In the past few years I have appeared on various podcasts and have spoken about my gambling problems as well as my mental health in depth as part of a chapter for the 20 years of talkSPORT book – a look at behind thescenes of a national radio station where I worked for 12 years. One thing that drew me towards wanting to work for Betknowmore UK was the sense of authenticity my colleagues have, so in the spirit of honesty I shall say that when our CEO Frankie Graham put out a call to action and asked us to create some content forour new website, I had thoughts like who wants to hear what I have to say. Despite that initial nonsense in my mind I am at ease these days talking about suchthings and still find it cathartic as I approach my 7th year abstinent from gambling and alcohol. I refer to this negative thought processas ‘stinking thinking’ because actually it isn’t even about me. I have turned down opportunities to go back to the media industry in recent times (one of those being at a Premier League football club) simply because I want to help others and work with like-minded people where I am able to utilise my lived experience of gambling related harm with my professional skills. Every conversation I have with my colleagues makes me feel connected, and I am grateful that I can again have a sense of fulfilment in my working life.
Altruism is good for us; the bottom line is when we have the ability to empathise and help others, we in turn boost our own self esteem. During my time as a problem gambler the positive character traits I possessed had disappeared into a black hole and had been taken over by large amounts of self-loathingand stunted emotional growth. We have just launched our Peer Aid service whichis the team I work within as a coordinator, Matt and Jean who set the serviceup have trained a cohort of volunteers to support those who are suffering from gambling related harms. Every time I speak with one of our volunteers, I am blown away by their enthusiasm to pass on their lived experience and help othersto move forwards in life and away from gambling.
It seems to be that the lockdown has had some positiveeffects on society, community-based projects and help have come to the fore,where I live in Southbourne, Bournemouth people have pulled together to supporteach other through difficult times and in the wider population Marcus Rashfordis a name that springs to mind who is using his own lived experience of growingup with very little to now making a difference and putting pressure on those inpower to make sure our school children are getting fed. The more acts of kindness we see and the more that those who have a voice use it to help other smeans in turn that others across the country will buy into this way of thinking and living.
How does helping others link to recovery from gambling related harm? My own recovery has taught me to look outwards and not inwards which breaks the cycle of hurt and resentment towards other people and organisations. I suffered from very low self-esteem, selfishness and an inabilityto see what was happening around me. By supporting others on their own journeys, I am able to remind myself of where I went wrong and help them tomove forwards using the experience of my own mistakes. Making connections inrecovery is hugely important as it made me realise that I wasn’t alone and wasable to take the pressure off those closest to me and talk to those who couldidentify with my story – no longer feeling like the black sheep. All of this builds confidence and brings out positive thinking which in turn boosts health and wellbeing.
One of my biggest regrets in life was that at times I didn’t pass on my knowledge and wisdom on to those around me, particularly during my media career there were opportunities where I should have sat down with those around me and helped them to develop skills that I had picked up along the way. Recent times have taught me more than ever that helping those around me where Ican is the boost that my mental health needs. An old colleague and a good friend of mine is someone I look up to regarding this, when I didn’t have a leg to stand on, didn’t feel I had anyone to talk to, and was lying through my backteeth at every single turn he continued to listen and reply to my messages. I will never forget that kindness he shown to me, and I now use the way he conducted himself to move forwards in my own life and support and show up forthose around me. When I was offered the role at Peer Aid my friend told me hehad been waiting for me to do something like this, it was the ultimate seal ofapproval from someone who supported me along the way.
‘Helping one person might not change the whole world, but it might change the world for that one person’. This is the quote we have adoptedat Peer Aid; I love this because it rings very true. A connection with anoth erhuman being who can identify with where you are at is priceless in helping that person to start on and maintain a journey of recovery. Meeting people where they are at and talking to them using empathy, compassion, kindness and a non-judgemental attitude is what I believe can help the most. Empowering individuals to make their own decisions by giving them hope and the ability totrust us and our experience, we are able to support them on their journey. Things we need to normalise are speaking up, not being ok, and asking for help. Fear and pride can often get in the way of us utilising these key recovery tools, soby using individuals who are experts by their own experiences we have the ability to understand those who are suffering from gambling related harms on a deeper and more intimate level.