Posted by: breathliftlive | 18/01/2011

When they relapse…. and they will

Relapse was (is?) a word I cringed at and hoped I wouldn’t hear. Every day I would hold my breath and hope that I wouldn’t need to hear that word. I would literally walk around on eggshells every day hoping against hope that Tim wouldn’t come and home and tell me he’d gambled again (or that he did gamble but lied to cover it up). It became a bit of a pattern with us. Things would go great for a little while… no gambling. Then all of sudden, just when I’d start to get a little more comfortable he’d come home with that look on his face and I’d have to hear that word again…. relapse.

As much as I desperately did not want to hear that word, I was going to hear it. They do relapse and whether it’s once, twice or 25 times you need to be prepared that it will happen. Call it hope or call it me being naive, I used to think that once he stopped for a while, that was it. WRONG! They warned us about relapse at rehab, in his GA meetings, in our counselling, in books, in DVD…. everywhere…. and still, I was always shocked and disappointed.

I will be the first to admit that I probably never handled the situation very well, at all. I would either say nothing and storm off only to come out later all fired up or I would just let fly then and there with the “how could you” and the “what’s wrong with you”. What would infuriate me even more would be when my questions were always answered with “I don’t know’. Three simple words would drive me absolutely crazy. How do you not know? How???

One of the sayings that keeps popping up for me is “if I knew then what I know now”. What I should have done is sit down with Tim and talked. Why did he go? What made him want to go? Did something happen to trigger a need to go? It is easier said than done, I know. Especially when you’re angry and hurt, the last thing I felt like doing was trying to have a calm and rational conversation about what he had done.

As I’ve said before, try and get into counselling together. We would see the counsellor and discuss the relapse with them. It was a calmer environment and meant the arguments that would normally have taken place at home if we discussed it alone, didn’t really happen (not as badly anyway!).

It was difficult for me to fully understand Tim’s reasons for the relapse. Put simply, he would get himself into a high risk situation where he would be near a gambling venue or he would just have money in his pocket. He hadn’t yet developed the coping mechanisms to be able to deal with that situation, to say ‘no, I won’t go today’. He said he had thought of the some of the following things:

– I’ll just test myself. I’ll just put in $20 and then leave
– I really need the cash to buy <whatever> so I’ll see if I can win it
– I owe <someone> money, I’ll win it back
– I have money in my pocket, nobody will know

Ways we learnt to deal with the relapse may sound simple but sometimes they actually do work. They include:

  • Call someone, anyone, just to chat. You don’t even need to chat about the gambling, just talk to someone on the phone until the urge to gamble has subsided
  • Avoid venues or places where gambling is occurring like pubs, clubs, RSL’s etc. If your friends want to go for a meal you need to explain to them that you don’t eat at those places and suggest a restaurant or cafe that doesn’t have any access to gambling. If they don’t like it, then you don’t go. This is more important than keeping your friends happy.
  • Partners/family members – Take control of the finances. We closed Tim’s bank account, had his wages paid into my account (which is solely in my name) and if you have to, hide your credit/debit cards and even your whole purse/wallet.
  • Tell friends/family that they are not, under any circumstances and despite whatever excuse they are given, to give or lend money to your partner/family member as they have a problem that you’re both trying to get help for.
  • Self exclusion from gambling venues – good idea in theory but difficult depending on where you live. We live on the Gold Coast, QLD where there seems to be a gambling venue on every second street.
  • Take up a new hobby to keep your mind active on something positive. Take a class in something, start running, get a dog, learn to cook, read a book, whatever it takes to keep your mind away from the gambling
  • Surround yourself with positive people, those that genuinely want you to get better and on the right track. By only surrounding yourself with positive people instead of those not really interested in your well being you lessen the risk of wanting to gamble.

I could go on for days on this. The most important point I want to make is you need to accept the fact the relapses do and will happen. Prepare yourself and watch how you deal with it. If they come to you and tell you they have relapsed and you’re instantly angry, let them know you just need some space to process this and you will discuss it when you’re calmer. They need to respect your feelings too. Suggest to them that they go to a meeting, talk to a sponsor or go together to the counsellor. Remember, it’s a good thing that they have actually told you they gambled, instead of hiding it and lying about it…. this is a good step.

Dealing with this problem is a big game of one step forward, two steps back. It’s important that your feelings are heard and acknowledged but it’s also important that you work together on the how’s and why’s and put measures into place to deal with the relapse and to try and prevent another one.

If you have something you’d like to share add your comment below, or alternatively, email me your comment or story to and I’ll post it for you (and yes, it can be anonymous if you prefer).

Kate x


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