mind. It’s all there. The proof, so to speak.


The old me would have called these coincidences and questioned anyone believing that a “Greater Power” actually exists. I would have rolled my eyes and called bullshit. If I’m being totally honest, there’s still a part of me that thinks this way and I’m working on that. It all comes back to the foundation of my recovery, HOW. Being honest with myself and recognising that even if I say I am being open minded, I am not. My mind has been closed to this part of The Steps since Day One. An open mind is a must for this and being able to just consider, for a moment, that these are not just random occurrences but the work of something bigger. Then, I need the willingness to question my own beliefs and attitudes towards this. The willingness to look at my own experiences and see there is something bigger than me. 


I have experienced such a Power but it has only been recently that I have been able to not just admit that to myself but to accept it. There are people who come into my life at what feels like the right moment and bring something that I have been missing or searching for. I have people who come into my life and test my character defects (sometimes very well I might add) which then makes me look at various parts of myself. A share that hits me at just the right moment. A topic I needed to hear or talk about. The opportunity to be there for somebody and to help. The power to say no when I want to say yes and the power to say yes when I want to say no. All of these things, and that was not an exhaustive list, are the work of a Power Greater than myself.


These things on their own happen all of the time. I come across new people weekly, good people and dickheads. Shares happen every meeting. Lots of them. Most meetings I attend have a topic and I usually say “great topic”, so it must be great. Somebody always needs help. I can say yes or no whenever I want. 


The difference is that when a Power Greater than myself is at work it opens my mind to these things happening. It makes me aware. I become more aware when I work my program. Things hit me now that didn’t a few months ago. I can see someone struggle in subtle ways when I couldn’t before. I know when I should say yes or no. When someone comes into my life it’s because I have paid attention and connected. All of this stuff is happening on a spiritual level and it’s something that I couldn’t see before. In fact, it’s something I didn’t want to see before. 


Everything is a random event or a random moment, but yet, at the same time, when I become willing to believe in a Power Greater than myself which then opens my mind, I can be honest with myself and see that they are all connected. 


Take 'em away, take 'em away, Lord

Take away these chains from me

My heart is broken 'cause my spirit's not free

Lord take away these chains from me


Old Crow Medicine Show - Take ‘Em Away

Three things that you believe in and trust today.

Gamblers Anonymous/The Steps - Will expand on this in the next question.


Those closest to me - I think deep down somewhere I always knew that those closest to me wanted what is best for me but until I came into recovery I never fully allowed myself to believe that or trust in it. That was the addiction talking. My inner addict. 


Also, those closest to me doesn’t just mean my family but my friends and whereas before I let some of my friends drift away due to gambling I now feel like I have got some of them back and added an amazing group of people I have met in recovery who I consider true friends, some of whom I’ve never met in real life and may never meet in real life, others, I may end up going to Whitby with, who knows.


The point is I now have faith in others.


Myself - Now I know the whole point of Step 2 is about finding a Power greater than myself and not relying on me all the time but the fact is that I am still the person who has to put the work into my recovery and I now believe and trust in myself to try and do the next right thing. I won’t always get it right, but I have faith that I’m trying to get it right. That faith comes from a Power greater than myself.

Belief + Trust = Faith. Does writing about what you believe in and trust give you a sense that there is or could be a force at work in your life beyond your own will? Are you willing to welcome this safe, loving and supportive presence into your recovery?

Absolutely but it took me a while to get there. My higher power or “Greater Power” is G.O.D which stands for Group Of Degenerates which is basically my way of saying Gamblers Anonymous as a whole. I have no doubt some people won’t like being called degenerates but the other option was dicks and I took the more polite route. It helps me when I read the word God in the literature or hear someone share about their God. I had to make myself comfortable with it to be able to become willing. I thought I was willing when I went through The Steps the first time around but I was really just lying to myself. I was picking and choosing which parts of the programme I thought suited me best.

