My Gam-Anon Experience
My Gam-Anon story may not be the typical story that you'll hear. First, let me start by saying that I have gone to a ton of meetings, and I have heard countless wonderful stories about people who say that Gam-Anon saved their lives. I truly am thrilled for people who find comfort, peace, and solutions in meetings, and only wish them all of the best.
My experience, however, is different. I do have to say that I do find the people at the meetings to be warm, accepting, and tremendously friendly. I also do feel somewhat at peace and relaxed after meetings. However, when I really dig deeply into the problems my husband and I have, I can honestly admit that Gam-Anon isn't helping me.
Yes, the meetings talk about working on ourselves, and focusing on our own flaws (of which there are many!), however, it also essentially evangelizes the concept of detachment. Meaning that we're supposed to let our gambler live their life and deal with their gambling issues, while we focus on ourselves and not get involved in the madness of gambling.
The problem with this approach is that it doesn't foster anything that I expect a marriage to be. We're supposed to be intimately involved in one another's lives, love and support one another, and be able to count and depend on one another in times of need.
No, we're not supposed to enable our gambler, or cover for them, but not confronting them, and leaving them to their own affairs just doesn't help. I've met with various individual therapists who also agree (and really have taught me), that while co-dependence is not healthy, detachment can be just as unhealthy for a marriage.
Sure, if you want to find a way to live with an active gambling while maintaining your sanity (and finances), there's a lot to learn about dealing an coping with various situations and fire drills in Gam-Anon meetings. However, if you want to build/re-build a strong, healthy, and supportive marriage where trust and communication are at the core of the relationship, I personally don't feel that Gam-Anon provides the tools to help.
I do completely agree that both the gambler and spouse need to make changes within ourselves, but there are also steps that a gambler must take to help actively rebuild trust
in the relationship. In this vein, I wholeheartedly believe that individual and couples therapy are far more effective tools. In fact, Gam-Anon poo poos any talk about therapy or other treatments.
Experts say that it's like having an affair with gambling. If your husband cheated on you with another woman, would you commit to working on yourself, your own flaws, and leave them to work on themselves and think that you're somehow going to rebuild your marriage by doing that? It just doesn't make any sense, at least not to me.
Sometimes I find it almost bewildering how sharing our stories can provide so much comfort, even though we're not allowed to have an exchange of ideas or feedback while sharing. That somehow talking out loud to a group of people is somehow therapeutic, while talking to ourselves at home is not. That really is odd, but somehow holds true.
But complaining about our issues, and telling our stories, or focusing on being better people will not result in a solid marriage. At least that's what I believe. There has to be some kind of balance between working with our spouse to improve the relationship, while also working on ourselves.
I don't know if I'll continue going to meetings or not. A therapist once told me that there's no empirical evidence that Gam-Anon meetings help people in their relationship or making wise life decisions about how to work better with our spouses, or be better people. Maybe it's like taking Advil for pain; it works to relieve the pain for a few hours, or maybe even a day, but that underlying wound is still there, and will never go away. I can keep taking pain killers every day, but that will never truly address my problem. I can also complain to others about my pain and feel good when I hear their sympathetic thoughts, but again, that pain will not magically disappear.
I think that websites like this that allow a truly open forum for sharing our thoughts and feelings without the rules of Gam-Anon meetings getting in the way, which require us to sensor what we say for fear of breaking a rule, are amazing.
Hopefully my husband and I will be able to build a worthwhile marriage some day in the not too distant future. Wish me luck!