Holiday Survival for Those in Recovery

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

For the past few weeks this holiday classic has been playing in my head. It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year  Perhaps this was triggered by a client’s recent comments  lamenting the start of the holiday season.

“I hate this time of year,” she said, “Absolutely hate it! There’s no joy in it for me.”

She went on to describe past losses, a history of family discord, and “burned bridges.” To make matters worse, the winter holidays were to be a series of firsts for her—first Thanksgiving, first Christmas, first New Year’s—without gambling or participating in an act of addiction and she didn’t know “how to do sober.”

This certainly didn’t sound like the most wonderful time of year for her, I observed.

The “Perfect” Holiday

Without a doubt, this time of year puts undue stress on us all. In recent years all of us have been subjected to increased media hype, often starting as early as September. We succumb to the lure of advertising, resulting in unreasonable expectations for ourselves and for others.

The media floods us with images of glamour and perfection. The gifts are elegantly wrapped. The table is impeccably set, and the turkey’s cooked perfectly. The scene is complete with smiling faces projecting contentment and happiness.

Sometimes, consciously and most certainly unconsciously, we compare our lives and our situations with these ideal images of the holiday. No wonder we come up lacking! Who can compete with staged sets, enhanced food photography techniques, and airbrushed models paid to look happy and festive?

Perfect Holiday Food

Enhanced food photography makes life look perfect. But real life doesn’t always look this way.

All year long we’ve been chasing our tails. Add in the pace of the winter holidays, and we go into overdrive to keep up with the demands on our time. For those who aren’t dealing with addiction, there’s intense pressure during the “most wonderful time of the year.” And for those who are fighting an addiction, the pressure is even worse if they are not prepared or aware of the pitfalls of the holidays.

Is there anything you can do to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative influences of the holidays? Absolutely! I like to call them “The Three G’s”: Give of Yourself, Give to Yourself, and Guilt-free Gift Giving.

Holiday Survival Tips for Those in Recovery

Give of Yourself
The most important thing to remember is not to isolate, which actually makes the problem worse. The best way to get outside of yourself is to think about and do for others.

Within the recovery community itself, you can always help with setting up or cleaning up after meetings, talking to the newcomer, and sharing your strength and hope. Volunteer for tasks through Intergroup.

In the community, there’s an abundance of volunteer opportunities. Food banks and food kitchens are always in need of extra hands. Organizations such as the Humane Society and animal shelters welcome volunteer help throughout the year. You could volunteer to work with seniors or youth or any charitable organization that interests you.

However, if you decide that you really want to have your own pity party, set a timer for 15 minutes and indulge yourself. But when the timer goes off, get up and move on with life by thinking about someone else besides you.

Give to Yourself
▪   Try diversion/distraction techniques such as watching movies or reading a fast-paced non-work-related book. Laughter is the best medicine any time of year, so watching comedies is not only a great diversion but it will get you laughing.  Visit your public library. The price is right to check out selections from their huge selection of books, DVDs, and music.

▪  There are some other things you can do that are inexpensive or free. Go for a walk or hike. Ride a bicycle. Grab your camera and see the world in a new way even if it’s only in your neighborhood. Check the newspaper entertainment magazines for free or low cost concerts, exhibits, and other activities in the community.

▪   Get out and socialize. Take a risk and ask someone out for coffee.  If talking is difficult for you, start by genuinely listening to others. If you have not been particularly social due to the impact of your addiction and you are afraid to take a risk, remember that others may be equally nervous about connecting as well. Ironically I find that gamblers are risk-avoidant when it comes to trying new activities and connecting with others. But when actively gambling, gamblers are incredible risk takers.

Guilt-Free Gift Giving
About those gifts. There’s a tendency for all of us to overspend at Christmas time, and all spending rules fly out the window. Even those who have a solid spending plan in place may make small compromises here and there.Remorse is at an all-time high in January when the bills come due.

A gambler may engage in overspending as a way to soothe those pangs of guilt about past spending to fund the gambling. Those in early recovery are particularly vulnerable as gift giving may be viewed by the gambler as an opportunity to make amends to significant others.

Guilt-free or Guilty Giving?

Spending is at an all-time high during the holidays. But gift giving is not a way to make amends for those in recovery.

▪   Set a realistic budget and stick to it. You may need help from a sponsor or a therapist to help you evaluate if you’re staying within your means. The slogan “Keep It Simple” means just that. Gifts most remembered are those from the heart.  And your new way of life is the best gift of all.

Maybe you’re like my client and doubting that it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The goal is to create wonderful moments for oneself—not an entire holiday season, not a picture-perfect family scene, not a dinner table laden with the finest. But wonderful moments.

Be like a child stringing pieces of popcorn to decorate the Christmas tree: string those moments together and you will have one day at a time.  And that will definitely be wonderful!

Recovery is a Gift

Your new way of life is the best gift of all.




Blossoming into Gratitude

Blossoming into Gratitude

During this season we hear the word “gratitude” more than any other time of year. During this holiday season, gratitude is not just for those in recovery. People in general focus on giving thanks for what has been gained during the past 12 months.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ~Melody Beattie~

For those in recovery, however, gratitude is part of the 24-hour daily cycle of life. Giving thanks in the morning for a day free of compulsive gambling and for the courage to face life on life’s terms is the gambler’s fervent prayer. Likewise at night, the day ends with gratitude for a gambling-free day and appreciation for even the smallest gifts, especially for the gift of one more day of recovery.

“Gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer~

During the day, there are opportunities to reflect on lessons to be learned. As the saying goes “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~Melody Beattie~

Being grateful for even the smallest, most ordinary moments is a way to stay with the day and opens the door to a sense of serenity and inner peace.

Any day that you practice gratitude will be a good day! And today would be a very good day to take five minutes to enjoy this beautiful video on the power of gratitude.


Gambling and Its Effects

Do you automatically think of gambling and its bad effects?

When you think of this word, what comes to mind?

Maybe the entertainment and glitter of the Las Vegas strip?

Images from gamblers in the movies?

It’s likely that you picture one of the many casinos that have popped up all over America.

Today in America, gambling is common place. Gambling isn’t always associated with bad effects, and the faces of gamblers are not who or what you might think. Do you recognize any of these faces?

  •  A young women plays poker online once a week.
  • High school students play “Texas hold-em” on the weekends.
  • A college student regularly places bets on football games with a bookie.
  • Members of an exterminating company participate in a weekend football pool that costs $10 per person.
  • A man buys a few lottery tickets when purchasing gas at a local convenience store.
  • A woman enjoys buying scratchers at the supermarket when she checks out.
  • A group of senior citizens living at a retirement community take a bus to one of the local casinos.
  • Parents plan a “casino night ” as the post-graduation party.
  • A retired person places bets at the dog track.
  • A mother and her adult daughters play bingo at a county fair.
  • A charity raffles off an all expenses paid vacation in Maui.
  • A woman plays video games at a casino.
  • A couple saves money during the year in order to take an annual trip to a casino and gamble $1,000 each.

As you can see, gambling is all around us. It has become a part of our daily lives.

With the explosion of Native American casinos in the late 1980s, gambling has now become a fixture in Middle Class America.

Gambling and its effects can be missed

Can you tell which ones are suffering from gambling and its effects?

The growth in casinos has been accompanied by an increase in problem gambling. But because gambling has become such a normal thing to do, it’s easy to miss the signs of problem gambling. And the faces of those with gambling problems are not who you might think.

Less than one generation ago, gambling was still looked upon as an activity for the very rich or the very poor. And at one time, there was opposition from church and the clergy about the evils of gambling.

And now, when Grandma comes to town, often the first question she asks is, “Where’s the casino?”

Typical Clients in Gambling Treatment

There’s no typical client that I see in gambling treatment. They’re from all walks of life and socioeconomic status.  Men and women. Young and old.

My oldest client was in their early 80s. The average age of the clients I work with is late 40s.  Having worked in a university town, I have had students in their late teens and early 20s engage in treatment.

When I first started, I saw more men. Over the years, the number of women who present for treatment has grown and now equals the male gamblers I see in treatment.

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live. Addiction does not discriminate and is an equal opportunity destroyer.

Gambling Treatment in Mesa-Chandler

When you’re ready for help to stop gambling, gambling treatment is a phone call away.  I am one of five providers for the State of Arizona’s Office of Problem Gambling Treatment Assistance Program (TAP) in Mesa. My Mesa-Chandler office, south of the 60 and a short distance from the 101, is easily accessible to all areas of the East Valley. I am one of the few therapists in the Southeast Valley participating in the TAP Program for Problem Gambling.

Where the need for gambling treatment starts

Gambling addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer

My mission is to provide the highest quality gambling treatment to problem gamblers and those affected by someone’s gambling. Please call me today so that together we can cross the bridge from gambling addiction to recovery.


Compulsive Gambling Insights


I have a unique perspective on the various issues that accompany compulsive gambling after 16 years of working with problem gamblers and their families.

With the explosion of casinos, gambling is the new kid on the block. So is gambling addiction. Currently there’s limited public awareness of compulsive gambling and gambling addiction. In certain areas of the country there’s limited access to gambling treatment and not enough advocates for prevention and treatment.

On the plus side, I have seen improvement in the quality and amount of available services for those who have gambling problems. Research into the cause of gambling addiction is in the early stages.

Today, most states have funds available for problem gambling hotlines, treatment and prevention. Initial awareness of problem gambling and the need for treatment was brought to the forefront by grassroot organizations most often created by those who were in recovery from gambling addiction.

From Addictions Specialist to Gambling Treatment Specialist

My own journey as a gambling treatment specialist began in 1996 after years of working with chemical dependency, adult children of alcoholics and recovering adolescents. That year, a proposition had been passed that mandated treatment in conjunction with the establishment of three land-based casinos within the city of Detroit. The State of Michigan advertised for therapists interested in working with gamblers.

After a year of training and supervision, in 1998 I received my certification as a Nationally Certified Gambling Counselor I (NCGCI) and was one of the first therapists on the state panel. Until my relocation to Arizona in 2003, I treated gamblers in the St. Joseph Mercy Hospital System and in my private practice in Ann Arbor. After I relocated to Arizona in 2003, I continued my work with compulsive gamblers and their families. I received my certification as a Nationally Certified Gambling Counselor II (NCGCII).

I learned a lot in those early years, and I am so grateful to my clients who provided insights into compulsive gambling that one could not get from a textbook or from the excellent workshops that I attended during and after my training. I am thankful for the support of my personal mentor, Dr. Lori Rugle, and to Joanna Franklin, NCGC-II, BACC and Deborah Haskins, NCGC-II, BACC who are all pioneers in the field of gambling addiction. They encouraged me to stretch and grow.

Most of all, I owe a debt of gratitude to my clients who have allowed me into their lives, one day at a time.