This programme has started connecting all the dots for me and it has given me the ability to open my mind up to things I didn’t know were possible. I enjoy human connection now, I used to do my best to avoid it. I want to help others and don’t feel the need to be rewarded or praised for doing so. I care about other people instead of just giving a shit about myself. I even stopped hating Tom Brady and that took some doing. 

There is a feeling that I get, deep inside of me, and it’s a feeling that there is something bigger than me flowing through me. That even sounds too much for me but it is what it is. I have faith that I no longer need to try and do shit on my own or without support. I know now that people have my back. I literally have a set of instructions in The Steps that has shown me how to stop gambling and not only get my life back on track, but how to improve my life beyond what was possible on my own. Yes, I have shit moments, everybody does but as long as I remain aware that there is something bigger than me out there, my G.O.D, then I can get through those shit moments. 

Spiritual - of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit.


Spirit - an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organisms.


Now when I read those definitions I begin to understand what being spiritual means to me. Gamblers Anonymous has provided me with vital principles that have given me life. When I work the programme, when I try to live the programme, that is spiritual. All of my dealings within G.A. are spiritual.


I was blind, now I can see

You made a believer out of me

I was blind, now I can see

You made a believer out of me


I'm movin' on up now

Getting out of the darkness

My light shines on


Primal Scream - Movin’ on Up


Russ


Friday, 29 January 2021

Opinion On Relapse

My name is Russ and I am in recovery. I haven’t had a bet today or since my last meeting. It’s been a while since I just wrote a standard blog that wasn’t about The Steps but it’s a topic that I feel strongly about and that is relapse. Before I get into it I want to say that a lot of what I have learned about relapse has been because of my Sponsee and how they have opened my eyes and explained to me the feelings and emotions created by relapse. They have made me a much better person in recovery because of this. 


On to the issue at hand and really this all stems from a meeting where somebody went off on a rant (it wasn’t a share) basically about how there is no such thing as relapse, relapse is a choice, you chose to gamble and just say no to gambling etc etc etc. Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one and this person is as entitled to their opinion as anyone and I am going to use this blog to voice my opinion.


First of all I want to touch on the fact that people with these or similar opinions pretty much sound like Nancy Reagan of the abstinence world. ‘Just Say No’ they bellow as they gesticulate with their hands. Is it really that easy? I just say no to gambling. Why didn’t I think of this? What’s the point in doing meetings? I just say no, it’s all so clear now. Any sane person knows it isn’t as easy as just saying no. People like this think they can solve homelessness by going out and telling them to just buy a house. Problem solved! 


The reason I said abstinence world vs recovery world is because that is all these people are focused on, time off a bet. A lot of them have many years of a bet and they carry it around with them like a big trophy and use it to patronise and talk down to other people. I respect anyone that has stayed off a bet for any length of time but I do find it far more impressive when I see people with not just a lot of time under their belt, but a lot of recovery. Something the ‘Just Say No’ brigade tend to either lack, or at the very least don’t publicly show when they go off on one. What is also concerning to see are the people who get taken under their wing with very little time off a bet and begin to get cocky that they have it all sussed out.


“When you punish your people for making a mistake or falling short of a goal, you create an environment of extreme caution, even fearfulness. In sports it’s similar to playing ‘not to lose’ - a formula that often brings on defeat.” - John Wooden


This quote for me sums up the danger of people who rant and rave like lunatics regarding relapse or as they like to sometimes call it, gambling. I don’t believe that many of these people are maliciously trying to hurt people, they feel like they are trying to help, but they don’t take on board any other opinions on the matter. They think they are right usually because “that’s what worked for me,” which is another pathetic excuse. Just because it was acceptable to smack children back in the day doesn’t mean it’s acceptable now. Generally I find those people who smacked their kids tend not to smack their grandkids because they know it’s not right. Times change. It’s the same in recovery. People shouldn’t be subjected to that sort of behaviour when they come into these rooms, it may have been acceptable in the past but it shouldn’t be acceptable now.


