This time of the year always fascinates me as it is so miserable. It’s post Christmas, mid-winter and people seem to struggle to find optimism for the period lying ahead. There is a need for a pick me up, a pleasant diversion or indeed the sight of the light at the end of the tunnel. From the odd harsh life experience and an improving self awareness I begin to see how all this manifests itself as we seek some control over our lives.
I’m neither qualified or with sufficient writing space to write the definitive guide to addiction. There is so much out there that can reel you in – alcohol, drugs and the rest and I would go further too and add negative thinking as an addiction too. More on that later. Charlie Chaplin once said ” we must laugh in the face of our helplessness against the forces of nature or risk going insane”. There is a sobering reality when we question our role and purpose in this life. It is harrowing to realise that the world does not owe you a living or that hard work does not necessarily guarantee success. To stare into this abyss is unpleasant and I wonder if this isolation makes addiction a pleasant diversion.
One addiction that we have seemingly become increasingly de-sensitised to is gambling. If we are to believe the figures, there are now half a million problem gamblers in the UK with a 15% rise amongst female problem gamblers in the last year. Although a separate argument, it is noticeable that confirmed addictions have risen since the relaxation of the gambling laws. I see the world of betting around me everywhere I go, football fans crowded into a bookies come match day whilst friends talk of doubles, trebles and dead certs. A trip to the bookmaker is a revealing experience, you will be guaranteed to see a parade of types, some looking spectacularly seedy, all looking for the big win or the momentary escape from their humdrum existence. Surely it can be no surprise that the emergence of internet gambling has gone with the rise of noted addictions. Those who previously never dreamed of frequenting a betting shop can now enjoy the gambling experience from their own home. It’s also a private world of man against machine and a further detachment from reality.
I’ve been blessed in recent times to get to know someone who is a reformed problem gambler. They agreed to tell me their story as an example on the condition of an assumed name. Thanks to “Steve” for his upcoming honesty. He got into gambling after being told by people that he would make a fortune with his knowledge of sport. Steve followed anything with a ball and was materially successful with plenty of money and no commitments. There was no meaningful relationship in his life and a sense of despair owing to the lack of happiness despite his earthly pleasures. Gambling became an escape and he loved the rollercoaster ride with its thrills and spills. Loneliness no longer mattered as the vacuum was filled with the emotions associated with victory and defeat. Entire days were spent following bets – even at work – and Steve felt he was taking on the world. Predictably, events worked out badly with losses quickly accruing and a self-destructive cycle emerging. Pride would not let him walk away with the constant thought in the head of winning the money back. You know what happens next ……… More losses. Steve admits he reached a point where obscene amounts were being won and lost in a day. Anything that moved or existed was worthy of a flutter. His key moment came when a particular loss caused him to stop his car and cry for thirty minutes uncontrollably. He knew it was time to stop. Thankfully Steve is now receiving treatment and has not gambled since that day. Thousands of pounds were lost and Steve talks openly of his shame but with a grim satisfaction of wanting to change. Each day is difficult but he’s fighting his demons and turning things around.
The more I look at it, the absurd it seems that we can allow our lives to consumed by petty addictions and shy away from a chance to improve our condition. We are scared to tell the people we secretly love our true feelings out of fear of rejection or to embark on a career we have always dreamed of, yet it is easy to seek into dependency. Our collective self-esteem is on the floor. Lets take some real risks and actually gamble in our lives, to embrace the fact that things can go wrong but that we are strong enough to pick ourselves up again. Everything always seems to come back to communication. It should never be a radical act to say you are fed up or scared, now really is the time to speak openly as well as share concerns. You will be surprised to see how many share your worries. Negative thinking, the great unacknowledged addiction. The more we speak up and look for help, the more our lives can be improved.