My name is Mark and I’m a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. I just wanted to take the opportunity to write down what has worked for me early in my recovery. Not only will this give me something to refer back to but maybe it will also help someone who is struggling with recovery. I cannot tell anyone what they should or should not be doing, all I can do is share what is working for me and if someone can use this to stay off a bet then that is a bonus.
1) Telling my partner and family everything – In my experience this is something that is impossible to do alone, I have tried in the past and failed miserably. It got to the point where the only person I was letting down by gambling again was myself and I didn’t care about letting myself down. This time I sat my partner down and told her I had a gambling problem and needed help. I have two young kids so there was a lot to risk by doing this, but it was the right thing to do. Then I sat my Mum and Dad down and told them the same thing. I personally extended this out to friends and people in work, the more people that know then the bigger the support network. For me though it was a vital step to admit to those closest to me that I could not do this on my own.
2) Money – Before I sat down with my partner I wrote out all the debts I had in a notebook, every single one, to the exact penny. There’s no point going into this hiding one debt, recovery is about being open and honest. I also wrote out a budget and again, this was to the penny. I then worked out how I was going to pay my debts back and in what order and how my budget would work going forward. I have not over exerted myself when it comes to paying my debts, why put added pressure on the situation. I am currently paying 10% of my salary towards my debts each month and it will take ten years to pay back, I am fine with that. Another massive barrier I set up was to give my partner full control of my main bank account that my salary is paid in to and my bills are paid out from. I do not have access to this card and she has the app on her phone. I have another bank account which she knows about and I get money paid in each month which is to cover petrol and money for me for the month. It is a Monzo account which has a function to block gambling transactions; if you are in the UK I would highly recommend it. My partner can also check this bank account at any time to make sure everything is as it should be. If I pay for anything in cash I make sure I get receipts so I have a record of what that money was used for. People may say this is being treated like a child, that by doing this I cannot be trusted with money, and they would be absolutely right. I have a long track record of proving I cannot be trusted with money so why run the risk.
3) Self-Exclusion/GAMSTOP – As most of my gambling was online, especially for the last number of years, self exclusion was a must. Luckily in the UK we have a scheme called GAMSTOP which will self exclude you from the majority of online bookmakers, casinos, bingo sites etc. for up to 5 years. I have self-excluded in the past from a bookmaker or two but always left other ones open and each time I went back to them. I needed to close the door on all sites online and GAMSTOP has allowed me to do this. Now, when I initially tried to sign up for GAMSTOP I could not be verified, turns out I was answering a question wrong. So what I did, and this is an example for those outside the UK, I went through my emails and text messages and every bookmaker or casino I had received marketing from I logged on to each one individually and self excluded for the maximum time. 5 years was the only option for me and I would have chosen a lifetime self exclusion if it was available. To self exclude for any less time would have been my way of telling myself I could control this in the future. THAT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. I am a compulsive gambler and one bet is all it will take to send me back to where I was before April 2nd 2019.
4) Gamblers Anonymous – Once I decided I was going to admit I needed help I looked for nearby G.A. meetings. I checked for times that I knew would suit me and that I would be able to make weekly. I found one in Newry that has a Monday meeting between 9pm and 10:30pm and I knew I had no plans for this time, so no excuses. I travel around 25 miles to get there and it is one of the best things I have done in my recovery. I was talking to someone towards the end of 2018 about my gambling and they had mentioned G.A. but I said I wasn’t that bad, I was wrong. I had all these preconceived notions about G.A. that it would be full of old men all talking about how much they would love to have a bet or preaching to me about God and trying to convert me to go to church, Yes, there are some old men but apart from that it’s not how I imagined it would be. I’ve a blog titled “Why Do I Go To G.A.” which explains it in further detail but in summary it is a place I can go where I will not be judged, where I will be understood, where I will be supported through the bad times and where the good times will be celebrated. It’s a place I can dump my shit on the floor (not literally) and where I can listen and learn from others. It is a simple program for complicated people. I have yet to meet someone who has been attending meetings regularly that has relapsed since I have been in G.A. There have been people who stop going to meetings that relapse but if you attend regularly, from what I have seen with my own eyes, it will help keep you off a bet. Once in G.A. you can find a sponsor and work the steps which I have found to be extremely helpful.
5) Other Therapies – This could be counselling or CBT etc. but what I am I member of is the Problem Gambling Support Group which has it’s own WhatsApp chat group and runs two meetings a week via Skype. I have met some great people in that group and we are all striving to recover from this. It is a small group but we have people from all over the world who attend and it is something I look forward to every week. Even just having a group there that I could reach out to if I was struggling is invaluable.
6) Reddit Problem Gambling Sub – This is where I found the Problem Gambling Support Group but the Sub itself is a great place to post how I am dealing with my recovery and it also gives me an opportunity to reach out to people who are struggling and try to support them through it. It’s very much a community that tries to help each other on a daily basis and I try to check in and either post or comment a few times a day.
7) Writing – I have been writing my blog since entering recovery and I have found it gives me the opportunity to dig deep and really reflect on what emotions I was feeling when I was gambling and gives me a platform to potentially reach out to others. I write from a purely selfish point of view if I am being honest, it helps me. I get so much out of it and just being able to get my thoughts and feelings into words is a healthy process for me. If the blog helps others that’s an added bonus for me.
8) Twitter – There are a lot of people on twitter who can offer excellent advice when it comes to recovery and it is a great place to see blogs and vlogs from various folk who are putting the time and effort in to reach out to others. It’s a great tool to have during recovery but for me it would not be a replacement for G.A.
9) Podcasts/Audio Books – I listen to as many things about addiction and recovery as I can. All In: Addicted Gamblers Podcast, After Gambling Podcast, Podcast Recovery are my weekly listens.
10) Acceptance – This is probably one of the most important things I have found in the early stages of recovery. I have accepted I can no longer gamble and I have accepted that I can never gamble again. I have also accepted that this journey is for life and I just have to take it one day at a time. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.
These are the things that have helped me during the early stages of recovery. I have not had an urges, although they could strike at anytime, and I feel in such a better place than I was on April 2nd 2019. My own opinion is that recovery is much more than just stopping gambling and paying off debt, those are the “easy” parts. Recovery to me is about becoming a better person, a better partner, a better Dad, a better son and a better friend. It will take time, it’s a journey for life and I have fully embraced that. Right now gambling isn’t even on my list of how I would deal with a problem should it arise, but I cannot become complacent.
For anyone reading this who is struggling with giving up or relapsing I will leave you with a quote I seen early on in my recovery and it stuck with me.
“At some point there is NO EXCUSE. Either you want to do EVERYTHING it takes to MAKE it happen or you don’t.”