That nicely leads onto one of the other arguments for this sort of behaviour, people say it worked for them and thank and encourage the people behind it. “That’s exactly what I needed to hear,” or “they didn’t bullshit me,” or “too many people held my hand and it didn’t work.” All understandable but for every one person who ‘gets it’ via this method how many people leave and don’t come back? The people with this attitude don’t give a fuck about them. So here’s an idea, if you like this sort of hard hitting, macho bollocks where you are being told just not to gamble then get a sponsor (if they even believe in that sort of thing) and do it in private, don’t bring it into a meeting. In recovery we are supposed to be passing on the message, not the mess. 


I haven’t relapsed since I came into recovery and that doesn’t make me special, because I spent far too much time relapsing in front of an audience of one before coming into recovery. I used to tell myself that I wouldn’t gamble again, I won’t deposit anymore money, I won’t spend the last of the money in my account, only to find myself gambling within an hour. I’d lose all my money a few weeks before payday to announce to myself that I’m done, no more, only to find myself doing the same thing again when the next payday came around. Or I would get in touch with a friend and ask for money to pay a bill only to gamble it and have to borrow money from a different friend. Every single one of these incidences was a relapse. The difference between me and people who relapse when they enter recovery? I didn’t have the fucking balls to come through the doors and open my mind to the fact I might have a gambling problem. That’s why I have the utmost respect for people who come in and relapse but keep coming back. Because they have far more courage than I ever did. 


There’s this idea that people just willingly give up their date, “oh it’s day 1 again, oh well,” is usually what is pointed out in meetings. That stuff does happen but it’s usually on Facebook groups or Reddit where people aren’t actually in recovery yet, they are just trying to stop via a forum and hoping posting a day count or talking about their problem will help (still showing more guts and balls than I did). To put them in the same bucket as people actually in meetings and trying to recover is just unfair. I’ve yet to meet someone who really wants recovery and has enjoyed coming back and saying it’s day one again. It fills them with anger, dread, shame and all sorts of other emotions. To have the balls to come back in to be talked down to by some wanker who has a bit of time is just the icing on the shit cake. 


At the end of the day, a meeting should be a safe space for people to come in and share what is on their mind and they shouldn’t be subjected to the rantings of a lunatic, which is why I used this blog to rant like one instead. There is no doubt about it that being direct in recovery is required at certain times but there is also a time and a place for a more compassionate approach.


This blog is more to show people who are struggling that just because you hear someone who has an outdated opinion on relapse, don’t give up. There are many of us out there who will be direct but will also treat you like a peer. There is no hierarchy in recovery. For those with the outdated opinion on relapse, you are entitled to it, but what you aren’t entitled to do is to come into a meeting, take it over and force your opinion down everybody else's throat. 


Russ


Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Step 2, Exercise 2: Our Beliefs & Values

 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 2: Our Beliefs & Values

Write about:


  1. What happened each time you attempted abstinence on your own before you came to GA?


There have been various occasions when I have stopped gambling for a period of time but I always ended up going back. I think the reason for this was because I was stopping for the wrong reasons. There are a couple of times I abstained that stand out and I’ll touch on each one.


In 2012 we had our first child and it was around this time (either before the birth or after) that my partner found out I had been using some of our savings to gamble with. I had of course intended to pay it back, as all gamblers intend to do, but she got sight of a bank statement before I had paid it back. As you can imagine, she was livid, and rightly so. I managed to say the right things to get it to blow over and for periods during 2012, mainly the Summer,  I stopped gambling. I have requested my old statements from online bookmakers and the breaks between the various bookies weren’t that long, but one thing I did do was self exclude from a bookmaker for 5 years and it was probably my biggest regret as a gambler because I missed that account so much. I literally counted down the days until I could reopen it. Of course, just because I closed one account doesn’t mean I closed the rest and I was gambling with other accounts at various times throughout 2012 but I had tried to stop and that morphed into me gambling again but in a “controlled” manner. That didn’t last too long and I was back gambling in my usual way by Autumn 2012. Only this time I made sure to keep it a secret.


