It looks like, once again, I have managed to keep a lapse from turning into a full relapse in my battle with my gambling addiction but it wasn’t easy.
In my entry titled “Boycotting Blind” I spoke about how I came to develop a gambling addiction and how I gave up the pokies cold turkey. In a later entry titled “Addiction” I mentioned my first lapse where I put three dollars into the pokies or slot machines as they are called in some countries.
There did not appear to be any after effects from that first lapse. I did it then walked away from it without, it seemed to me, any harm. It made me feel like I had really beaten the addiction.
Big mistake number one!
Some time later I was at the venue again and I decided to play ten dollars under my daughter’s supervision. If I looked like falling under the spell of the machines she would physically drag me away.
No problems. I won a bit, lost a bit and won a bit and ended up walking away with my ten dollars. Once again I didn’t feel like there had been any ill-effects from the lapse. Maybe, I thought, I really am cured and don’t have to worry about it any more.
The days passed with no further thoughts of gambling and then I was back at the venue again. My son works there once a week. He runs a free Texas Holdem Poker game there and my daughter and I often go to play (no gambling is allowed in the game apart from using the supplied chips). We help him set up and pack up as well as join in the game.
This time my daughter was still playing when I lost all my chips and decided to go play the pokies. As a precaution I went to her and asked her permission to go lose another ten dollars. This was part of my self-care arrangements. My children know I have a gambling addiction. That allows them to help me fight it. I trusted my daughter to recognise if I was losing control and I would obey her if she said no.
She looked doubtful which I had expected so I dropped my bag at her feet, showed her I only had the ten dollar note on me so that was all I could lose without coming back to my bag. If I returned for more money she would know. Once I dropped my bag at her feet she nodded permission for me to go lose the tenner.
I went and lost the ten dollars pretty quickly. This time, however, there was an after-effect. I noticed I did wish I had taken twenty to play but I made no attempt to get more money or go back to the machines so I thought all was still well.
The next week I had to put my car in to get a radiator leak fixed. A mix up in arrangements meant I had to walk home. Past another pokie venue. I was annoyed about the mix up and had a sense of defiance. To hell with it – I would pop in, have a drink, play a few dollars. It would make up to me for having been messed around.
God was good to me. The venue was not open! I had to choose – wait around for 15 minutes or keep walking and go home. There was a shop across the road. I could have gone there and had a drink to pass the 15 minutes but I pulled out my self talk and got stuck into myself.
“Feel this – feel the strength of this impulse and remember how much stronger it can get! You still have a choice right now. The impulse is not strong enough to make you do this – you can choose to keep walking. Last week was a lapse. Don’t let it turn into a relapse!”
I took a deep breath, shook off the desire to hang around until the venue opened and walked home.
Turned out the radiator could not be fixed until I have saved up a bit more money as it was going to cost twice what I had been told it would cost. I was irritated but it turned out to be another of God’s blessings in disguise.
Just a few days later some old thinking started up again.
“I’m bored and hungry. I want to get out of the house for a bit. The pokie venue up the road will be open and still serving meals at this hour. I could go there and have a feed, play a couple of dollars and come home. What would it hurt?”
I told myself I was cured of the addiction. I had proven that by resisting the impulse to gamble last time it struck. I was in control so it should be safe to go there this time.
I also argued with myself.
“You don’t know for certain you are cured. The fact that you want to go there and play is a warning to you that you may not be cured. Don’t take any chances. If you must go then continue to use the harm minimisation techniques you were using when you could not trust yourself. Set a limit on how much you are prepared to lose and leave the rest of your money and your cards at home so you can’t spend any more than the limit.”
I listened to myself. I allowed ten dollars for the feed, another ten for a few drinks and twenty to gamble. I decided to take 50 dollars to test myself. If I did stop at losing 20 and came home with the extra ten dollars I could consider myself closer to cured than addicted. If I caved in and lost the extra ten as well then I could be sure I was still addicted.
I took my eftpos card out of my purse and went with no access to any money apart from the fifty dollars in my purse.
Going there at all was big mistake number two!
I got there and ordered my meal. I played the pokies and had a coke while I waited for the meal. When the meal was ready I ate and had another coke then played the pokies some more. I ran out of money, was unable to get any more, and came home without a cent in my purse.
