Gambling, the hidden addiction: The power of two
So, many of my clients tell me of the enormous relief that sharing their fiercely guarded shameful secret has on their lives. The initial fear turns to huge and life changing relief when they realise the enormity of the burden they'd been carrying up until their point of disclosure.
So much of the hard work has already been done by the time they sit in front of me in the counselling room, although not in every case of course. What is the same, however, is the enormity of the relief felt when the truth does eventually come out, even if the initial response is tumultuous and explosive. The slow burning acceptance of the enormity of the previous actions of the gambler can then start to bed in, not just for the gambler but for all touched by the invisible hand of this compulsive, harmful and corrosive acting out behaviour. Never has a problem shared, been so poignantly appropriate as in the case of the gambler. Unlike other addictions, there are virtually no telltale signs. The gambler is often a well paid successful person either owning and running their own business or working in a very well paid position within a successful company. It is said that success breeds success, but an often ignored corollary of that, is that confidence begets confidence, which can spill over into a sense of invulnerability to failure and gambling fosters the illusion of success and winning even at the height of actively losing.
Professor David Nutt shows a gambler being given a tablet upon which to gamble online. The gambler is then put into an MRI scanner and his brain activity is monitored. The response is identical whether he's winning or losing. The brain's reward centres are lighting up and releasing dopamine whether the gambler is winning or losing. It is the anticipation of winning that is causing this apparent dissonance between what is being expected and what is actually happening. The illusion of winning, the promise of winning causes an obsessional thinking about the event long after it has physically ceased. Implicit cognition's are swirling around beneath one's conscious awareness, creating an ideal breeding ground for cue triggered wanting's. An apparently incongruous object in the environment can find the gambler back at the point of contact with his unconscious obsession. A trigger reboots the compulsive yearning for the win that'll change the gambler's life & they find themselves chasing the dream yet again.
Learning to be honest with one's self is a slow inexorable process. But once embarked upon, free's up the "addict" to start thinking non-addictively. The protective cloak of secrecy was actually a concrete shroud that kept the gambler hidden from himself and his thoughts, feelings and actual behaviours, mimicking the whole addictive process itself. The very thing that's bringing us down is the very thing we reflexively turn to, to make us feel better when the weight of despair and hopelessness threatens to bring us to our knees before a vengeful and cruel slave master.
Telling someone about our problem re-connects us to the real world. It gives us perspective once again, a perspective we have been so long distorting, we have become accustomed to viewing the world through our skewed sieve of perception. Things are not as they seem and everyone has got it wrong but us, why can they not see that! And then one day we let a remark slip or a bank statement is opened or letters from debtors get opened and the whole shameful hidden world is revealed, congealed and contorted by an agonisingly hopeless battle. We sink to our knees and the scales finally fall from our eyes and the light comes flooding in. It blinds us at first and things get very much worse and just when we're on the brink of giving up, a surge of renewed energy pumps hope anew into our hearts and souls, and new life beckons.
We start to see that where there was once hope. But there was once, really, only illusion and false promises. We start to see what really matters and what only purports to be meaningful.
And all this because we finally, finally, let someone else in and the rest followed.
Reaching out for help when we're in genuine and desperate need, is often the hardest move we ever have to make. After all, who wants to portray themselves as weak and needy? But in all, the most exceptional of cases proves to be the best and most rewarding thing we've ever done because finally there is reciprocity, enabling a synchronicity between the external and the internal; a move toward integration and individuation. And to paraphrase Jung;
"I don't believe I'm in a better place, I know I'm in a better place."
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About Bradley Riddell
Bradley counsels in Brighton and Maidstone specialising in addiction. He also works as an addiction counsellor, with Breakeven, a GamCare partner in the South-East. Breakeven offers free counselling to gamblers and affected others. Call if you, or someone you know, may benefit from their help?