So, a great deal of us have been affected by the Pandemic, but there are others to whom isolation and depression are practically fatal. In more cases than people realize.
It was more than twenty years ago. At the time, I had few friends and even the friends I had I didn’t connect with all that well. One of the things I was trying to do at the time was to live within my means, which was simply a small cheque each month from Canada Pension Plan disability. The most serious problem? Boredom had overtaken me and I found a temporary fix: gambling. This was possibly the worst thing I could ever do in my situation.
There was something so mysterious and glamorous about gambling. I was a huge James Bond fan, and it seemed that even in the books written years before by Ian Fleming, James Bond had uncanny luck with gambling, and knew the games well enough to waltz into any Casino and Waltz out richer than when he came in.
My own gambling wasn’t as dramatic. As a way to balance the budget, the Provincial Government where I live brought in gambling machines called VLTs. On Each of these machines, you could play one of five games, bet as little as a quarter and as much more as you wanted. These machines used scientifically tested prompts to draw people in and keep them feeding dollar coins into them. The level of addiction I experienced, with the flashing lights and bells when you won even the smallest amount of coins, was devastating.
I didn’t spend a lot of money–unless it was one of the rare times when I had a lot of money. I was spending around $10 a day, but when living on disability and not working, $10 was far too much. I have this image in my head from after a loss, I didn’t feel myself valuable enough to sit on a chair, I sat down on the dirty floor near the entrance to my apartment, curled up, wanting to harm myself, wanting my life to end because I had an addiction that had me by the throat and was slowly draining everything out of my life.
Eventually, I would go to bed but when I woke up, there was the old addiction again, and I would do anything–pawn things for 1/10th their value, lie to my parents to get them to lend/give me money. I was at rock bottom. I don’t know why, but it seems that people who already have mental illnesses seem really prone to such emotional/mental based addictions. One day, putting my last money into a machine, I decided when this money was gone I needed to find help. Of course the money went like water through my fingers and I called up Gambler’s Anonymous. I have so much good to say about those meetings, I made some great friends there, and being able to listen to other people’s journey and tell about my own was very helpful. But there was something that I want to mention here that makes it difficult for people with mental illnesses to quit addictions: The people in these meetings can help you quit gambling or drinking or overeating, whatever problem you want to work on in the appropriate 12-step meeting. The problem is, and this isn’t a detraction towards any of these groups–the problem is that when you go to these 12-step meetings, they assure you they can help you modify your behaviour, and that they have a plan for you to rebuild your life, but you have to remember that not all your problems stem from your addiction. Stopping the addiction is great, but you still have to take medications, and you still will have side effects from them. I quit a few things, I quit drinking, smoking, gambling. I went to meetings for each of these, which was amazing, it helps so much to have peer support, but I used a method that I wasn’t taught by any of the 12-step groups, which was fine with them. I have this method I am sure a lot of people have also done and refined more than I have: what I did was I simply stopped allowing myself to even think about these addictions after I stopped them. I first used it at age 17 to quit smoking. What I did was I carefully kept an eye on what I was thinking about, and then if a thought about smoking came up in my head, I would replace the thought with another, non-smoking image that was more powerful. At the time what I did was think about a young woman I really liked, and put a vivid image in my head of her in all her prettiness, and after hours turned to days and days into weeks, I had conquered one of the most insidious addictions. Later in life, another thing I did to deal with my addictions was of course to attend meetings. (I actually taught a class where a guy who had no addiction issues would go to a 12-step meeting just to be able to talk to others in a non-judgemental way–this can be so powerful in healing). The more dedicated people in meetings will often tell you that you need to treat your addictions for the rest of your life, but after a year of intense meeting attendance, I used what I learned to stay quit on my own, and now it has been years since a drink, a bet, or a cigarette. I took a lot of the money I saved and bought myself a reward, a car.
So all that is just one of the roads a person can go down when they are on their own and suffer from addictions. It is good to quit, and it is good to attend meetings, but personally I don’t suggest that once you feel okay with your quitting that you still have to go to three meetings a day–unless you want to. I think that once you are comfortable about quitting, because of the fact that often the stories and the people inside 12-step meetings can be non-productive or negative, I suggest you look into new ways to build a sense of community. I hate to say it but there were a few people I met at these meetings who really took advantage of me, and had little desire to help me, they just wanted to appear to help so they could throw their help in my face when I got sick of their controlling nature. Whew, that was a pretty damning statement. Anyhow, when you have conquered your addictions/habits, I think it is best to look into things like a swimming or diving class, lessons in a sport or in Yoga so you can not only improve your health and how you feel, you can meet others your age to connect with who hopefully don’t carry as much baggage or desire to relapse as people in meetings. It can be hard at first to get yourself known enough in the community to make friends, but it is all based on just treating all others with respect, offering uplifting or encouraging wisdom to new friends and neighbours, volunteering (I volunteer for my community newspaper and love it) and a few others.
Of course, if you find you are experiencing an addiction, the first person you should tell about it before going to meetings trying to heal yourself is your psychiatrist/physician. I know in Alberta, they can connect people with support, counselling, and many other things. I had a doctor who had me go into a stop smoking program and because they offered me two support groups, a psychiatrist who specialized in addictions (they now may be able to get you free nicotine patches as well) and any prescriptions I needed, and I was able to successfully quit. Quitting drinking was a little more difficult, possibly because there is such a lot of societal marketing of alcohol. If needed, I could have gone into a program they would most likely offer anywhere in North America, it is called a dual-diagnosis program for quitting, this means they will take into consideration your mental health diagnosis while helping you quit.
Quitting all these things that we often began doing. because of isolation and boredom, will start to pay off right away. It will positively impact your health, increase your disposable income, and even help your medications to work better for you. And look on the very bright side, if you take the time now to deal with your addictions successfully, when the world starts to wake up post-covid, you will be ready and well-equipped to enjoy the return to freedom.
All the best dear readers!