I had three appointments with three different counsellors today. One with my gambling counsellor, one with my personal counsellor and one with a counsellor at work for my regular session of supervision. I also had a toothache and had not gotten much sleep.
The first appointment was with the gambling counsellor. I went gambling yesterday and blew my budget to hell so I knew I really should keep the appointment. I just didn’t want to. I didn’t want to talk about having gotten so completely out of control. What was there to say apart from I am an idiot? I was tired, my whole jaw hurt, I was low on petrol and I had another appointment just three hours later for counselling. I resolved to talk about the problem at the second appointment so I rang and cancelled the first.
Half an hour before the second appointment I realised I didn’t want to see her either. I was down about losing so much money, my whole jaw was still hurting and I was still low on petrol. I was even more tired by then and I had another appointment with a counsellor three hours later. I didn’t want to see anyone. I was tired, in pain and didn’t want to talk to anyone let alone more than one person.
I could not cancel the last appointment – I have to attend supervision as part of the job I do. It is very stressful work and the company provides us all with monthly sessions with a senior counsellor so we can talk through any issues we have with work. I have been given special permission to use my supervisor to help me work through my personal issues if I need to until I get on top of them. I don’t usually take advantage of that but I can so I called and cancelled the second appointment.
Instead of taking more pain killers I accepted my toothache was not going to go away and I should make an appointment to see a dentist. I looked through the phone book for a dentist and then got online to search for one. There were just too many to choose from and I could not decide so I sms’d my daughter to ask for the number of the one she saw a little while ago. I rang them to make an appointment and they said come in now so I did.
The bad news is my problem requires root canal work which costs a small fortune and the good news is she was the best dentist I have ever been to.
Once I was no longer in pain I was a lot less reluctant to keep the appointment with my supervisor and I resolved to bring up the subject of my gambling lapse with her.
She was good. We discussed the ways in which my gambling could cause problems for me with my work and determined that it is not, as yet, having any effect on me there. I am tempted to take on more shifts to earn more money but I know I would run the risk of burning myself out if I do that so I have not done it.
Then she tried to help me work out what is motivating me to do this to myself. The cost is high so what is the reward I am getting from doing this? She tried to get me to connect with the feelings I have just before I throw caution to the wind and go gambling but I am not good at connecting to my feelings. I am excellent at processing thoughts about them but not so good with just feeling them.
I learned, many years ago, that letting myself feel things would only make things worse for me. My mother dealt with my tears by threatening to hit me. She would warn me that, if I did not stop crying, she would give me something worth crying about. Other experiences were so unpleasant I learned to disconnect from my emotions and view them from a distance.
Now the counsellor was asking me to recall how I actually felt, what posture my body took on and what physical sensations I was aware of, just before I chose to go gambling. It was a similar exercise to the session of EMDR I had recently and I had the same problem – I really struggle to actually FEEL my emotions – I prefer to talk about them.
The counsellor guided me back to yesterday – to the thoughts about the man I have not seen for about 7 years, to the hopes and dreams and goals that were destroyed along with my car when I was attacked, to the future I see ahead of me. A future that contains no love, no sex, no dreams, no goals, nothing but the daily struggle to survive.
She kept cutting off my attempts to disconnect from the emotions that began surfacing and, finally, I was sitting there with the same agitation and discomfort I feel just before I go gambling. I had the same desire to get up and walk away from my emotions that sends me gambling but I was not allowed to escape. I was asked to sit with it and explore it so I would fully understand it.
I have been able to go some way towards doing this. I know I am most at risk of gambling when I am bored, angry, upset or stressed. I know the thoughts in my mind at the time are centered around having some fun for a change. I try to remind myself that losing money is not fun but it doesn’t always help because winning money IS fun.
Winning money is the closest thing to a thrill, to real fun and excitement, that I have in my life. I would trade a thousand gambling wins for one more chance to see the man I have not seen for seven years but that kind of thrill has gone from my life forever.
The counsellor asked me if I feel lonely. I said I don’t know. I have felt alone all my life because of my inability to trust so what is loneliness? How does it feel? How would I know if I am feeling it? She said if it feels like something is missing, if I feel like I want more to be happy, that is loneliness.
I started to say I don’t feel that way very often at all and even when I do it doesn’t last long and then the penny dropped. I don’t let myself feel that way. As soon as it starts to hurt I do something to distract myself from it. I go gambling.
She said gambling is clearly serving to soothe my pain but it is self-destructive so it is just replacing emotional pain with pocket pain and I need to find another way to deal with my pain when it comes.
It won’t be easy. I may not be able to find anything that will soothe my pain. I may have to learn to just feel it, accept it, and wait for it to fade again. She said emotional pain comes in waves. If I sit with it for a while it will wash over me and fade away.
I will try that I guess. I’m not sure how I will go but I will try it. If I can sit with the physical pain of a toothache for days surely I can sit with emotional pain for an hour or two.