Cuan Mhuire – Beginnings
My First experiences of Cuan Mhuire Treatment Centre
As I approached the entrance of Cuan Mhuire, Athy at 3.45pm on Friday 22nd July 2011 I wondered to myself how I got to this point in my life. I was about to enter a treatment centre for addiction for the next 12 weeks. I had been here once before but just to visit a friend who is a recovering alcoholic and who had completed the programme last December. Even though I had chatted to him briefly I had no idea what was ahead of me or how the programme would help me. I didn’t know what to expect or what would be expected of me.
As we drove up to the side entrance I thought of the carnage I have caused with my gambling. I have done things that I would never have done in my wildest dreams to fuel my addiction. I have lied to family and friends for years to hide my illness. I had become insidious in every aspect of my life. For me my addiction and my gambling became more important than anything else in my life, more important than eating, sleeping, my health, my marriage even the birth of my daughter. It dominated my day from the moment i got up to the time i eventually got asleep at night. I could not think straight but i managed to carry my secret with me for years without anyone knowing. I had put myself through weeks, months and years of extreme stress, worry and anxiety and now my family and friends were experiencing the same feelings and fears that have haunted me and that will probably continue to haunt me for years to come.
I felt at this point that I had lost everything including countless money and my job. I have lost the trust of loved ones but mainly i felt that i had lost my sanity and my mind. My head was like a roulette wheel spinning spinning spinning but never coming to a stop.
I arrived at the side entrance where the admissions are taken in. There are men in pyjamas waiting to get through a locked door…… Why didn’t I stop when I was ahead?….. My father is with me putting up a brave face reassuring me that everything is going to be ok….. Why didn’t that team just hold to that one goal lead for five minutes more and give me the big win that I craved and needed to get me back to the point where I got the buzz from gambling….. The door is opened and I am greeted by the nurse….. How is my wife going to manage for 3 months without me?….. In fact how are we going to manage with all the crippling debts?….. What are people saying about me behind my back?
My head is like the spin drier now spinning faster- faster -faster.
How do I stop the madness in my head? How do I stop the headaches? How do I slow everything down? How do I beat this? How do I get better? Why are people in Pyjamas? Surely I won’t be asked to do the same! How do I get out of here? How can I turn back the clock?
There must be an easier way.
I am now standing beside a plague on the wall that reads:
“Cuan Mhuire a place where I change myself and nobody else.”
I want to change everything, I want answers, I want to be better, I want to be finished the programme, I want the quick fix like all gamblers do I want it now.
My mind is still racing as thoughts of bets, scenarios; fears, shame, guilt and worry come flooding into my head. The gambler juggles dozens of thoughts in his/her mind at any one time.
Bang-Click the door is closed and locked behind me it’s now flight or fight time. For a moment my head stops spinning I focus myself my thoughts take a deep breath decide to Let go and let God and accept that I have this problem, this illness, this gambling addiction……. I decide to Fight
Fight my addiction and all the negative thoughts. With that my journey starts on my road to recovery. I walk towards the nurses’ station and my head is again full of a dozen thoughts the main ones being how did it come to this……. I am so sorry….. I am so sorry…
The nurse meets me in the men’s sitting room in the Detox area and checks me in. She tries and succeeds to make me feel at ease, I must look horrified and nervous. I haven’t shaven for weeks and have been wearing a baseball hat anytime that I have ventured out of the safe haven that is my house. The embarrassment and guilt that I feel is almost unbearable and such is the enormity of the lengths that I went to in order to obtain money for gambling that I feel I can never face anyone that i know ever again. I can barely look at myself in the mirror.
The Unit man then shows me to my bed which is one of twelve beds in a separate room that resembles a hospital ward. He then checks my bags for any electrical equipment, papers etc which are not allowed in the house. I am then asked to change into a pyjamas which is provided (A lovely paisley one).
I look around and see men that are underweight, weak and visibly sick. There are a few just lying in bed sleeping or reading, the rest are out smoking or comparing drinking stories in the sitting room. I think to myself I am not like any of these people I am here for gambling. I am not sick; I just need time to sort out my head.
But the harsh reality hit me, I was sick, I probably looked a lot worse that a lot of the people there without realising it. I was bloated with stress and had put on a lot of weight from eating badly. I had black rings and bags under my eyes from lack of sleep and I felt exhausted and probably looked worse than I felt. I had been physically sick from anxiety attacks brought on from losing bets and from the bad situations I constantly found myself in. This was all due to my out of control gambling. Occasionally I experienced severe weight loss from a lack of eating and I had broken out in rashes numerous times. I had constant headaches and experienced constant pressure in my head, a pressure that I can best describe as how it would feel if someone placed their hands on the top of your head and squeezed, sometimes hard and sometimes not so hard but always squeezing.
But worse than all the physical symptoms of my disease is how my head was. To this day I believe that in the latter stages of my gambling addiction I lost control of my mind and my ability to rationalise and think straight.
I was living in a parallel world to the real nightmare I was living. In this world I could justify what I was doing and I felt that I would always get that big win that would get me back to the time when I was ahead, back to the initial buzz. In this world everything was ok, I felt safe and could gamble freely without fear of the consequences that I would inevitably and eventually have to face. I could block out all the bad and cocoon myself away from all my problems both financial and personal.
When I talk to family and friends they ask me how I didn’t crack and slide over the edge. To this day I really don’t know but I do feel that the times when I was at the bottom of the hole I had dug for myself, I felt suffocated, isolated and could see no way out, no glimmer of light above. The harder I tried to dig myself out and get back money to the people and places from whom and where I had borrowed or stole from to fuel my addiction and my nightmare, the deeper I got into everything and the further I found myself from salvation.
My first few days in Cuan Mhuire were mainly spent in bed either sleeping or reading. I suffered with constant pounding headaches and my mind was racing full of fear, worry and anxiety. I started reading “The Gambler” a book written by Oisin McConville. I had rushed around for days trying to buy in shops and on line thinking that it would have all the answers (A typical trait of a gambler wanting all the answers wanting them now wanting the easy way.) I finally got it and when I started reading it I realised that it was mainly about his football career and only had a small bit in it about gambling. I would have to do it all myself, the hard way, the proper way. I realised that I would have to slow everything down be patient and work through everything myself.
I spent a lot of time reflecting on the last number of years. I thought about the bets I had placed, the money I had won and subsequently lost. I tried in vain to count up the vast amounts of money I had squandered on gambling. I thought a lot about the losing bets, the last minute goals and the horses falling at the last. I remember waiting on bets where the long odds on shots would somehow inconceivably lose and cost me the big accumulator that would have “got me back”. Even if this had happened I would have started the whole crazy cycle all over again. Looking back now, I can see the madness of the whole thing, but while in the grips of my addiction I was blinded to everything else other than gambling.
Nothing else mattered, I fretted to get that first bet on in the morning, every morning. I can relate to how a drug addict or alcoholic must feel when they wake and instantly want their fix just to function, just to feel right. I just needed to place a bet it didn’t matter if It won or lost I just needed to place it. I used to stay up into the early hours most nights gambling on line and sometimes I wouldn’t sleep for days. I would have blackouts and wake in the middle of the night in a pool of sweat with thoughts of nothing else other than gambling. I would set my alarm to get up during the night to check results and ongoing bets. I eventually started staying in the spare room so my wife wouldn’t notice my erratic behaviour using our new born baby as an excuse. I would use any excuse so I could gamble when and where I wanted without question or interruption.