Dan speaks about his experience of Gambling Harms and his journey to recovery.

My name is Dan and I had suffered from a gambling addictionfor over 25 years, affecting my financial, mental, and physical well-being in the process. I started gambling as a fun activity in my teens with some levelof control in place, exactly how gambling should be experienced, safely andenjoyably. It was normalised in society and almost more unusual if you didn’thave a bet as young man. This enjoyment and control did not last very long forme, as I became compelled to gamble on everything and anything and had themeans and access to do so.

I was experiencing the all or nothing mentality even at thisearly stage and didn’t notice any consequences to my actions. It was highlighted by my parents that they thought I had a problem in the year 2001and helped me get support through the GA recovery programme, something thatseemed to be the only level of support at this time, with gambling still verymuch stigmatised and heavily judged in society. Gambling was my ‘dirty littlesecret’, and this was something I was conscious about, and something I wantedto keep in house. The truth was, I wasn’t ready or willing to stop gamblingyet, there was still a fixation and urge to belong in this world even thoughthe enjoyable days were few and far between. In all honesty, I went to meetingsfor around three months to please my family and came back ‘cured’ in theknowledge this would put my families minds at ease.

As I began to experience some abstinence from gambling, Iwasn’t really aware that my character and behaviours were not changing, even though my gambling had stopped. This meant that although I was clean, I was still behaving and acting in the same way. Unfortunately, a relapse was inevitable but something I couldn’t see at the time. I managed to stop gambling for seven years and felt like I had ‘beat it’ and that I did it all on my own.This my ego talking again and gradually I was experiencing more urges and triggers and my willpower was waning. After seven years without gambling, I hadnow placed another bet and the moment I did I felt both relief and shame at thesame time, shame that I had gone back to it, and relief because I didn’t have to battle these urges anymore. I could now just do what my brain was telling me to do, surely my brain wants what is best for me?

I picked up where I left off and my gambling progressed more rapidly this time, maybe it was a way of making up for lost time. Successful progress in my career enabled me to have more access to money to fund it. The shame and guilt of relapsing, along with the financial harm I was experiencing,created a huge barrier for me talking to anyone about it, let alone my partner,family, or friends. This continued for many years and I felt I was petering onthe edge of utter chaos and destruction, although I would convince myself thatthings would soon change and that I can ‘beat’ this again.

During this time, I was in a very happy relationship, had two young children and had just bought a house, along with having a well-paidjob and successful career. Everything you need for that idyllic life! Regrettablythis still wasn’t enough to stop me gambling, the thought of losing all of thatwasn’t in my consciousness and therefore I continued to gamble, trying to getout of the ever-increasing financial mess I was in. At this time, I noticed areal decline in my mental and physical wellbeing. I wasn’t eating well; I wasexperiencing consistent sleep deprivation and suicidal thoughts as thefinancial situation was getting worse. I was starting to deceive, con andthieve to fund my addiction. There really felt like no way out, yet I continuedin the hope that things would turn out ok. In 2013, the year that we bought ourhouse and had our second child, my partner confronted me, expressing that either I was gambling again, or having an affair. I broke down, the thought oflosing the love of my life and my children was gut wrenching, and for a goodminute I was silent with the idea of confessing to an affair a real possibility. This felt less shameful than gambling, something that still baffles me to this day. I eventually confessed and told her that I had been gambling again, and even though incredibly upset and distressed, said she would support me through it. Regrettably, the shame and guilt I was feeling meant that I couldn’t tell her everything and therefore was always living with some hiddendebt. In my head, she would leave me if I told her everything, where in realitythe most difficult part for people close to me to process, was the constant lying to cover the tracks. After abstaining for around 6 months with the helpof GA once again, the only way out of the hole again was to gamble my way out. My addiction talked to me in a way that led me to believe that she couldn’t handle the full ugly truth of the situation and that I was protecting them by shielding the full truth from them. This again was a subtle way of my addiction grabbing hold of me and getting me into isolation.

During the next few years, I started to experience strong feelings of depression, anxiety, and constant suicidal thoughts although this was nevershown on the outside. I had many masks, but this was not one I was prepared toshow people, only I saw this particular mask in the mirror, every morning andnight. I was able to function in ‘survival’ mode which felt like I was inautopilot. During this time, I had started to commit crime to fund myaddiction, and although so scary, it still wasn’t enough to stop me gambling.People around me were starting to notice a change and deterioration but I would dismiss this as stresses of work and home life, and my partner and family borethe brunt of this character defect.

Fast forward to October 2016, and I was now laying in apadded room in a psychiatric ward on suicide watch following a suicide attempt.I was being heavily investigated by the police for fraud and theft following myjob dismissal and had declared bankruptcy following the huge sums that were nowevident. This is a period of my life that I regularly reflect on, and althoughincredibly difficult, was a key element of who I am today and the recovery I amexperiencing. It also allows me to keep things fresh and not allow any complacencyto set in.

After extensive support through mental health services, theNational Problem Gambling Clinic, GA, and family and friends, I was gradually starting to piece together my self-worth, self-esteem, and motivation for change. I was prepared and wanted to take responsibility for my actions, something thatdidn’t happen in previous episodes of my gambling life. I was going to lose mypartner and family unit, along with our family home, which was so difficult totake, but at the same time I wanted to start the process of change for my ownbenefit and the people around me. Gambling had beaten me, and I now knew I couldn’tdo it on my own, I surrendered and handed that control over. I am powerlessover gambling and always will be, the evidence is there for me.

For all the hurt and harm caused to both myself and the people around me, I am now 5 years into recovery and my life has experienced ahuge shift in the way I behave, act, and manage my addiction. I reached out toGA in November 2016 for group support and continue to attend weekly meetings tohelp myself and others. The real difference this time is that I want to bethere, I am not there to please someone else or to tick a box.

Although difficult with a criminal conviction, I was able to gain employment within the gambling recovery sector, enabling me to use mylived experience to support people with their gambling. I am also currently studyingfor a counselling degree, a career path I want to go into to further extend myarm of support out to people.

I reached out to Matt and the Peer Aid service in March 2020,and I was honoured to be on the first cohort with Betknowmore. This is something I am so proud to be a part of and is a huge part of my own recovery while helping and supporting others. The value of the lived experience voice cannot be underestimated and goes a long way to reducing the stigma and shameattached to gambling. I have loved working with people on their journey, givingthem the autonomy and tools for positive change and reinforcing they are notalone, something I have felt throughout my gambling life.

The feedback from peers is touching and humbling and reemphasises the importance of tailored peer support. The community feel of colleagues and peers within the Peer Aid service allows people’s barriers to lift and opens up conversations around gambling recovery and support. I have gained a qualification in gambling peer support through Peer Aid and the tools I have learnt have not only helped me in the role of a peer supporter but have also helped me in life. As a gambler I wanted all the good things in life without much effort. Recovery has taught me that I get out what I put in and the rewards surpass any gambling win.

Peer Aid is a big part of my life and recovery, and I amproud to be a part of this service, watching it grow and develop, helping the many people out there suffering from gambling harm.

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