Gambling is reaching epidemic proportions in Australia. There are pokey machines (slot machines) everywhere. It is becoming a major social problem. There is a constant need for ending compulsive gambling.
I saw a client today who feels that her gambling is out of control. Even on the way to my office she passed the local pub and thought to herself "I wonder if it's open", so that she could go in and play the pokey machine. Last week she put the entire household shopping budget, over $400, into a pokey machine.
When we started talking about it, she told me that the noise, the lights, the high she gets just puts her into a zone. As long as she has money, she just keeps putting it in to stay in the zone. She said that she feels she is spiralling out of control.
Source of the compulsive gambling
In my experience gambling is always an aspect of anxiety.
I started asking her what it was that she was trying to avoid by gambling, and she told me that she was having troubles with her job, her marriage, and felt that she was failing her daughter. I asked her if she had always been anxious. She told me that since she was 11 she has been pulling her eyelashes, and goes through periods of trichotillomania. And to my surprise, took off her hat, to show that she was near bald.
She was clearly unhappy. So I asked her about her childhood. She told me that she grew up on a farm. She said that she had a very happy childhood. When someone tells me that a happy childhood, my heart fails, because usually they are deluding themselves. They would not be sitting in my chair if they had had a happy childhood.
I started asking about growing up, and it turned out that for her mother she was never good enough. Her mother was a perfectionist, her father was always working. Her sister was always academically bright. So she never felt good enough.
When she was 15 years old her father lost his job, and that was when the anxiety started.
To me the suggested that her mother had anxiety, and her father had some sort of need to be always busy. I asked her she had ever been diagnosed with depression and she said she'd been on pills for 20 years.
Digging deeper revealed a history of failed relationships, single mom, unsuitable relationships with married men. All of these suggested to me that her basic problem was insecurity.
I think that her gambling puts her into the zone where she can forget all her worries. Her unconscious mind is driving her to do that because it doesn't have any other way of dealing with her overwhelming feeling of not being good enough.
Her gambling binge had only been going on for six months.
Six months ago, she and her husband went to a bar, for no particular reason put some money into a pokey machine, and won $900. This was a godsend and got them out of a financial problem. In her unconscious mind, she associated ending her problems with winning on the pokies. She started using them occasionally, and then continuously.
The solution to compulsive gambling
The solution was to deal with the anxiety. I asked her to relax, and breathe deeply. Then I got her to focus on her own feelings of insecurity, anxiety, and inadequacy. It was immediately obvious that she had found the feeling so I began to develop it as a metaphor. I helped her to develop it into an object. It was a grey object like a brain. I encouraged her to think about how it might change, and gave her suggestions as to how to do that.
She transformed into a very small green thing that she felt good about. I got her to take that somewhere outside where it could grow and flourish. Then I got her to fill the space where the brain thing had been with something nice. She chose her daughters smile to fill it with.
I use that feeling to fill the whole of her mind with a feeling of contentment. Then I use that new feeling to go fishing for the anxiety deep inside. I suggested that her mind had found the source of the anxiety, lifted it out of where it had been hiding, and destroyed it.
I then brought her back to the present.
She said to me that she felt as though she had been asleep for hours. She said she felt such a relief. And she was now ready to go back and get her life back on track.