The total amount lost was 31 dollars. As I drove home I experienced more of that old familiar frustration over losing money and losing control. I was honest with myself. I knew I would have gotten more money out to keep playing if I had not been wise enough to make sure that couldn’t happen. I told myself the verdict was in – I am still addicted. I cannot risk going again. I must not put another cent into those machines for at least the rest of the month.
The next night was poker night. I lost early and badly wanted to put twenty into the pokies. I did not even ask my daughter – I didn’t need her to tell me no – the answer had to be no. The strength of the desire to play frightened me enough to keep me away from the machines.
The following day I had to go to a place I had never been before to deliver training on behalf of my employers. I wasn’t sure my old car would get me there and back thanks to the radiator problem so I borrowed my daughters car. The major catch was that she needed to take my son to a job that night and it was an hours drive away too. If I was not back with her car in time she would have to run the risk of my radiator blowing up on her instead of me. She decided to take the risk and keep her fingers crossed that I would get back in time.
When I got to the place I was scheduled to deliver the training I was an hour early and, as I pulled into the parking lot, my heart sank. It was a club. A club with pokies! It caught me by surprise and I immediately resolved to play.
God was good to me again. The venue was closed. By the time the pokies were open I was busy delivering the training but I had withdrawn 50 dollars with the intention of playing during the lunch break.
Once again God was good. The group voted to take only half an hour for lunch so we could finish half an hour early. I had time to eat, get a coke and have a smoke before having to resume training. I decided to play after finishing work.
We finished much earlier than expected and I had a choice to make.
If I left immediately there was a chance I would get back in time to give her car back to my daughter so she wouldn’t have to risk my car’s radiator blowing up on her. It was not guaranteed – it would all depend on the traffic but there was a chance. If I stayed and played the pokies there would be no chance of getting back in time.
The old thinking started up.
“With my luck the traffic will be heavy or I will get lost on the way home and I am not going to get back in time anyway so why worry about it.”
I fought back.
“Look at how strong the desire is this time. Every time you play the desire to play again gets stronger. Do you really want to take any more chances with this? Think of all the money you have already lost, think about your poor daughter getting stuck on the side of the road with a blown radiator, think of those poor children dying in hot cars while their parents worshiped the false god of gambling. Will you worship the gambling god and sacrifice your own daughter’s well being to it too? “
I got in the car and headed back. I got there in time to return my daughter’s car and I thanked God the radiator did not get fixed when I put it in to be fixed. If I had been there with my own car there would have been no rush to get home and I was pretty certain I would have played.
Since then it has been an ongoing struggle. I wanted to go shopping but there is a pokie place at the shopping centre. I decided the fact I was thinking about going there to gamble meant I had to stay away from the shopping centre.
Poker nights have come and gone and I have stayed away. Urges to go play have come and gone and I have resisted.
Each time I resist the desire to play weakens.
The day before yesterday I went to the shopping centre. Before deciding to go I did an internal scan to see if there was any desire to gamble. There was none so I thought it would be safe to go and it was. I didn’t think about going gambling even once during the four hours I was there.
I have been to the centre a couple more times since then and the idea of gambling did not occur to me. The addiction seems to be heavily dependent on habit – the less I do it the less I want to do it.
I have been resisting every impulse, every stray “what would it hurt?” thought, so the habit, the addiction, is fading again but I know I must not let down my guard. I see now it only takes a couple of lapses to put me at risk of a full relapse so I must be even more careful from now on.
My main strength in this battle is my ability to be honest with myself – to admit I am weak. It is my knowledge and acceptance of my weakness, my addiction, that helps me deal with it. I can do things to help myself if I am honest with myself. If I know I can’t trust myself I can avoid putting myself at risk.
The real weakness is telling myself I am cured, lying to myself, acting as if I have nothing to fear when I do. When I do that I lapse. When I tell myself I am weak it lets me defend myself against the weakness.
Sometimes admitting a weakness is the strongest thing a person can do.
Telling the whole world via this blog that I have a gambling problem may seem like a bit of a daft thing to do but there is a reason for it.
The idea of having to admit to the world that I lost this battle gives me a whole lot of incentive to win it hehehe.