Working on my Step Four inventory revealed a lot.  Many hidden memories from my earliest to most recent years were brought back into focus. Explored through a lens of recovery, I’ve come to realise so much about why I was the way I was, and how I could do the things I did.

I don’t have the space here to go into detail about specifics, but I’ll try to give an honest account of my behaviours and motivations, and how recovery has truly shone a healing light on my darkness.

I was a compulsive liar aged five, a thief by the time I was seven, and a problem gambler from the age of eight.

I was an imaginative classroom clown who befriended everyone but never really had any interest in friendship.  I was a sociable loner.  From my earliest days I wore a changeable mask that presented a ‘me’ that I wanted ‘them’ to see.  Friends, family, acquaintances; nobody ever got to know me to any depth.  This was to continue for decades, and somewhere along the way, those masks had been worn for so long that even I lost sight of who I was.

There were two constants.  First, even when surrounded by people who were trying to engage with me, and even love me, I preferred to live in aloneness.  Aloneness is very different from loneliness; I was never lonely in my dream world. My imagination could always invent a different lie to tell myself, and plenty of lies to tell others.  I was the scriptwriter, director and producer of my own continuous movie.  I wrote all the characters and acted all the parts.

The second constant was that I was always ‘missing in action’.  I didn’t ever live in the ‘here and now’.  If I was physically at home, I was somewhere else in my head.  If I was at school or work, my head wasn’t paying much attention to the task at hand.  My dreamworld was ever present, and I was forever absent. And whenever there was an opportunity to be physically elsewhere, I chose that.  I was always finding places to run away and hide, and as often as possible, I did exactly that; alone in my hidden world pursuing secret pursuits.

Over the years those secret pursuits have included many crimes, only a few of which resulted in my being caught, and none which led to prosecution.  There have been many acts of disloyalty and many occasions where my ‘adult married father self’ behaved in a ‘single irresponsible lad’ manner.  There has been drinking, partying and self-indulgence, and there has been gambling.  Lots of gambling in almost all of its forms.

In 1990, at the age of twenty-one I attended my first meeting of Gamblers Anonymous.  By this point I was penniless, jobless, with no prospects and in a lot of debt.  My gambling got me kicked out of university, ended all my intervening jobs early, made me rack up debts with people no-one wants to owe money to, and sent me off running around the UK, constantly looking over my shoulder and dreaming up fresh lies to tell to an ever-decreasing audience who’d believe them.

I hadn’t had a girlfriend since school, and I had no friends.  I was living back with my parents who’d bailed me out, and who were giving me food, a roof, pocket money and a second chance.

I took to G.A. straight away because from that very first meeting I found answers and revelations.  I learned that I was ill, not stupid nor inherently bad.  I was ill.  I needed to know that.  I had an illness that could be treated and there were many people, just like me, who were in recovery and were leading ‘normal’ lives.  There was hope.

I came every week, and I didn’t gamble. I came every week for over nine years, almost the whole of the 1990s, and I didn’t gamble in all that time. During that period, I went back to university and successfully graduated. I started a career in a management position.  I met Michelle and after a while we got engaged, married, and we bought a house.  I got a better job and then started my own company.  We had our first child Ian in 1998 and then bought a bigger house.

By the time I drifted away from G.A. in 1999 I’d started what was to become a very successful company indeed.  Life was just so busy and, I told myself, too busy to find time for GA.

In all those years, despite coming to meetings every week, holding positions in the group, and receiving a pin year after year, all I’d done was abstain.  I’d paid scant regard to the Steps, had never fully grasped the idea of a personality change from within, and I drifted away with a fully inflated ego proud of all MY achievements and all that I had accomplished.

Life continued to be busy, and it was to be some years yet before I eventually gambled again, but already my insidious illness was drawing me back into that secret world of aloneness and deceit.

I was living a life of material success ‘on steroids’.  My businesses made good profits, Ian was at private school, I was driving a new flash car, and our bulging bank accounts meant that we could liberally spend on our growing number of plastic cards.  By the time our daughter Amy came along, Michelle was settling into the role of stay-at-home mother, and I was increasingly becoming the never at home dad.  I was often ‘away on business’, and more increasingly away in my dreamworld lad head.

In 2006, on a spring evening in Glasgow, it took me all of twenty minutes to go from uninvited thought to actual gambling.  Telling myself I was bored and needed a thrill, I made a snap decision to cross the street, walk into a casino, and arrogantly throw some cash on the blackjack table.  I felt invincible and didn’t care whether I won or lost.

With that first bet I instantly handled all control to my illness.  What I expected to be a few hours of nostalgic self-indulgence was to become a seven year rollercoaster of chaos.  My relapse was to take away all our material possessions, my career and businesses, almost destroy our marriage, and eventually take away our home, leaving us all homeless.

I’ve been back in G.A. since 2013 and thankfully in that time I’ve learned the difference between abstinence and recovery.  I think recovery started when I eventually realised that I had to reach out, that there was no other choice than to lose all the masks.  When I reached out, good hearts came running to support me.  People were giving to me in emotional, spiritual and practical ways without any expectation of return.  Their humility was my first signpost towards the kind of person I hope to become.  I started to work the Steps.  I started to change from within.  I now try to live the Steps in my daily life, and they’ve been essential in being able to handle life on life’s terms, those terms having changed in the recent past.

Life now is a very different one from those days of arrogant excess.  We live in a council flat with very few possessions.  Most of the flat hasn’t even been decorated but I am happier here than in any previous home.  Michelle’s health has been in decline for a few years now, and I’ve become her full-time carer.  At nights I carve out a little income from working on websites for a small number of clients.  We get by without having much but we have all that we need. People might think us poor, but we are rich in love and understanding for one another.  And most of all I’m now here, not elsewhere.  I’m living in today, not in a fake dreamworld of lies, and for that I am truly grateful.