Dan speaks about his experience of Gambling Harms and his journey to recovery.
My name is Dan and I had suffered from a gambling addiction for over 25 years, affecting my financial, mental, and physical well-being in the process. I started gambling as a fun activity in my teens with some level of control in place, exactly how gambling should be experienced, safely and enjoyably. It was normalised in society and almost more unusual if you didn’t have a bet as young man. This enjoyment and control did not last very long for me, as I became compelled to gamble on everything and anything and had the means and access to do so.
I was experiencing the all or nothing mentality even at this early stage and didn’t notice any consequences to my actions. It was highlighted by my parents that they thought I had a problem in the year 2001 and helped me get support through the GA recovery programme, something that seemed to be the only level of support at this time, with gambling still very much stigmatised and heavily judged in society. Gambling was my ‘dirty little secret’, and this was something I was conscious about, and something I wanted to keep in house. The truth was I wasn’t ready or willing to stop gambling yet, there was still a fixation and urge to belong in this world even thoughthe enjoyable days were few and far between. In all honesty, I went to meetings for around three months to please my family and came back ‘cured’ in the knowledge this would put my families minds at ease.
As I began to experience some abstinence from gambling, I wasn’t really aware that my character and behaviours were not changing, even though my gambling had stopped. This meant that although I was clean, I was still behaving and acting in the same way. Unfortunately, a relapse was inevitable but something I couldn’t see at the time. I managed to stop gambling for seven years and felt like I had ‘beat it’ and that I did it all on my own. This was my ego talking again and gradually I was experiencing more urges and triggers and my will power was waning. After seven years without gambling, I had now placed another bet and the moment I did I felt both relief and shame at the same time, shame that I had gone back to it, and relief because I didn’t have to battle these urges anymore. I could now just do what my brain was telling me to do, surely my brain wants what is best for me?
I picked up where I left off and my gambling progressed more rapidly this time, maybe it was a way of making up for lost time. Successful progress in my career enabled me to have more access to money to fund it. The shame and guilt of relapsing, along with the financial harm I was experiencing, created a huge barrier for me talking to anyone about it, let alone my partner, family, or friends. This continued for many years and I felt I was teetering on the edge of utter chaos and destruction, although I would convince myself that things would soon change and that I can ‘beat’ this again.
During this time, I was in a very happy relationship, had two young children and had just bought a house, along with having a well-paid job and successful career. Everything you need for that idyllic life! Regrettably this still wasn’t enough to stop me gambling, the thought of losing all of that wasn’t in my consciousness and therefore I continued to gamble, trying to get out of the ever-increasing financial mess I was in. At this time, I noticed a real decline in my mental and physical wellbeing. I wasn’t eating well; I was experiencing consistent sleep deprivation and suicidal thoughts as the financial situation was getting worse. I was starting to deceive, con and thieve to fund my addiction. There really felt like no way out, yet I continued in the hope that things would turn out ok. In 2013, the year that we bought our house and had our second child, my partner confronted me, expressing that either I was gambling again, or having an affair. I broke down, the thought of losing the love of my life and my children was gut wrenching, and for a good minute I was silent with the idea of confessing to an affair a real possibility. This felt less shameful than gambling, something that still baffles me to this day. I eventually confessed and told her that I had been gambling again, and even though incredibly upset and distressed, said she would support me through it. Regrettably, the shame and guilt I was feeling meant that I couldn’t tell her everything and therefore was always living with some hidden debt. In my head, she would leave me if I told her everything, where in realitythe most difficult part for people close to me to process, was the constant lying to cover the tracks. After abstaining for around 6 months with the help of GA once again, the only way out of the hole again was to gamble my way out. My addiction talked to me in a way that led me to believe that she couldn’t handle the full ugly truth of the situation and that I was protecting them by shielding the full truth from them. This again was a subtle way of my addiction grabbing hold of me and getting me into isolation.
During the next few years, I started to experience strong feelings of depression, anxiety, and constant suicidal thoughts although this was never shown on the outside. I had many masks, but this was not one I was prepared to show people, only I saw this particular mask in the mirror, every morning and night. I was able to function in ‘survival’ mode which felt like I was in autopilot. During this time, I had started to commit crime to fund my addiction, and although so scary, it still wasn’t enough to stop me gambling.People around me were starting to notice a change and deterioration but I would dismiss this as stresses of work and home life, and my partner and family bore the brunt of this character defect.
Fast forward to October 2016, and I was now laying in a padded room in a psychiatric ward on suicide watch following a suicide attempt.I was being heavily investigated by the police for fraud and theft following my job dismissal and had declared bankruptcy following the huge sums that were now evident. This is a period of my life that I regularly reflect on, and although incredibly difficult, was a key element of who I am today and the recovery I am experiencing. It also allows me to keep things fresh and not allow any complacency to set in.
After extensive support through mental health services, the National Problem Gambling Clinic, GA, and family and friends, I was gradually starting to piece together my self-worth, self-esteem, and motivation for change. I was prepared and wanted to take responsibility for my actions, something that didn’t happen in previous episodes of my gambling life. I was going to lose my partner and family unit, along with our family home, which was so difficult to take, but at the same time I wanted to start the process of change for my own benefit and the people around me. Gambling had beaten me, and I now knew I couldn’t do it on my own, I surrendered and handed that control over. I am powerless over gambling and always will be, the evidence is there for me.
For all the hurt and harm caused to both myself and the people around me, I am now 5 years into recovery and my life has experienced a huge shift in the way I behave, act, and manage my addiction. I reached out to GA in November 2016 for group support and continue to attend weekly meetings to help myself and others. The real difference this time is that I want to be there, I am not there to please someone else or to tick a box.
Although difficult with a criminal conviction, I was able to gain employment within the gambling recovery sector, enabling me to use my lived experience to support people with their gambling. I am also currently studying for a counselling degree, a career path I want to go into to further extend my arm of support out to people.
I reached out to Matt and the Peer Aid service in March 2020,and I was honoured to be on the first cohort with Betknowmore. This is something I am so proud to be a part of and is a huge part of my own recovery while helping and supporting others. The value of the lived experience voice cannot be underestimated and goes a long way to reducing the stigma and shame attached to gambling. I have loved working with people on their journey, giving them the autonomy and tools for positive change and reinforcing they are not alone, something I have felt throughout my gambling life.
The feedback from peers is touching and humbling and reemphasises the importance of tailored peer support. The community feel of colleagues and peers within the Peer Aid service allows people’s barriers to lift and opens up conversations around gambling recovery and support. I have gained a qualification in gambling peer support through Peer Aid and the tools I have learnt have not only helped me in the role of a peer supporter but have also helped me in life. As a gambler I wanted all the good things in life without much effort. Recovery has taught me that I get out what I put in and the rewards surpass any gambling win.
Peer Aid is a big part of my life and recovery, and I am proud to be a part of this service, watching it grow and develop, helping the many people out there suffering from gambling harm.
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