Another time was when I went through a period of a few months trying to abstain from the casino side of things towards the end of 2018 as I believed this was the cause of my troubles. I didn’t want to stop sports gambling though. I was on the Reddit Problem Gambling Sub and I listened to Allen Carr’s The Easy Way To Stop Gambling, neither worked for me. I continued to gamble not only on sports but also on the casino because I wasn’t committed. I still didn’t fully believe I was addicted to gambling, I thought the issue was with the casino games, not me, which really is a theme throughout my early adult life where I didn’t want to hold myself accountable to anything, it was always someone else’s fault.


There are certainly other occasions where I abstained on my own and failed as my online accounts are littered with self exclusions and time outs. No matter what I tried, no matter what I put in front of me and no matter how many times I would tell myself I wouldn’t gamble, I would find myself gambling I because I wasn’t ready to stop. This is one of the reasons why I have a lot of respect for people who come into recovery and relapse but keep coming back. The other reason is my sponsee who has made me understand the struggles that people who are suffering with relapse go through and helped me see what does and doesn’t help. There unfortunately seems to be a stigma, especially from some “old timers'' towards people who relapse but I don’t buy into that way of thinking because I was one of those people. The only difference is I didn’t have the balls or guts to admit to myself that I had a gambling problem and come into the rooms to try and do something about it until I was ready. I ignored the red flags and I lied to myself and those around me. Maybe if I had come in when I needed to 10 years ago I would have got it sooner than I did, but I’d be certain I would have relapsed a few times along the way and I am absolutely positive in my early days I would have been hard headed and refused to listen to others. I would have tested the patience of even the most serene member. In my eyes though, that person would have shown a lot more courage than this person sitting here today who hasn’t relapsed...yet.


“When you punish your people for making a mistake or falling short of a goal, you create an environment of extreme caution, even fearfulness. In sports it’s similar to playing ‘not to lose’ - a formula that often brings on defeat.” - John Wooden


  1. How is your abstinence within the GA programme different?


The biggest difference that I am not just abstaining from gambling but I am actually in recovery and working the programme. For me, showing up and attending one meeting a week wouldn’t have been enough, I needed more. I found online meetings, started doing them along with my physical meeting, got a sponsor, worked The Steps, started sponsoring people all of which helps me to continuously work on myself. That’s where the key difference is for me. Simply remove gambling and I am the same asshole with character defects and my life is still unmanageable. Start to work on myself and improve myself and I become a better person and my life becomes manageable. In turn, the lives of those closest to me improve because I am a more positive person to be around. The reach extends further than that because I participate in meetings and actively help others in the programme if I can, which, hopefully, helps them the way other people in the programme have helped me.


This programme has given me opportunities abstinence never would have given me and for that I am grateful. I have heard people say that anything you put in front of your recovery you will lose eventually and I don’t prescribe to that theory. For me, my recovery is the road and the things that are important in my life represent the car and I am the driver. When my recovery and my life are heading in the same direction the journey is smooth. Sometimes there are issues, like in any long journey, but I am able to deal with them. If I don’t have recovery then there is no road and the journey becomes bumpy and eventually my car will break down or  crash. At the same time, if I solely focus on my recovery and neglect my life, then there won’t be any car and I’ll have no use for the road.


  1. Three core beliefs and/or values which gambling caused you to ignore, abandon or compromise when you were active in your addiction.


I can be myself (make mistakes)

Honesty

Balance


  1. With your abstinence within the GA programme, have these core beliefs and/or values been restored to you? How do you feel about that? What difference do they make in your life today?


I can be myself (makes mistakes) - I was looking into core beliefs and values for some inspiration and this one really spoke to me because of the opposite or negative belief which was, ‘I have to be perfect (please everyone)’.


Being a people pleaser was something that I felt I had to do on a regular basis because it was the only way I was going to keep my gambling a secret from those closest to me. In my mind, if I was keeping everybody happy and telling them what I thought they wanted to hear, then no one would ask any questions. One of the issues with this idea is that it’s fucking exhausting but more than that, I found it slowly chipped away at who I was over time. I didn’t feel like I could be myself anymore around other people because all it would take is one mistake for everything to come out.


The deeper I dig though, I feel that this was also something that predated my addiction and was a character defect that was turned up to eleven once I became addicted. I always had a knack for being able to socialise with various groups of people in school. Sure I had close friends but I was also able to seamlessly blend in with other groups I usually wouldn’t hang around with. Part of that was because I was able to get along with a lot of people and talk about things I knew that they liked. I was able to say things I assumed that they wanted to hear. I was a people pleaser, even at that young age. Part of this could have been a defence mechanism as school can be a rough place if you piss off the wrong people or even just hang around with the wrong group in some people’s eyes. So I managed to find a way to pretty much get on with everyone, mainly as a survival technique due to not wanting to be involved in any confrontation and to have an easy life. Knowing that it worked I continued that into my adult life where addiction taught me how to use that ability to my advantage to be able to manipulate people for my own gain.


This issue didn’t just go away when I stepped foot in recovery and it was one of the bigger issues I faced in my first year. I was still trying to please people and I was more concerned about how my shares were or how my writing was or how I was viewed in other people's eyes than anything else. Then somebody told me that ‘the only person who needs to believe in you, is you’ and those words were game changing when it came to my lack of self-esteem. Because that is where this was coming from. I have said before that inside I hated who I was and I didn’t know who I should be. I was still struggling with that in recovery and although working The Steps helped open my eyes to these issues, it didn’t make a real difference until I started to believe in myself.


Now, I can be myself and I can make mistakes and not only own my mistakes but learn from them. I don’t feel the need to please people anymore. They can either like me or dislike me, that is up to them. What’s important is that I like myself, that I like who I am inside because I’ve come to realise that no amount of praise from other people will make a difference if I don’t like who I am. As long as I know that I am trying to do the right things then I can trust in the process and focus on working on my character defects and continue to develop.


Honesty - I’ve heard it said in meetings that ‘we weren’t just compulsive gamblers, we were compulsive liars’ and I couldn’t agree more. My addiction created an environment which I cultivated and this stripped me of any honesty I had and I did things I never thought I would do. 


I had a fantastic upbringing and I can have absolutely no complaints about it. If I can be half the parent that my Mum & Dad were then I know I will have done a good job. I was taught the difference between right and wrong, I was taught how to be a good person and even touching on the previous belief, I was taught to be myself. I also didn’t suffer some trauma that caused things to change either. There is no moment that I can really look back on and say, this is why I became addicted. I slowly drifted from “responsible gambler” to compulsive gambler and at the same time my beliefs and values slowly drifted and eroded with it.


What I found, and I am just being honest here, was that once I started lying it became a lot easier to keep lying. I also got better at it the more I did it and not only that, I would begin to push the envelope as to what I would lie about. Once I got to that level of lying, it was impossible to start telling the truth because I would be found out. I lied that much that I started to believe my own bullshit and for me that was extremely helpful for my addiction to thrive because I wasn’t focusing on the cause of all the pain and hardship which was gambling, I was blaming it on the stuff I was making up or at the very least exaggerating! 


A good example of this would be my timekeeping in the morning. I was late pretty much everyday and I blamed my daughter not sleeping. She was a terrible sleeper but she wasn’t the reason that I was awake until 3am or 4am. It was the fact I was betting on shite tennis from the other side of the world or basketball or whatever the fuck it was. That was the reason I was tired and sleeping in but I didn’t blame that. Instead, I took advantage of another situation in my life and then ended up genuinely believing that was the reason I didn’t sleep.


