Gam-Anon - A Tool For Recovery

What is Gam-Anon?  If you've heard of Gamblers Anonymous (GA), you might know that as a 12-step recovery program for people struggling with a gambling addiction.  Well, Gam-Anon is its counterpart for spouses, family, and close friends of compulsive gamblers.  In other words, it's a self-help organization that offers support in dealing with the struggles that inevitably arise from being close to a problem gambler.

The program provides a tremendous amount of written materials (sold for the cost of production), which is said to be written by its members.  In other words, it doesn't provide materials written by professionals, but rather byGam-Anon Logo people who have lived in your shoes and truly understand what you're going through.  That said, as its members come from all walks of life, some of the materials are written by people who work in the professional field.  It's hard to tell, however, as this fact isn't stated on any of the materials, and the reality is that most of the material truly isn't written by professionals.

The spirit of the meetings as well as the literature is quite refreshing, for you do immediately feel that the people in the room, as well as those who have written the material really to "get you."  After months, years, or even decades of living with (or being close to) someone with a gambling addiction problem, you probably feel isolated, scared, fearful of the future, drowning in denial or self-doubt, and generally feeling alone and miserable (and that doesn't even include the financial issues that you're probably dealing with!).  You either haven't told your friends and family about the problem, or you have, and it's clear that they truly don't understand what's going on.  Well, Gam-Anon is a place where you certainly won't feel alone!

Anonymity

The core of the meetings (as with GA) is that what you say in a meetings doesn't leave the room.  Nor are you to speak of the stories you hear to others outside of the room.  It's designed specifically to ensure that anonymity is a sacred principle, allowing you to come to meetings, say whatever is on your mind, and no one will ridicule you, nor repeat what you've said.  In that sense, it really is a safe-haven for people struggling with how to deal with the gambling problem in your life.

What to Expect

  • In your first meeting, you'll be asked to introduce yourself (first name only).  You'll be provided with a free handbook to get you started, and any paid materials you can borrow during the meeting should you not want to, or not be able to afford to buy.  Materials typically range from $2 to $8.
  • The first part of the meeting will be readings from the main Handbook.  The person leading the meeting (members take turns leading the meetings; there's no one specific leader of the group) will ask various people to read different sections of the materials.  Usually it goes around the table from person to person, so you'll know when it's your turn.  People are often so upset and emotional during the first meeting that they are often unable to read; that's ok.  If you don't feel like reading, you can ask to be skipped.
  • After the reading, the meeting is usually turned over for open sharing.  Each person is provided with approximately 3-5 minutes to share (depending on the number of people present).  While sometimes the leader provides a topic to focus discussion, you're welcome to share what's on your mind, things you're struggling with, etc.  For the first meeting (or second meeting if you're not up to sharing for the first meeting), the expectation is that you'll share "your story."  What brought you to the meeting?  When did you learn that your spouse or loved one was a problem gambler?  How has it affected your life?  Etc.  You can share as much or as little as you're comfortable with.
  • At some point during the meeting a basket will be passed around asking for donations.  It's not mandatory, and for your first meetings you're not expected to contribute, but rather, if you have a few dollars, you can use it to buy additional materials.  People typically contribute $1 - $3 per meeting, but, again, it's completely up to you when and what you contribute, and is certainly not mandatory.
  • After open sharing, there's usually some more readings, the Treasurer provides a report of what's remaining in the donations account (which is used to help pay for rent, equipment, etc.), followed by the Serenity Prayer.  It's customary for everyone to stand up and join hands while reciting the prayer.  Don't worry, it's printed on the back of every booklet, so you can simply read along, or choose to be quiet; it's completely up to you.
  • Once a month there's usually a Step Class, which is when rather then going through the normal readings, you'll go through one particular step in detail.  It's often the first meeting of the month, and the Step number usually corresponds with the month you're in (ex. Jan would be Step 1, Feb would be Step 2, and so on).  After all, there are 12 steps.

Meeting Rules

  • As noted above, anonymity is extremely valued.
  • During the meeting, and during sharing in particular, no "cross-talk" is allowed.  Many people are confused by what this really means.  Essentially it means that you're not allowed to ask questions, make jokes, agree with something someone says, or otherwise talk.  In other words, it's really a one-way communication type of atmosphere.  If you want to ask questions or otherwise have a conversation, do so either before or after the meetings.
  • This isn't a rule, but more of a recommendation, which is that it's recommended that you come to at least 6 meetings before determiningwhether or not Gam-Anon is for you.  It really does take a handful of meetings to catch on to what Gam-Anon is all about.

What Gam-Anon is Not

Gam-Anon is a fairly typical 12-step self-help program that doesn't involve professionals.  It doesn't purport to be a replacement for therapy, or other ways to deal with the issue of gambling addiction.  In fact, you'll often find that discussion relating to other forms of therapy that you're doing or contemplating are discouraged.  Gam-Anon tries to avoid controversy by sticking to its own literature and techniques for handing various situations.  Depending on your point of view, this can be considered comforting or disturbing.

In my opinion, Gam-Anon is one piece of the recovery pie, and should not be seen as a full, well-rounded approach to dealing with the gambling problem in your life.  Many people disagree with me on this point, and I only encourage you to keep an open mind as you explore what recovery approach(es) are best for you and your personal situation.  You'll know what feels right; trust your instincts.

Next Steps

  • Find a Gam-Anon Meeting and really commit yourself to going so you can form your own opinion as to its value for you.  Many people have said that it has saved their life.

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