Prioritising your gambling recovery – a non-negotiable part of your long term success in staying away!

What if I was recovering from having my leg amputated…how would I relate to having to make changes then?


In the last week I have had several discussions with some of my gambling addicted clients about how ,and if, they prioritise their addiction recovery. This has been on the back of a few relapses, that even they themselves would agree could have been avoided had they prepared slightly better. To expand on this concept – what I refer to when I say ‘prioritising recovery’  is the acceptance that anything that is helping to keep you away from your addiction- particularly the restrictions relating to money access, self-exclusion and blocking software but also things like keeping a basic and helpful routine, doing sports, having hobbies and working on relationships- will need to be made a priority in your life!  It is the understanding that without you being in recovery  - all aspects of your life will be gradually destroyed by your addiction otherwise.  My clients, as clever, insightful and motivated as many of them are – still frequently argue against this idea….

now that I am seeing a new person I think I will just try and leave the gambling in the past and move on fresh - surely my past with an addiction has no relevance to my new relationship!’  

I really feel like I’ve put them (the client’s family) through enough; surely now is not the time that I should be picking up any new hobbies. That is not going to go down well at home…’

Possibly some of you can already see what it is about these suggestions that is going to make longer term recovery hard, if not impossible.  They are all based on denying to yourself and others that you have a problem, even if this problem may now feel like something you already dealt with.  It may also be that you feel incredibly guilty and horrible about what you have exposed others to, and that the most intuitive thing to do would be to shrink both yourselves and any needs you may have down to a minimum. This will however not work!   Yes, it may be true that you have really moved forwards and that you now feel fine. Or that you have caused people around you unbearable pain. Nevertheless, if you neglect or discontinue to work on your recovery the efforts you already made in your recovery will merely continue along the lines of the ‘quick fix’ formula of life. As a result of that it will not last – and both you and people around you will ultimately end up more disappointed.

This is hard to accept for many people in recovery- and there are many reasons for this.

The ones I often hear are…

# ‘but I should not have to change my life a lot, if I do that could unsettle me..’

# ‘it would be really selfish if I now start prioritising all these things that are about me ‘

# I have done so much work – surely I deserve a break from it all now and just relax right?

In summary, there is a sense that something you have once enjoyed, or choices you would have typically made should not have to change just because you have an addiction that gets triggered by that activity/person/place. It is almost an assumption that the addiction cares about you and now owes you a bit for all the hard work you put in. It is with great shame I confirm that this thinking won’t pay off at all- and many of you know this already.

Please mind…I am never saying things in this blog out of wanting to crush confidence or discredit great steps that have been taken- I speak straight only because I know that doing so is the only way to get through to people when their addiction is hi-jacking the mind..

It is good to be aware that prioritising your recovery is not a negative thing: we are not talking about a daily mantra of ‘once an addict always an addict’ or anything like that.  This is about identifying that you have recovered because of the work, effort and attention you put in. Nothing here was spontaneous- Your recovery required this input to start with, and for the recovery to continue this work needs to continue even if it more than likely will be taking a different form. In most cases it will also become more enjoyable as time goes past and as you become more accustomed to treating yourself with more love and priority.

Think about this analogy if you ever struggle to prioritise your recovery – it might help you think about it differently, and in the way that it needs to be thought of for things to work longer term.

Imagine that you just had one of your legs amputated and you have been given a prosthetic leg, but as of yet you have not had much training in getting around on it. It is still quite tricky, and you fall frequently.  But you are still YOU of course- all of your previous interests, passions etc are still there. Now that you have this disability though you can’t take part in some of them. At least not yet until you trained up your ability to do it safely.

Now ask yourself the following questions:

How would having this type of problem change the way people treated your recovery? Would people ask you to come running or go for extended walks without checking if you were able to first? Would you think it was bad or unnatural that suddenly you had to cancel on a trip with a friend, or say no thank  you to an evening out if such did not seem to make you feel good and comfortable?    

Would people respect and expect you to prioritise your recovery?

Would they maybe even offer to help and support you?

And what about how you relate to yourself….  Would you expect from yourself that just because you now have the new leg things should be well over night? Or that at a magic point in the near future there should be no difference between having this new prosthetic leg vs your own that you had to had amputated? So much so that you expect that everything you used to be able to do, should still be possible, and no adjustments should be required.

You probably realise that you would treat this kind of recovery with more respect.

You would automatically realise that certain aspects of your adjustments are non-negotiable and simply have to happen so that you can continue to recover.  

Chances are people around you would do the same.

The most obvious difference here is that gambling is not visible, physical or particularly easy to understand for people who are not addicted themselves or don’t work with it.  It is also highly stigmatised and  tends to give rise to much more judgment and erroneous conclusions amongst those around you. They might say things like  ‘just get your acts together and exercise some willpower’.  This is not fair or pleasant, yet it might be a reality. There are of course very real differences in the type of behaviours one might expect in the two different types of rehabilitations compared here and there is little doubt that the ones you see in gambling recovery raises more eye-brows; I am particularly referring to behaviours that are dishonest in nature. This means that it will typically be harder to get others to understand.  In the end, we don’t have much control over to how much people around us can or can’t understand. Still the most important thing is that YOU yourself realise that you have to respect your recovery. If you don’t- nobody else will. They won’t even know how to. 

So, what does it actually look like to prioritise my recover?   Here are some suggestions…

·       You make sure that you explore each situation and consider any triggers that it may involve. If here are too many triggers- and the risk of relapse is high, then that means this situation is a no go!   I know this sounds almost patronising, but the truth is that I constantly watch my well-meaning, hard working problem gamblers attempt to overstretch themselves in situations when they knew full well they would be triggered. Don’t do it. Respect your boundaries and step back if the risk is too high. In this process you are going to learn to say NO!

·       If you are needing to make big choices in your life; job changes? Moves? Moving houses?  Do consider how this will impact on your recovery process. Will it put you at any new foreseeable risks? If so, how can you safe guard?  The recovery, yet again, has to be considered first; meaning if  you cannot be sure you will maintain it through the change; then that change is simply not helpful for you.

·       Accept that recovery is a long-term journey. This may feel overwhelming, but actually is a great thing. It means that you will forever be needing to look after yourself and your needs a bit better than you used to, and to trouble shoot sooner rather than later when things are not going well for you, plus also try to address them. If this is not done, it may not mean you will automatically relapse, but it certainly will put you at a higher risk. 

Finally, here is a little vignette to illustrate this stuff better:

 A lady I recently saw in therapy was recovering very nicely from her gambling addiction. A few months in, her partner got offered a job abroad. She wanted desperately to move along with him, but simultaneously realised that it would be almost a guarantee for relapse. The new location was not stimulating for her and would not enable her to have fulfilment in her career at all. This would equate to her having long days at home, in a new town where she does not know anybody.  All the support she has set up would also go away over night. There would be pressure involved with meeting new friends.  She concluded that she would be far too likely to relapse. They instead are now trying to come up with a better solution which could ensure she can prioritise her recovery.


Good luck in your recovery, all the best for now X