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Gordon Moody
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Lesson 2

A side-effect of being listed in the telephone book as headquarters of GA was that any homeless person who came to Moody’s office was fixed up in a hostel or helped to get back on his feet.  The idea was to get them off the street.  Thus occurred one of the finest experiences of his life.  One morning a chap appeared outside his door looking terrible.  It turned out he had been sleeping rough for three weeks.

Without more ado, Moody took him to a barber’s shop and had him cleaned up, then gave him a good breakfast in a café, whereupon the man fell asleep in his chair.  He was a businessman from Liverpool.  Moody rang his wife and told her he was all right.  It so happened that this was the day of the methodists’ luncheon club.  Moody didn’t want to leave the man on his own, so he took him along.  As there was no extra space, he squeezed him in at the top table.  The President came over and said how honored they were he could join them.
            When lunch was over, but before the speaker was called, the extra guest felt sufficiently restored to tell his companions at the top table a funny story.  ‘The Bishop of Chester, ’ he said, ‘Looks like the pop singer Frankie Vaughan.  One day the Bishop was returning to his hotel and was waylaid by a lady in the lobby.  “Oh, Frankie!” she called.  “I am the Bishop of Chester, ” he replied, “I have been to a conference, I am very tired and I am going straight to bed.” At the foot of the stairs a second lady greeted him in the same way and was given the same response.  As the Bishop proceeded to his room, a door was opened across the way, and yet another pretty young woman appeared, this time in a negligee.  “Oh, Frankie!” she cried.  The Bishop of Chester flung his arms wide.  “Give me the mo-o-on light!” he sang.’
            Moody watched the expressionless faces of his methodist brethren at the top table.  He longed to tell them that according to the best Methodist doctrines, here was one newly raised from the spiritually dead.
            Of course the failure level at GA was very high.  People slipped back again in their own environment, because it was too long to wait a whole week until the next meeting of GA.  Moody would have liked a special hostel for gamblers but there was never enough money.
            Around this time moody met a welfare officer at Pentonville prison named Michael Sorensen.  He did not see gambling as a problem on its own; what puzzled him was that the same bunch of petty thieves kept turning up at Pentonville, time after time.  Why?  One day Sorensen discovered that they were all hooked on gambling.  Gambling had made them broke, being broke had got them into debt, getting into debt had led to borrowing more, being unable to repay had led to borrowing more, being unable to reply had led to thieving and petty crime.  When at Sorensen’s request Moody took a psychologist along to the prison, he learned that there was more to this than just a Rake’s Progress.

            Moody was struck by their spontaneous answer to the question: what is your experience nearest to gambling?  ‘Being on the job, ’ they cried; breaking and entering was joist like gambling – the same excitement of getting away with it, the same nervous thrill – will you be caught or not?  - as in winning or losing; a story of twin excitements, not just simple villainy.
            Generally, probation officers or social workers were quite used to dealing with alcoholics and drug addicts, but few of them were aware of compulsive gambling or could recognize its symptoms.  And no one knew its causes.  Often it seemed to start from ‘beginner’s luck, which rapidly engendered a habit and liking for gambling, which accelerated, as the luck ran out, into more intensive gambling.  It is certainly a common experience of Gamblers Anonymous that people are driven to stealing from their friends and families – even from their children, so desperate are they to get money – and are thus drawn on into all kinds of larceny.  They are not really ‘criminals’.  Moody’s aim was to get wider discussion and understanding of the problem in prisons, and help such men when they came out.
            Many magistrates and probation officers had never heard of Gamblers Anonymous.  At the ad hoc meetings moody organized in those early days, questions were raised as to whether there was such a thing as expert treatment.  Magistrates saw it as their duty to interpret and apply the law.  In spite of being sympathetic ‘nothing could be done’, as a chilling phrase from one discussion put it, ‘in an official capacity’.  The fact which had to be faced, Moody continued to argue, was that many people spent years of their lives inside, contributing nothing to society.  They needed help.  GA groups were started in Pentonville, with some success.
            The link between gambling and making crime is not a simple one, obviously: it is hard to distinguish between criminals who gamble and gamblers who are led into crime.  (The partial survey done at Pentonville showed an incidence of heavy or excessive gambling amongst at least ten per cent of the prison population; but no individual who was in prison solely as a consequence of excessive gambling.) One of the strangest things about gambling is how it is bracketed at either end of the social scale by the criminal element.  At the lower end, gamblers in trouble slip into crime like fish into water.  At the upper end, organized crime has its dirty hands on the operation.  There are many honorable men in between (we are all, all honorable men) but there is no doubt that there is something inherent in gambling which attracts criminality, and that something is ready money.  In reality, as moody pointed out, gambling is expensive: people’s debts always seem vast relative to their income.

