When I treat people for various addictions the treatment plan covers several basic things. First I educate the person about the substance, or behaviour, they are addicted to. I follow that up with motivational therapy which helps them take a good look at their behaviour and find solid reasons for wanting to change. Then I help the person work out what triggers their addictive behaviour and what they can do to prepare for, and deal with, triggers. We also look at what options the person might have for preventing the behaviour. Last, but not least, I prepare them for lapses.
Recently I had to follow my own treatment plan in an effort to try and overcome a gambling addiction I had suddenly accquired. The plan helped in some ways but it wasn’t enough to help me give up gambling completely or so it seemed.
I educated myself about the odds against winning. I read the literature Gam-anon gave me and believed it. I accepted the truth of it but it didn’t make a blind bit of difference to my “faith” that each time I went gambling I had at least a little chance of winning or my hope that this time the gamble would pay off.
I followed through on the treatment plan anyway and moved to the motivational part of it. I developed a list of reasons why I wanted to stop gambling. They were all good reasons and I desperately wanted, NEEDED, to stop gambling. I ticked the box marked “Motivation” because I thought I had plenty of that.
I sat down and worked out what triggered me to go gambling. That was a bit harder because there were so many triggers. I wanted to go gambling because I was bored or because I was stressed. I went if I was angry or if I was sad. Paydays were a trigger as was going to a venue. Thinking about gambling triggered me as did just about anything else I could think about and the more desperate I was for money to make it through to the next pay the more I wanted to gamble what little money I did have.
When it came to preparing for, and coping with, triggers I was pretty much on the ball. I had a lot of options and I used them all. Everything from not showering so I would be too dirty to leave the house and go gambling through to leaving my cards at home when I went out.
I even worked out back up options to use if I was not able to prevent myself from going gambling. Known as “harm minimisation” it involves coming up with ways to minimise the amount of harm you do if you are unable to resist a trigger. For me those strategies included setting a limit to how much I could spend and not being allowed to gamble before or after work.
I recognised the probability of giving in to temptation and I knew giving in did not mean I had failed – it was simply a lapse. I knew I could expect to have many lapses before I would win the war so I tried not to beat myself up over them.
A lapse is when you lose a battle but continue to fight the war. Relapse is when you go back to the addiction and stop trying to beat it. If you relapse you lose the war. I hung on to the knowledge that I would not have failed until I stopped trying and it helped me keep trying to give gambling up.
Two things made it possible for me to quit cold turkey in the end. I came into enough money to clear my debts. The urge to gamble weakened as soon as it stopped being my only hope of getting enough money to make it from payday to payday. It weakened the urge but only a little so I continued to lose money.
It was not until I switched the way I viewed gambling wins that I conquered the addiction. I realised gambling costs people their lives. Children have died in gambling venue parking lots and adults have suicided over gambling addictions. Gambling wins are blood money and the idea of taking blood money repulsed me.
I realised true motivation is not always what seems to be obvious. The harm gambling was doing to me was distressing but it was not enough to motivate me to quit. It was not until I linked the addiction to something that really mattered to me that I found the motivation to stop. The new vision of the gambling industry as an evil monster profiting from the death of innocent children made me hate the monster and reject its offer of “easy money”.
I thought the war was won. I faced temptation many times and walked away but, over the past week or so, the enemy has been getting stronger. I have gone to gambling venues to support my son who is working there and the machines have been calling to me.
The initial battle fever has cooled. The monster doesn’t seem as big or evil as he did in the beginning and I have been remembering how much fun it was to play.
I went to the battlefield one time too many tonight and I lapsed. I put three dollars into the machine. I fed the monster I swore I would never feed again.
I have lapsed and I am now moving into the relapse prevention stage of therapy.
That means I must stay away from pokie venues altogether again and use a lot of self-talk. I need to congratulate myself for doing as well as I have done so far and tell myself I can give up again. It can be done because I have been doing it. I have not failed until I stop trying.
I fed the monster three dollars. It’s three dollars more than I wanted to give it but I have not lost serious money. I stopped at three dollars – I lapsed.
I will not relapse. Addiction is a habit as much as anything else. I have broken this habit. I just need to make sure I do not let it form again!