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.