Hi, my name is Steve Girling and I’m in the sixth year of my recovery from gambling addiction. I am based in UK where my wife and I have founded a charity called Reframe Coaching which uses recovery coaching to support individuals who have been affected either directly or indirectly by gambling addiction and/or gambling related harms. I want to share my personal experience to help raise awareness of the potential harms and to say that recovery is possible.
On the outside I had worked hard for a great career (Executive Director and Chief Finance Officer of 7 companies) and had a loving family at home. I had reached what I thought was the definition of success, a good salary, company car, share options etc. But on the inside, I had been suffering from stress and poor mental wellbeing for a number of years which even tually led me to seek escape and self-medication through online gambling.
I had always been a casual gambler, betting occasionally on sports, but my increased desire for online gambling started with being rewarded ‘free spins’ in an online casino. I remember the pick-me-up feeling it gave me at a time when I felt really low. The problem was that I soon returned to that same low feeling, and therefore I continuously returned to gambling as a way to cope. This soon escalated into a devastating addiction where I over a 3-year period stole from my employer to feed my addiction despite never being in trouble before.
I was arrested in 2018, and on January 2nd 2019, I was sentenced to 4 years (2 years in custody and 2 years on licence). As well as the theft, I neglected those closest to me. Consumed by the need to feel better and gamble, I lost all sense of purpose and was never really present in mine and my family’s life.
With the support and love from my family, I attended specific counselling for my gambling and poor mental health. Both where fundamental in my recovery as they allowed me to understand my relationship with gambling and how to start treating it. Yes, I had to tackle the gambling, but the root cause was my mental wellbeing, so I needed to invest in both to ensure I didn’t replace gambling with another unhealthy behaviour. I was determined to thrive in recovery, and invested my time in learning about addiction, therapies, mindset, and numerous techniques. I also started rebuilding my bond with my wife and children.
Throughout my time in prison, I listened to and supported fellow prisoners. Most had also suffered from addictions and a lack of purpose. I continued with my investment into personal development, learning, and becoming more aware of myself. I also enrolled and completed various courses and read numerous books. Since my release from prison, my wife and I have co-founded a not-for-profit organisation called Reframe Coaching. Using recovery coaching to support individuals who have been affected either directly or indirectly by a gambling addiction and/or gambling related harms.
What actions or advice could have helped you?
Not just for those who may have an unhealthy relationship with gambling but for life in general, I think it’s so important to find a safe space where you can feel heard without judgement or the feeling that others are trying to fix you. A space where you express how you are truly feeling rather than having to keep suppressing your emotions.
Prior to my addiction, I did pluck up the courage on two separate occasions to speak to individuals who I thought could help but each time I left feeling more ashamed. I do believe people want to talk but we have to provide spaces that simply listen. I believe society in general needs to do a lot better in providing these spaces.
Also, I know safer gambling practices continues to develop with key organisations such as Midway AI evolving all the time but having a greater interaction and intervention from the gambling operators would’ve definitely helped to raise my awareness about my relationship with gambling.
How can people start their journey towards recovery if they are suffering from gambling related harms?
There are lots of pathways to recovery and I would encourage you to try as many as you can to see what works best for you. Remember, your recovery is exactly that. Yours! It’s not a competition and is certainly not a race. But it is an opportunity to regain YOUR life.
Other people in recovery will share what has or hasn’t worked for them but it might be different for you and know that it’s okay. For me, I got so much from one-to-one therapy. It provided me with a space where I could solely focus on learning about myself. I also found great benefits in mindfulness and breathing exercises, which allowed me to reconnect with myself and express any difficult feelings through the power of breathing. But I know lots of people who accessed and speak highly of other pathways such as residential support, group work, online programmes, and many others.
Please reach out to www.begambleaware.org if you feel like you need to talk with someone about your gambling behaviour.