GSS 005: Dealing with Gambling Thoughts & Urges in Recovery

Episode Details

If you’re like me, you’ve likely had your attempts to quit gambling unravel when a gambling thought or urge enters your mind. 

In Episode 5 of the “Gambling Still Sucks Podcast,” I, tackle the daunting challenges of persistent gambling thoughts and urges. With over seven years free from the clutches of gambling, I’m eager to share my own insights and effective strategies honed from years of introspection and learning. I unfold the “full story” – a journey that doesn’t just glamorize the wins, but also lays bare the haunting lows, the losses, and the stark reality of addiction. This episode is a revelation of my own highs and lows, embodied in a telling graph that serves as a constant reminder of a tumultuous past. I invite you to step into my world, as we explore tools and strategies to redefine your narrative, steering away from the precipice of destruction to a path illuminated with recovery and hope.

Full Episode Transcript

This is Episode 5 of the “Gambling Still Sucks Podcast”. In this episode, we’ll be talking about dealing with gambling thoughts and gambling urges.

Hey there, and welcome to the “Gambling Still Sucks Podcast”. My name is Jamie. I am a compulsive gambler and also the host of this show. The date of my last bet was July 15th of 2010.

As you begin your recovery process from compulsive gambling, one of the things that comes up often is, “Hey, how do I deal with all these gambling thoughts and gambling urges?” And it’s definitely one of the most difficult things because we know that the thoughts and the urges are what have triggered us in the past and have led to us going to the ATM, taking out a bunch of cash, going to the casino, thinking things are going to be different, and yet waking up the next morning pissed at ourselves that we did it again.

And so, we realize how important it is to deal with these gambling thoughts and urges, but obviously, we’ve done sort of a terrible job, and that’s why we feel like we’re in the place we’ve gotten to. So, how do we deal with them?

And so, today, I want to share some of my thoughts on gambling thoughts and urges, and hopefully, some of this will help you because it’s stuff that has really helped me along the way.

First of all, I really want to focus on the difference between a gambling thought and a gambling urge. Now, whether you call them gambling thoughts or gambling urges, I think they’re all sort of the same thing. We’re all talking about the same thing, which is that spark in our mind that says, “Hey, you know what? I have money in my bank; I can go to the casino.” Or for some people, I think it is more of a physical urge like an uncomfortableness, anxiety that, “Hey, I need to go try to win back my losses.”

And so, whether you call it a thought or an urge, like I say, we’re going to kind of treat those the same in this episode because I think they are very similar. And so, the process I’ve used successfully to deal with gambling thoughts and urges is something I got from a book. I believe it was from “Change Anything,” which is an awesome book. It’s on the website under reference material. I can’t think of the author’s right now, but it’s an awesome book. Definitely, check that one out.

It’s all about using yourself as sort of the scientist and the subject, and I believe this is one of their strategies in that book, and it’s to tell yourself the full story. At first, I really wasn’t sure what this meant, but as I started to dig into it and especially apply it to myself with my gambling, it all started to really make sense, and it’s been something that’s been very crystal clear for me ever since.

And so, the full story for me is that when I go to play poker, I end up in debt and miserable. That’s the full story. Now, for many years, I hung on to the winning story, which was, “Hey, you’re good at poker,” which I probably — I mean, there’s truth to that because I did win at times — but that was just the first part of the story.

I kept going back to there was a month in January, it was probably my sophomore, my junior, or senior year in college, I can’t remember exactly which one, but I ran a hundred dollars up to quite a bit more than a hundred dollars. It was my big win, right? And that win, then I always was remembering that and trying to recreate that win. And I had other wins that were of equal size along the way, but that was one that was crystal clear.

“Hey, I played very conservatively for a month. I was very disciplined. I didn’t play when I was tired, and if I got upset, I quit.” I mean, I had all these rules in place and things to protect me from doing the things that I do as a compulsive gambler.

And so, for years, I kept telling myself the story. I told myself was, “Hey, you can go play poker because you’re gonna recreate January.” That was the story that triggered those gambling thoughts and urges, and they supported doing it. And so, when a thought or urge came up, my mind said, “Hey, remember January,” and when you remember January, what do you do? You go to the ATM, you get in your car, and you go play cards, or you log onto an account and you load it up with money because the thought or urge is a result.

But what I’ve come to know now is telling myself the full story is a little bit different. And so, anytime I get a thought or urge, I remind myself, “Hey, what’s the full story?”

And so for me, the full story is: I go to the ATM, I go to play cards, I play really disciplined. I maybe start with 200 bucks. At some point, I probably get some good cards. I’ve run it up to 600, 800, depending on the table. There have been times I’ve made even more in a session, and I’m doing well. At that point, I start to think, “Hey, maybe you should leave,” but that thought is counteracted by the thought of, “No, you should stay in with more money because look, you’re winning. Why would you leave?”

