Well, 25 years have passed, and in all that time, whether I knew it or not, I was living as an affected other through gambling harm and my husband's mental illness, which brought on his coercive and controlling behaviour.
What is my life like now? It's not perfect. I am and will always be an affected other, but with help from the gambling harm community and teaching myself to look after me a lot more, I feel better and know there is a happy future ahead.
I still miss my family life and having my husband, a partner, as, at times, it can be lonely dealing with everything by myself. Occasionally it is challenging, but you grow, and your resilience grows.
I now have a fantastic job with Gambling Harm UK. It has been such an insightful few years. Sadly, this must change soon, but I've enjoyed every second of being able to give back, bring awareness, and teach others about what I've been through and how it feels to be me. I have hopefully helped both affected others and recovering gamblers to see their lives differently and to have hope for their futures and ultimately know that we can get through this. There is a way out and a light at the end of the tunnel.
My work with Gambling Harm UK has been a key part of my journey to a new future. Over the last year my work has mainly been within schools. A project we have worked very hard on has now brought gambling harm awareness and the potential dangers of gambling to around 8000 young people aged 14 to 24, which is so important to me. One thing I strongly believe in is prevention, which is so much better than a cure. So the more young people we can talk to, the more we can bring awareness to, the better it is.
The white paper “High Stakes” gambling reform for the digital age, was recently issued by the government. It was so anticipated and long waited that, unfortunately, I think for many of us, it was an anti-climax. Still, the gambling harm community must be proud of the work that everybody has done to lobby parliament and government about the people we have lost and the many living with gambling harm today. These people have gone through so much due to gambling harm that although the white paper did not make the changes we wanted, it brought inroads to where we wish to be.
I've always thought we shouldn't rely purely on government and legislation change to make a difference. I think the real change will come from our voices, those with lived experience of what gambling harm means. People will begin to hear what we're saying, understand the real potential impact of this harm and realise that this addiction is a medical disorder which impacts people’s wellbeing both physically and mentally.
Hopefully, this will enable those who can gamble safely within their financial limits to carry on doing so. And for those who are at potential risk of harm to be able to seek help faster than they ever did before and then potentially save themselves, their partners, and their families the upset and the sadness that can come from the gambling harm.
The other work Gambling Harm UK has done, which I was privileged enough to be part of, was taking our Charity's real patient simulated-based medical education programme to Anglia Ruskin University School of Medicine and having a day with year three medical students going on to be GPs. I found this a fantastic and very emotional day. Getting feedback from these 23/24-year-old young people who are already on a long and challenging route towards their goals for their future that our stories were so helpful and would enable them to become better healthcare professionals was so amazing to hear.
They all said they did not know how gambling harm could affect people so badly. So, our work with these students will make such a difference in the future to every person who walks into their GP surgeries and talks about the symptoms that they're having. These future new young GPs will now consider when they meet patients “is gambling harm occurring in their lives?”, and if so, they can get them the help they need and the support they're crying out for so much quicker because the stigma of gambling harm stops people from speaking out all too often.
I am very proud of my new voluntary position with Healthwatch Essex which has resulted out of the work Gambling Harm UK is doing with them. I'm now an ambassador for their mental health and trauma programmes, which means I get to sit in and talk to others like me, with professionals from the NHS, and various people from county councils. We discuss the issues with the support network for people with mental health issues. We talk about trauma and how it affects people in their daily lives, and what support is needed and required for these people. I will attend events this year where we bring everybody together. Again, awareness is brought to the needs of many people in many different situations. So, I'm trying to say that being an affected other doesn't mean your life has to continue to be negative. If you work and try hard enough, you can turn things around and make it positive.
I think that is probably the best thing I've done so far. That's what I've managed to do more than anything in these last 18 months. I felt safe and secure with the people that I've worked with. I've been happy that my children finally have the support and the network they need around them to survive what they have been through, the trauma and the pain they have seen. I am happier that I have learnt to understand myself a bit more. I am kinder to myself now; that is such a significant learning curve I needed to discover.
What must you do now to help yourself as an affected other? It is essential to talk and share your feelings and questions. There are many charities and organisations online that you can get in contact with (see below for details). I found that exercise also helped me. A five-mile walk with my music playlist for company was always so helpful in clearing my mind. I am also an avid swimmer, so 50 lengths a few times a week meant an hour where I couldn't think about anything and enjoyed an empty mind.
Have you thought about Mindfulness? An opportunity to release yourself from daily life. A few moments of inner peace and relaxation, breathing and allowing your stress or anxiety to leave you. It's a technique that's not easy to master but so well worth it when you can catch that five minutes of peace.
Remember, you are so important. As an affected other, I am sure you will have your life consumed with others, their recovery, their worries, and their anxieties. But it would be best if you looked after yourself too. Never undervalue your worth, as you are priceless.
Please find below our link to Life Changing Fund Raising opportunity, I would be very grateful if you would be so kind as to donate anything you can afford to help us to continue our work.
Other support organisations: