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