This topic really felt relevant for me to write about, as I have been up against this topic myself last week. A few weeks back I was told on short notice that I would no longer be able to run my gambling support group for the homeless- a group that I have invested heavily in during the last 8 years. When I say invested heavily- I am not necessarily talking about time spent running the group. It was just one hour per week, albeit over 8 years that add up. But I referring more to the about emotion. This group has been an eye opener, a learning curve, a remarkable community and an extremely worthwhile venture. I have reflected on the learning and on the sad stories presented to me far and beyond the hour spent with the group. Their often cruel but honest humour, and ability to laugh at tragedy may seem ‘twisted’ but is an often necessary response to the deep end of human suffering. Needless to say I have derived great joy from helping these men and women, achieve change. For some that change has been at the level of seeing a smile on their face. For some it has been a new suitcase to replace an old bin-liner. And for others it has been the mere commitment of showing up for this one hour per week when everything else has felt chaotic and out of sync. Many have even made real progress in reducing or quitting their gambling, and have made it into accommodation. There was little doubt that we all struggled with this final goodbye after so many years but we were at least all in agreement; when good things come to an end they don’t need to go on forever in a practical sense. They will live forever in our hearts as fond memories. We all agreed that it has been a lot of difficult but good times in the group – and we all accepted that it was ending and that a goodbye was necessary. This is what I would call a ‘clean’ letting go. Not sure there is anything called a ‘dirty’ let go – but I will spend the rest of this article looking at what it looks like when letting go is necessary; but the circumstances are less straightforward. This is often the case when you have invested yourself wholeheartedly, but the sense of reward and reciprocity has not been present, not consistent or in some cases not there at all. Somehow things are not adding up, it feels unfair and/or unresolved. Gambling tends to be an activity that produces all of the above, but there are of course other life circumstances too, not least the area of relationships. In both gambling and less healthy relationships, the common denominator is often the case of one person’s one-sided ‘chasing’ and clinging . You have invested (be it time, money, energy, emotion or all them ) but unlike in my personal example about ending the group, here we are talking about those times when there has not been returns on that investment. It leaves you feeling bereft and desperate, obsessed and confused. Like you have been ‘cheated’ or are at a loss. Often even though you have yourself watched the process unfold. This is the daily experience of a gambler. You are trying harder and harder, in spite of accumulated losses. In these situations- letting go is the most logically obvious- but the absolute hardest thing to to do!
Let’s explore some of the reasons why this happens…..
# you feel that you have invested a lot….and that consequently you are owed returns on your investment. Read the below…does it sound familiar?
‘ but if I walk away now- what did I get for all of that money, time and ‘effort’ that I put in. And what about all the losses – how would I recover them if I don’t even give myself a shot at winning…? Better give it another go in case this is the time that I will strike lucky’
Our human nature often contributes to a couple of inaccurate assumptions. We often assume we should have control over situations and our life (which taking a step back we can immediately conclude we don’t have). We also often assume that there should be a sense of justice to situations. If I do X then he/she/it should do Y’. If I am kind to someone, they should be kind to me or I had so much bad luck yesterday - today I will be lucky. We might feel that things we do for others should be reciprocated. In gambling this translates to an expectation of a particular outcome that is being ‘earned’ as you are putting money and time towards the activity. ‘this machine is definitely due now’ ‘it has to pay out soon, I’ve stood here pumping in money for hours….
It is no news that there is a HUGE illusion of control at play in gambling disorders. In fact this constitutes one of the biggest drivers of the addiction both early days in the addiction and often throughout recovery as well. ‘If only I pursue my gambling like this – then I will be the winner…’
One of the underlying processes that make gambling highly addictive is the concept of intermittent reinforcement schedules. This forms part of the underlying gambling psychology and is why gambling is addictive to human beings. If you are curious you can look it up, and if not we will come back to that topic another time in this blog. Briefly; intermittent reinforcement schedules refers rewards for a behaviour that is delivered on unpredictable and often random intervals, and sometimes in varying strength. This is known to foster great compliance and high motivation to continue engaging in a behaviour.
# many gamblers are competitive, hence the feeling of loosing or feeling ‘defeated’ leads to wanting to gamble even more to get a chance to ‘get back’ at the industry for taking your money, time and energy.
