Joe's story

Joe works for Aviva in the UK and has lived with a gambling addiction for almost 20 years, despite only being in his early 30s. This is his story.

This article contains sensitive information that some readers may find upsetting.

Joe works for Aviva in the UK. This is his story.

Whilst most of my life in addiction is a bit of a blur, there are moments that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. One of which is the first time I ever had a bet and felt the comfort of addiction. I was 11 years old, and I would toss coins towards a wall with my friends, aiming to be the one nearest to the wall and to take them all. ‘Penny up’; my first taste of gambling.  

Fast forward into my 20s and early 30s and not a lot had changed. Only this time it wasn’t my dinner money I was gambling, it was my Aviva salary and most importantly, my mortgage money. Mortgage money that I was gambling and losing at 00:01 on every single payday. 

... this time it wasn’t my dinner money I was gambling, it was my Aviva salary and most importantly, my mortgage money.

In many ways, not a huge amount had changed. I still found some comfort in addiction. It was helping me to escape feelings of trauma. ‘Penny up’ was an escape from home, and as I got older, gambling continued to be an attempted escape, this time from an unbearable life, driven by my addiction.  

By this point, addiction had become both my cause and cure. I felt trapped, confused and was hurting deeply, as were all those around me. The toxicity of my addiction had spread rapidly to all areas of my life. We were all suffering, as was my education, my career, my relationships and my health. 

At that time, I’d lost a huge amount, a lot more than money. But the loss that pushed me to the edge was the loss of hope. After nearly twenty years of destruction, I convinced myself that pursuing a life free from addiction was hopeless.  

I couldn’t find inspiration anywhere. The majority of people I knew that had “got out” had taken one of two devastating routes – they were in prison, or they were dead. That was the make-up of the community I felt most belonging in, they were the people I felt most connected to. I simply had no reason to think that my path was going to be any different. 

The majority of people I knew that had “got out” had taken one of two devastating routes – they were in prison, or they were dead.

I was also overwhelmed with shame. I’d felt guilt about my actions under the influence of addiction for a long time, but it was the feelings of shame that really weighed heavy. For me, the feelings of guilt were about things I’d done. But the shame ran deeper, it was about who I was. I reached breaking point and tried to take my own life. Fortunately for us all, we made it through that, but I was far from recovered.  

That event triggered support for my mental health that I badly needed. I was fortunate to be supported by an excellent team of health professionals who guided me through the white-knuckle ride of abstinence, anxiety and depression. They helped me to re-build my support networks, my communities and to feel belonging within them. The success of my ongoing recovery from addiction and mental health issues is multi-faceted, however it remains built on a foundation of connection and belonging.

That event triggered support for my mental health that I badly needed.

Many of my years in addiction were spent at Aviva, and just like my family, who didn’t always get the me they deserved, the same can be said for Aviva and my colleagues.  

My addiction came before everything and everyone else. There were days when, due to my addiction and associated mental health issues, I was not well enough to be in work but, as most people tend to do, I only ever assessed my capacity for work based on my physical health. 

Despite that, my experience at Aviva has been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been very fortunate to have caring managers who have led under supportive, forward-thinking Group-wide policies. I needed connection and to feel belonging in communities that I’d moved away from. Fortunately for me, at Aviva they are also an inherent part of who we are.  

I also owe a lot of gratitude to the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM) who have given me a platform to share my experience with gambling harm. I now support their life-saving charity work that informs, educates and safeguards young people against gaming and gambling related harm. 

In my experience there is no such thing as passive recovery. You’re either active in recovery or slipping towards relapse.

As a member of the YGAM team, I’ve been able to speak directly to young people, their carers and health and education professionals about my experience in the hope that other families don’t have to go through what mine did. When I was young and first tasted addiction, I was being educated about many things that may cause me harm, but gambling wasn’t one of them. That needs to change and I’m proud to say that YGAM are helping to drive that change. 

In my experience there is no such thing as passive recovery. You’re either active in recovery or slipping towards relapse. Active recovery means lots of different things to me, but it is founded on belonging and community. I’m very fortunate to belong to several wonderful communities that all support my recovery, including Aviva, my family and fellow runners to name a few. 

If I’d have read an article like this years ago, being honest, it’s unlikely that it would have significantly changed my path. That reflects the toxicity of the disease of addiction, the magnitude of the climb towards recovery and the fact that I was taken down by it from such a young age.  

However, it may have given me some hope that there was another way and that all was certainly not lost. It may also have contributed to a breakdown of the stigma associated with addiction and mental health issues, and that too may have helped me to get out sooner. 

If you recognise any of my experiences in your life, have a look at your communities, look at who you really are in those communities and assess where you really feel a sense of belonging. Think about how things used to be, what’s changed and what needs to change. Change can start with a conversation. It doesn’t really matter what is said. It’s about who’s there and most importantly why they’re there.  

Further information regarding the YGAM charity and their incredible work can be found on their website and if you're a parent who has concerns, visit their parent hub.

If you need support and someone to talk to, you can contact the Samaritans or call them on 116 123.

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