Is it really so hard to understand gambling addiction in women? Maybe sometimes we try so hard to really rationalise it, through scientific scrutiny, getting so caught up in stats, facts and figures that we can miss the obvious Science, however valuable, gives a correlation, but not always a cause. When we are looking for the cause of gambling addiction in women it often lies in our most human experiences.
I have been reading the acclaimed book ‘H is for Hawk’ by Helen Macdonald. In itself it is an excellent and beautifully written book, but also a book written by someone who really does understand addiction. Macdonald writes her real life experience of training a Goshawk in the months following the death of her father. Crippled by grief, confused, out of control of her once ordered life, thoughts and emotions she seeks solace via immersion in her relationship with the hawk, to the exclusion of the world, work and relationships and so begins growing a pile of unpaid bills. Remind anyone of gambling addiction so far? She writes, “that is the lure: that is why we lose ourselves, when powerless from hurt and grief, in drugs or gambling or drinking addictions…I had taken flight to a place from which I didn’t want to ever return” (Macdonald, p177)
This week in my practice I have been told stories by women of loss of a child, and abandonment and bereavement. Gambling has been a way for the women to lose themselves, of going to a place from which they did not want to ever return. And, which then, as the debt, secrecy and depression spiraled, became a trap from which they could not come back. As essential as strategies to stop gambling have been, what has made the most difference is easing the pain they were taking flight from.
Flying her hawk, Helen Macdonald describes as “…you cannot control the outcome….You feel safe because you are entirely at the world’s mercy. It is a rush. You lose yourself in it.”
This week also, I have worked with women who relentlessly strive to control the outcome of overwhelming lives. Desperately protecting her children from the realities of an abusive, alcoholic father, or holding down a demanding job, whilst holding up a mentally ill mother, or feeling she has no choice but to be ‘perfect’, if she wants to be loved, to be all things to all people at work and at home. Can you imagine, if you were any one of these women, how very tempting it might feel to lose yourself for a time in gambling online? To feel safe, because for that time you do not have to control anything and escape into gambling controls for a time your depression, stress and anxiety. Until of course, you lose all control of your rational thinking, your money and your time.
Those responsible for working out who are the groups vulnerable to gambling vitally need to understand that at times we are all vulnerable. If we are miserable and hurting we reach out to the things that make us feel better. For Helen, it was her hawk, but sadly for so many now it is their tablet, their smartphone and taking flight into gambling. Those responsible for educating young people about the risks of gambling need to teach them that the real risks lie in gambling not for fun, but when we are hurting and unhappy and when what we really need to do is to reach out for help to heal. But to educate we first need to understand.