And so, I stay. I eventually get a hand that I should win, but the cards come out the other way; the other person gets lucky. I lose. That triggers me, I get upset, or somebody does something at the table, it gets me upset. My competitive nature kicks in. I try to get them back and get even. All of a sudden, I start losing, and eventually, before I know it — and often this is quicker than I can even think about it — all the money’s gone.

And I’m either going back to the ATM if I have any access to more money. And then if I get more money, I go back to the table, and I blow all that. And that starts going quicker and quicker. But it all leads up to me in the car, having the drive of shame home, and looking around and saying — I’m shaking my head — “How the hell did that happen? Why didn’t I just leave? I was up. I did what I came to do, which was to take $200 and turn it into 800. But I stayed again. Why do I keep doing this? I’m so stupid. I’m an idiot.”

That misery, like going to that low point, and then you’re driving, you’re thinking, “Should I just drive the car off the road?” And I had that thought so many times, and it’s frightening to think back on, but that’s the full story.

Even more so, there was a time on the website, you can see there’s a graph, and it’s the icon, and on our social media too, so the little icon kind of looks like a graph where it goes up and then spikes straight down. That is also sort of this full story. In the past, I only remembered that upswing, like starting and growing it slowly and then picking up speed, and I always forgot the drop. I conveniently also forgot the fact that the drop put me in the negative, in the red. So I was, the next time I started, I started behind where I was last time. If I start — I mean, the first time started at $0, the next time I would start negative 800.

And then I’d do the same thing. And so when I went down 800 again, now I wasn’t back at the same place; I was at negative 1600.

When I started putting these spikes and these drops together on a graph, that became my other full story, which is these incidents repeat, and they repeat pretty regularly and very uniformly. It’s the same thing over and over; it’s the definition of insanity.

Getting back to the topic of today, which is, how do I deal with my gambling thoughts and urges? It’s just that, it’s telling myself the full story because it’s convenient to leave out the stuff that I don’t want to remember, and that you don’t want to remember. Because if we remember those things, we know we shouldn’t go gamble. And we’re looking for things that are going to justify our urges and our thoughts, and those things are the win.

But I really think, and I hope, that the strategy — I know how effective it’s been for me. I actually used it one time; I was out to lunch with my wife, and she said, “How do you know that you seem pretty comfortable or confident you’re not gonna gamble anymore? Why?” And I literally took the napkin and a pen, and I drew the graph. I said, “This. As long as I don’t forget this and I keep this fresh in my mind,” which obviously now it’s an icon, it’s all these things, like it should be a tattoo, and this is an idea I just had. Maybe that will be the one tattoo I get. But it is my reality.

So, keeping it fresh, that telling myself that full story has been the thing that, if I get thoughts or urges — and I’m seven and a half years in — do I get urges, real strong urges anymore? Not really. Do I get thoughts? Of course, anytime I’m near a place I used to gamble, it’s like, “Man, alright, like there it is. That’s where I went.” And now, I have money; I could go. I always have available time, which those are things that I’m aware of the risk of those. But fortunately, I can say, “Hey, I could go.” And that’s kind of the cool thing I’m at now, is I *could* go, yes. But I know how it ends, and I know that money, any money I have, and my family that I have, and all the other things that are so great in my life — the full story is, they all disappear if I go back to play poker.

And so, there it is, that’s how I deal personally with gambling thoughts and urges by telling myself the full story. I would encourage you, figure out what your full story is, figure out what your graph looks like. Get that full story out, so that you have it accessible, so when you start to think to gamble, whether it’s mentally you pull it out like I do, or physically have something printed out where you look at it and say, “Ok, no, like this is the full story, this is reality, this is the truth.” I think that can be very powerful and hopefully, it helps you to fight off those thoughts and urges as much as it’s helped me.

That wraps up this episode. I look forward to seeing you in the next episode where we’re going to deal with another thing that people struggle with, and they don’t even realize they’re struggling with it. It’s something the gambling industry has built into a lot of the games, and it’s called the near-miss. And so, definitely tune in to the next episode. Look forward to seeing you there.

As a disclaimer, this podcast does not provide legal or medical advice. Look, I’m not a doctor, I’m not an attorney, and I’m not a therapist. I’m just a guy that had a gambling problem. So while we’ll discuss a lot of topics and I’ll provide a lot of insight into what’s worked for me, please seek out the help of a professional. Go visit a lawyer, a doctor, or a therapist to help you deal with your gambling problem. The information that we discuss is for informational purposes and should not be taken as professional legal or medical advice, and reliance on the information appearing on this podcast is solely at your own risk.

The music for this podcast is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free and is licensed under the Creative Commons.