# the illusion of control, (referred to above) one of the well known cognitive distortions that problem gamblers present with. Essentially this is when you fool yourself to believe that if only you applied different formulas/strategies to your gambling, you will probably strike lucky… This type of thinking fuels further chasing and on a purely psychological level it can lead to intense obsessing and ‘clinging’ to the idea of winning.
# if you stop there is often an immediate and overwhelming sense of loss since there is no longer a hope of recover any of your losses - this feeling will pass however can understandably be very strong right at the beginning when you try to quit. It may become easy to misinterpret this negative mood state as a signal that stopping is not the right thing to do, and before you live to experience the sweet relief that comes with properly letting go – you go back to cause more damage to yourself
# The gambling may have acted as a surrogate (although a bad one) for emotional coping skills, lift from boredom and escape from difficult problems and feelings.
No matter what role the gambling has played for you or how attached you feel please DO KNOW that whatever excuse your mind is giving you - the fact is that you would not be in the position that you are with gambling if it was a working formula. Put mind over matter quickly before this addiction drags you further down a hole- and ACT quickly even if a large part of you is struggling against.Read More
Last few months there has been a lot of talking about gambling advertising, both here in the UK and also during my recent visit to my country of origin- Sweden. I can only assume there are similar situations in many other countries too.
The adverts for gambling are sneaky, tempting, often targeted and of course are designed to trigger even the most resistant of people to come back for another bet. If nothing else works – they might go as far as they did to one of my gambling addicted homeless ladies and send a text message directly to her phone offering a few free spins at a nearby arcade.
The gambling industry is big business which operates with the aim of increasing its profitability. What else is new? It has never been known for caring deeply about the emotional needs of the individuals that lose their money inside of its facilities. Their social responsibility is something that is being increasingly addressed- but for now let’s face it - it is in many ways a ruthless money-making machinery that does not differentiate how, or from whom, the money comes in. I felt the need to write this as to prevent angry retaliation for those wanting to engage heavily in active outrage about the ads- because really this post is going to be about helping you withstand the relentless advertising we are currently faced with. It is not about expressing my support for how they operate - there is little doubt that gambling-ads can be harmful and will continue to ‘suck in’ those who still have plenty to lose and create a false sense of hope for those who have little to lose.
I got inspired to write this post, having witnessed far too many problem gamblers who through their obsessions about the pursuing of business from the industry, experience an unhelpful shift in the focus away from what brings them forward in their recovery. Having previously been obsessed with the gambling in a destructive manner, as you are now trying to abstain from that, the mind is kind of looking for a new thing to fixate on. We DO NOT want that new thing to become the industry or its advertisement (Unless that focus is being used for problem solving and protecting you of course). The main focus for now, and until you are safely underway in your recovery, be on all the good stuff that is starting to constitute your life without gambling!
There is no harm being an activist and lobbying for changes that matter for public health- in fact, it can be empowering to feel that your lessons from recovery can be used to help prevent others, however, by the time obstacles and triggers become the main focus of our attention we can easily become preoccupied and end up in a state of anger, disappointment, sadness. At this point, focusing on those things is happening at the expense of the most important part of all – YOU yourself and your own personal recovery.
I have seen people so vengeful, angry and desperate to ‘get back’ what they lost or to ‘beat the bookies’ , that they end up spending time in prison due to ‘smashing’ a machine or committing illicit acts to fund further gambling to chase after losses. Or lose sleep and wellness in a state of ruminating angrily over the brazenness of those ads and how they are conspiring to pull one back in to gamble. At this level your feelings and energy expenditure is going to be wasted and counter-productive for your own progress
It is understandable that the rage and anger is there, not least given the ever-increasing numbers of people who are becoming addicted, many of whom are young people. Gambling addiction is a very real and very serious problem that we are facing now more than ever before as a result of the increased access and promotion for it as a fun and sociable activity. In reality, for some people, it can wreck lives and create suffering, not just for the gambler themselves but for the entire system surrounding him/her. But at the same time as it is understandable, you have to remember that it was the focus away from you and your life - and onto the gambling- that lead you down a path of sorrow. Continuing to focus on how they ‘got you’ and are ‘making it impossible to avoid them’ will typically result in more sorrow and hopelessness.Read More