I am so happy and relieved to say I think we have found a very good “fit” with this new therapist. I am familiar with her from nearly 10 years ago when she counseled 2 troubled foster children we had taken in to our home, and I remember how wonderful she was with the kids.
She was wonderful with us too yesterday. She quickly assessed the immediate need to focus on giving him something to take with him since he is leaving for work in the next day or two, where he will be alone again, and the casino will be calling (and knowing that I can come back next week – which is exactly what I hoped for).
She asked him about his triggers – he said “She’s (me) not there and there’s nobody there to say no”. She said she understood that, but that wasn’t the trigger. She helped him to identify the trigger – “she’s not there so you are lonely.” She suggested that he remember the acronym HALT – Hunger, Anger, Lonely, Tired – to help him be aware of and recognize the things that might trigger an urge to gamble.
Then she went on to give the best description of triggers I’ve heard. She explained that when someone “acts out” (gambles) on a trigger, there is usually an “acting in” trigger that occurs before the full blown trigger – sometimes 2 or 3 days before: For example something in a conversation reminds you of a really good time you had once while gambling. If you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (HALT), you may allow yourself to dwell on this very subtle thought of a gambling related thing, and you may keep going back to it in your mind over the next few days.
This is the point where 1) recognizing the “acting in” trigger and 2) having a good coping skill ready is needed to avoid “acting out” on a trigger (gambling).
If you allow your mind to dwell on these subtle, “acting in” thoughts, they will trigger more serious gambling thoughts – which will eventually put in motion the “acting out” (gambling) on a trigger. By this time, most likely it is too late, and there’s no going back.
She told him ”Pay attention to what goes on inside you” and suggested that he keep a notebook to write down his thoughts and feelings periodically throughout the day to help him recognize and identify his triggers. He is struggling with that – keeps saying “I don’t know what to write.”
Velvet suggested in Group today he might just start with, “I am ________. I am a compulsive gambler. “ Then maybe add, “I did _______today.” Then, “I feel like ________ today.” And maybe, “I want to take control of my addiction and I see myself doing _____.” Of course it will be up to him to use this journaling tool or not, but I hope he does.
The therapist also suggested that he make a list of things that he can do when these recognized triggers occur – instead of “acting out” on the trigger. As I type this he’s across the room making his list …
(I would love to know what everyone thinks about this and any other ways to identify and head off triggers.)
She reiterated to both of us that I cannot do this for him; that he must begin looking inside himself for answers and solutions.
Her demeanor was completely professional but so very gentle and genuinely caring at the same time. My husband was able to relax somewhat and just be open with her. He told her he had gotten more out the 45 minutes we spent with her than he had at all the other sessions and GA meetings combined. It was amazing. I wanted to jump up from my chair and scream “YES!!!”
I have an appointment with her next week just for me – and she reserved judgment on whether to treat both of us – or not – until then.
I don’t intend to write every little detail of every therapy session (this is probably the last one I’ll be in regarding his addiction anyway), but this was all so very interesting, and made sense to me. I know it is not as clear for my husband – yet – and I am fully aware the wheels could come off the first bit of spare time he has once he gets back down there, but this last 7 weeks have me believing this is a real start for him on his recovery – which makes my recovery all the more rewarding.