Gambling addiction is rife and growing. If you want to lose money you can do so twenty four hours a day from the comfort of your own home in all manner of ways. The promise of glory coupled with an all but certain guarantee of financial ruin, emotional destruction, bitter disappointment and self loathing.
When gold was found in the Californian mountains back in 1884 it changed the face of American history forever, and what sprang up was a whole new economy borne from the desperation, expectation and speculation of the thousands who traded everything they had for the chance to “win big” from prospecting. It cost many families their savings and their lives.
Some people make a living as professional gamblers, and some made fortunes beyond their wildest dreams by heading for the hills and digging for gold. Many more did not.
There is a distinction to be made between recreation and abdication. A few quid you can afford on the horses or the football, or a bit of metal detecting on the beach are activities that might fit into your life safely and comfortably, but when speculation is a replacement for the control you have over your own happiness you’re in trouble.
As with all addiction at the root is an emotional hole. What the addiction does is to obscure the pain which the hole creates, and rather than finding ways to fill the space constructively the damaging addiction serves only to increase feelings of worthlessness and desperation.
Whenever I have struggled with something emotionally I have not been able to guarantee that I will deal with it constructively. Instead of confronting and acknowledging painful or uncomfortable feelings I might, instead, have repressed how I felt, pushed them away and tried to ignore them. I have, at times, become angry and frustrated, tried to put my own discomfort on someone else. As a child I might have eaten to comfort myself, or bought myself something that I couldn’t afford.
There have also been times when I have failed to realise that what I was experiencing came from the inside and believed that if I changed enough outside of me life would be better. These are the feelings that lead us to move house or move jobs. It is this emotional space which might cause me to go on a trip to “find myself”. I once did this, taking myself down to the sea for a week. I spent each day looking out at the horizon and wondering what I was trying to achieve. I didn’t realise that it didn’t matter where I went as long as I resisted feeling what I needed to feel.
These too are addictions. They are patterns of behaviour that distract from the work we really need to do. They are ways of blocking the emotional hole instead of experiencing it until we are able to fill it constructively.
What is addiction anyway if not the constant repetition of behaviour which has negative consequence?
When we step outside of ourselves to find a way to fill an emotional hole it is never us that benefits. The dealers benefit from our drug addiction, the alcohol and retail industry benefit from our alcoholism and the gaming companies from our gambling. If only we would accept discomfort and find a more positive way of working through it we could all let go of our own particular form of addiction.
In the Californian Gold Rush prospectors were addicted to the idea of making themselves a better life intoxicated by the fragile certainty that finding gold would bring everything their hearts desired. But do you know who made the most money from the years of prospecting? It was the men who made the shovels.