            When social workers and others telephoned GA for advice about clients who gambled, Moody used their experience to build up a backlog of case histories and information about gambling.  This in turn encouraged him to arrange the first conferences on compulsive gambling, held in London in 1967.  The conference continued on an occasional basis in London, Manchester and Glasgow.  Moody served as chairman, secretary and treasurer, but he saw that to be effective the group had to get away from the churches and be seen as independent.
            Among the experts drawn into the GA circle was a psychiatrist, Dr Emanuel Moran.  He had discovered a different link with gambling through his experience with attempted suicides.  A quiet, dumpy, self-effacing man, swamped by the papers and letters brimming over his in-tray, Moran runs a busy department at a north London hospital.  As a young doctor, he was puzzled when in the space of a fortnight two patients were admitted to hospital after taking an overdoes, yet there seemed to be no obvious explanation of why they had done it.  He went into their cases and found they were both gambles.  In his early training, experience with alcoholism had given him an insight into the problems of excess; gambling was something new.  Yet there is always a ‘gamble’, a degree of uncertainty, as to whether a suicide attempt will result in death or not.  Chance factors in the environment, such as the arrival of another person on the scene, may be all important in determining the outcome.

            He looked up the subject and found there was very little published on it back in 1964.  nosing about, he discovered the newly formed Gamblers Anonymous, and that was how he made contact with Gordon Moody.  Together they would sit in at meetings of GA, in a dingy hall in Victoria, and listen to the lurid stories recounted by the hapless victims of excessive gambling.  Moran’s role was not to participate but to listen and learn.  Gradually he acquired a wider knowledge of gamblers’ problems.
            The tone was a bit emotional and evangelistic for Moran’s taste – ‘therapy’ transferred from medicine to a personal ‘confession’ – but the help give was clearly worthwhile.  At the time there were only two such meetings in the whole country.  Sometimes when invited to make a comment his advice might be criticized; but there was always a halo around Gordon Moody’s head, he recalls, as there has tended to be all his life.
            So far as psychiatry in general was concerned, treatment of gamblers stemmed from the single case of Freud on Dostoyevsky.  This famous essay, ‘Dostoyevsky and Parricide’ (completed around 1928), was more of an occasional piece stemming from Freud’s admiration of the novelist than a deep psychoanalytic study.  But like all Freud’s work, it is a good read.  It falls into two parts: first, a discussion of Dostoyevsky’s character and second, his passion for gambling, with special reference to a short story by Stefan Zweig.
            For those who may not be familiar with the piece, Freud focuses on the period when Dostoyevsky was in Germany, consumed by a mania for gambling.  Although he had the pretext that he was trying to win at the tables so as to return to Russia and pay off his debts, Freud notes that he was acute enough to recognize that this was only a pretext, and honest enough to admit it.  ‘He knew that the chief thing was gambling for its own sake – le jeu pour le jeu.’ 

All the dertails of his impulsively irrational conduct show this, Freud says, and something more besides.  He never stopped until he had lost everything.  For him gambling was a method of self-punishment as well.  Time after time he gave his young wife his word of honour not to play any more or not to play poker any more on that particular day, and he almost invariably broke it.
            What part of a gambler’s long-buried childhood is it that forces its way to repetition in his obsession for play, Freud asks.  He elicits the answer from a story by Stefan Zweig:  Twenty-four Hours in a Woman’s Life.  On a visit to the gaming salons of Monte Carlo a lady, widowed young, has a strange experience: she finds herself fascinated by the sight of a pair of hands, hands which seem to betray all the feelings of the unlucky gambler with terrifying sincerity and intensity.  The hands belong to a handsome young man, who after losing everything leaves the salon in despair, with the evident intention of ending his life in the casino gardens.  The lady, inexplicably drawn to him – the difference in their ages makes him young enough to be her son – follows him outside, and manages to dissuade him, eventually accompanying him back to his apartment, and his bed.  She exacts a solemn vow from the young man that he will never play again and provides him with money to return home.
            Next day she decides to join him at the station, to go away with him, but misses the train.  Revisiting, sadly, the gaming rooms she sees, to her horror, the same pair of hands which had first excited her sympathy.  Obsessed by his passion to gamble, her prot égé cruelly rejects all her entreaties.  She hurries away, to learn, soon after, that she had failed to save him from suicide.
           While paying high tribute to the story as art, Freud maintains that its invention is based on a wishful fantasy deriving from puberty.  ‘The fantasy embodies a boy’s wish that his mother should herself initiate him into sexual life in order to save him from the dreaded injuries caused by masturbation … The “vice” of masturbation is replaced by the addiction to gambling; and the emphasis laid upon the passionate activity of the poker hands betrays this derivation.’  Freud adds, in what has become a classic formulation: ‘The irresistible nature of the temptation, the solemn resolutions,   which are nevertheless invariably broken, never to do it again, the stupefying pleasure and the bad conscience which tells the subject he is ruining himself (committing suicide) – all these elements remain unaltered in process of substitution.’

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