How to love yourself in spite of the damage caused by your gambling… …... 4 small steps you can take today!
Last week in my group for homeless problem gamblers we had a session on self-love, and the questions that was being asked was; How to start loving oneself after all the damage inflicted by their addiction? Several group members frowned upon hearing the word self-love and one said ‘but seriously – how can I love this (pointing at self) – look at what has become of me’. What followed was a really good discussion about this ultra-important feeling for ourselves, that in its absence underlies pretty much all things bad in this world. Without loving ourselves we end up with a perforated filter for negative influences in our life, poor boundaries, and as if that was not enough we can use our lack of self-love to justify more disgraceful behaviours towards ourselves and others with the justification of ‘not being worthy anyway’. We can become habituated to situations and behaviours from others that are less than ideal; since we don’t value ourselves enough to see that we need to have better boundaries and say no. Last but not least, it also paves the way for feelings of fear, threat, and negative self-comparisons that trigger envy and in certain cases even hatred of self and others. This is a vicious cycle, and one that can end us up in a really bad place where we don’t have even a shred of respect left for our self. Needless to say, the ideal solution is just to start loving yourself; but what if all you have genuinely done a lot of damage? And if the things we have done have actually been so bad that we find it hard to even accept that it happened? How then is it possible to take such a step and start seeing oneself as an individual worthy of those things that are seemingly there for others to have. How can we allow ourselves to go against our own intuition and treat us well when everything and everyone suggests we should engage in self-punishment and deprivation?
Here are some of the great ideas we came up with in the group this week:
# self excluding and taking other proactive steps to limit the gambling from causing further damage in ones life. Depending on the country you live and what sort of gambling you have been known to engage in, the steps you take here might vary greatly. If you live in the UK there are a few good apps that will make it impossible for you to gamble online. You can also ensure that you take proactive steps and visit the bookmakers that you have been frequenting requesting to complete the paperwork for self-exclusion. Yes, this is not airtight, and I know there are millions of shops around but this step can actually feel empowering even if there are always going to be ways to gamble if you really set your mind to do it. Buy time, empower yourself by acting with assertiveness and take this step anyway. Blocking your access to gambling is the most fundamental and important step any gambler can take and a huge display of recognising that you deserve better than being able to continue to sabotage your life by further betting.
# Start to Treat yourself well in small ways daily Ok agreed- this one sounds so cliché and obvious. But simultaneously please recognise how difficult it actually is to follow this seemingly simple formula. Of course it sounds great to start treating yourself to a decent lunch, going to bed at a time that allows adequate sleep, allowing yourself a new hair cut or whatever it is. Most people I speak to would be able to easily generate a nice long list of things that they would think constitute self-caring behaviours but so few in comparison will actually do any of them for themselves. It is not uncommon for people in general to have a bit of disconnect between what people know they should do and and what they actually do – but there should not be an entire canyon between the two. Start bridging that gap by highlighting just one or two small things that you can insert into your life starting today: do those until they become natural and habitual and then add another one. Building up slowly will always make it more likely for the behaviours to stick longer term since you repeat those small changes until they are no longer requiring of the same level conscious processing. Try and renovate yourself in a day and you will tire out and end up feeling like it is ‘hard work’ to treat yourself well.
# Stop tormenting yourself with what has already happened and focus on future action instead
This step is a lot harder than it sounds. We all know behaviours can end up becoming ingrained, repetitive habits – most people have some habit they have tried to get rid of either successfully or unsuccessfully – think nail biting, thumb sucking, spot-picking or whatever you have have been ‘stuck on’ yourself. It takes effort to stop doing something. It is going to take effort in giving up the gambling. But when you begin to break free it gets easier. You feel freer. On many levels it can feel like being ‘unshackled’ from routines and rituals you knew were just damaging for you. And you can use that energy to continue breaking free and living a fuller life. What many people don’t seem to realise is that our thinking get into the same rigid patterns. The brain starts sounding like a broken record quite easily when we feed it the same experience again and again. Remember ; our emotional mind does not understand any better as it is busy looking out for our survival hence absorbs only the short-term aftermaths. Any constructed scenario that is followed out again and again and generates nice feelings, even if ever so temporary, will be memorised. The thoughts will take on whichever flavour we feed it – meaning if you teach it that going gambling makes you feel high and excited (short term) we need to recall that this is all that part of our brain cares about. Before we know it our brain will have picked up that the it will get to experience a nice ‘lift’ in mood ( or a reduction in a low) – simply by giving incessant prompts to the person to be engaging in the gambling. It basically becomes a mental habit. The mind starts thinking in particular ways more and more often, maybe even obsessively. On the flipside it can also get hooked on extensive rumination about past negative experience, failures and wrong doings. Or rehash obsessively over a past or future agony in a failed attempt to gain closure and aqcuire learning. The reason I explain it in this slightly childish and basic way is so that you can start treating that part of your mind with some detachment yet some understanding and compassion. Yes it will keep firing away with the same broken-record-spiel any chance it gets. But do you need to listen in so hard? Keep moving to better tunes and learn to feed the brain with new fresh info from which it can create new thinking habits. Your mind should be focused on the present moment for you to experience the greatest relief and enjoyment. That does not mean there are no problems to sort; but it means that you keep your mind clear enough to actually be able to sort them while enjoying life a little.
# be the best friend you can ever dream of …to yourself. Maybe you have a best friend already. Or maybe you don’t. Whichever applies chances are that you would be able to think about the qualities that you would desire in a very best friend.. Consistently there for you, honest, kind, loving and understanding… write down all of those things you fancy. Now – please understand that you are the person best placed in your life of being that friend to yourself.
That’s not to say you should not also try to find great friends with those qualities. But first you have to focus on the relationship you keep with yourself. You are never going to find anyone who has a better position than you to be kind to you, to speak encouragingly, to forgive you when you messed up or to give yourself a break when things get tough. Be that friend now. This is an absolute necessity when you are going through recovery. If you allow yourself to be your own enemy you will be finding far too many excuses to continue gambling, and even if you don’t; you might still spend your more time hating yourself and putting in obstacles for your progress than you would do just trying to prevent further damage from taking place.
Remember; this is the most important relationship that you will ever have in your life. It is vital to all other relationships that will follow and will drastically change the way you feel, as well as your ability to relate to others.
With love, Annika