On this week two years ago, I sat in my living room having gambled and lost my monthly wage on an online casino within a 45-minute period. The stark reality that I had just relapsed quickly set in. During that 45-minute window, I didn’t acknowledge the consequences of my actions, the urges were too powerful. Those suicidal ideologies I experienced before entering my recovery in 2016 returned. I knew I was in trouble. This hideous disease had a hold of me again.
The morning after I sat in the very same living room and cried uncontrollably whilst the Rugby Union World Cup Final played in the background. Those feelings of guilt and shame around my actions quickly surfaced. I was scared to come clean but I’m grateful I did. Gambling doesn’t just impact me; it also impacts those closest to me.
Two years have passed since that horrific evening, and I have thankfully not been back down that road. Gambling crippled me financially but that doesn’t come close to the pain it causes internally as well as the time it took away from me for many years.
The Paul Merson documentary on ‘Football, Gambling and Me’ hit me quite hard a few weeks ago. It took me back to the days where every daily action was based around gambling.
What it did reinforce though was how fortunate I am to have arrested this addiction. There are and always will be days where I struggle but utilising the tools and support that are widely available means I am less likely to be diverted down that long and miserable path and instead move forward enjoying a more prosperous life.
This week also marks Safer Gambling Week 2021. This week provides us with an opportunity to reflect and ensure standards are high and people are protected from harm. At YGAM, we’ve spent the week delivering more educational workshops than ever before! Through our Safer Gambling Training programme we deliver in partnership with Betknowmore, we train customer-facing staff at gambling operators to raise standards in player protection. Through our portfolio of education programmes for practitioners who have influence over young people, we are helping to ensure our future generations are informed of the risks and the potential impacts of gambling, all the while ensuring they know how and where to get support. Harm can surface in many different ways including financial loss, mental/physical ill health, relationship and family breakdown and the hindering of social or professional development. It is so important that we provide all the evidence available to those who work with young people and empower them to have crucial conversations around this prevalent topic.
I know Safer Gambling is not aimed at me. I’ve experienced the addiction and will never be able to gamble without harm. However, I think it’s important to recognise that this week can be a vehicle to open up the opportunity for reflection, and perhaps some will assess their relationship with gambling. The operators must continue to do more to raise standards and ensure they along with banks, and other institutions who are accountable for safeguarding, are doing what is needed to protect consumers. This week, and all weeks, we should ensure people are informed, protected and that we should recognise collectively where addiction can take us.
I’m grateful that today isn’t going to be dictated by the spin of a wheel, the turning of a card, or the outcome of a horse race. I will never allow this addiction to define me as a person. I will however respect the power it can have over me.
Instead, this week I have combined the unique insight I have through my personal lived experience of gambling harms with the outstanding City & Guilds Assured YGAM resources to train a mix of teachers and youth workers so they are equipped to deliver these sessions directly to young people. As a Wolverhampton Wanderers FC season ticket holder, it was also extremely rewarding to see the club highlight my journey and the work of our charity in their official matchday programme for their Premier League game against Everton on Monday night. To round off my busy week, I appeared live on Sky Sports to speak to presenter John Blance about the important role education has to play in harm prevention. Safer Gambling Week unquestionably provides charities like us with a unique platform to raise awareness and reach an audience of millions.
Today is just another day but I need to take stock of my progress. Going one day without gambling is a miracle for me, even at this stage. With that in mind, I’ll be spending time today with my loved ones knowing that another week has passed on my journey to becoming the person I want to be.