In recovery things are completely different and I feel so much better for it. Honesty was one of the first things to come back and life has been so much easier telling the truth. Yes, sometimes having to face something honestly can bring some short term pain but in the long run, as Mark Twain said, “If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.” It’s also one of the three principles that my recovery is built upon which is HOW; Honesty, Open Mindedness and Willingness. Without those three things my recovery would have been impossible and for me it starts with being honest.


Balance - I’ll be honest once again here and say that balance has only become a core belief since I have been in recovery but it is such an important part of my life now that I had to list it. Also, looking back I can see that it was something that was completely missing from my life when I was gambling which again was due to the environment that I was cultivating. 


I only cared about one thing once I became addicted and that was gambling. That was the only thing that I focused on or wanted to focus on. Sure, as I have said before, I still looked after my kids, I was present, I was there in the house all the time because I was an online gambler, but mentally, there was no balance. I was consumed by gambling. The longer it went on the worse it got. 


Even if I take gambling out of the equation for a second, if I found a new meal I liked for example, or a new TV show or a new song, etc, then I would become obsessed about them. I would eat the meal until I was sick of it, binge the TV show and rush to finish it or listen to a song until I bored myself of it. There was no balance there either. I had that ‘all in’ personality that I know so many compulsive gamblers suffer with. To put it bluntly, I was mentally fucked.


For me, having balance in recovery is essential because without it the unmanageability part of Step 1 can come back with a vengeance, even without placing a bet. So striking that balance is key and it is not easy because there are so many moving parts that come in and out of my life that I constantly need to be reviewing the balance in my life. It could be doing too many meetings to the detriment of spending time with my family. Meeting makers make it and all that, but recovery is also about returning to a normal way of thinking and living and replacing gambling with meetings isn’t a healthy balance. 


At the beginning of my recovery I found myself reading a lot of stuff on social media about recovery and gambling addiction and that included things I didn’t agree with. Views that other people were entitled to have but not views or opinions that I agreed with. Reading this stuff annoyed me and frustrated me but I kept logging on and I kept reading it. I had to stop that because it was having a negative impact on me. Yes, I still occasionally do it now and then and yes, it still frustrates me but I feel like I have found a balance that works for me.


I even struggle with balance when it comes to writing my blog. I felt like in the run up to Xmas I just couldn’t fit it in so I had a break which was only supposed to be for a week, which became two which ended up being quite a few. This shows me how easy it is to go from one extreme, which was writing flat out, to the other, which was not writing at all. 


There is also a balance when it comes to other people in recovery and I need to remind myself that it is okay to say no to people or no to meetings. Again, it needs to be for the right reasons but it’s easy to get sucked into this idea that I can help everybody. I can’t. I can’t help everybody and help myself at the same time, there is a limit to what I can offer to people. I will talk and chat with anyone and help people as much as I can but it isn’t fair on me or them if I start spreading myself too thin. 


I’ll finish on this point because I feel like it is an important one for me. I’m not going to like everybody in recovery that I come across and quite honestly, some people will be toxic for my recovery. This happened recently and I had to cut someone out completely as they were just destroying any balance I had in my life. They are a total narcissist and dominate not just conversations but also any meeting they attend and it had an impact on me for a while. I would spend half my day messaging them back and forth because I was trying to help them. When it came to trying to limit contact with them it just made things worse as they wouldn’t let it go but in the end I had to do what was right for me and that was to cut out any contact that was possible outside of meetings and I had to block them. I do still have to sit in meetings with this person but principles before personality and all that.


Balance is a tricky thing to get right and it’s something I constantly review and it can be hard when I realise that something has to change. Either I have to stop or reduce doing something that I enjoy and maybe I need to start doing things I don’t enjoy as much (looking at you Georgia after meetings and sleep). It can also be hard telling someone no because I feel like I have let them down but the reality is I need trust that the decisions I am making are the correct ones. The good news is, in recovery I have developed a network of people I trust who I can take these issues to and talk about them and make sure that I am making the correct decision for the correct reasons. 


Russ