Paul Merson on his gambling documentary: I just wanted to help one person

"The one thing I'd say to gambling addicts is you're not a bad person. You're an ill person who needs to get well."

Paul Merson
Image: Paul Merson reflects on his BBC documentary 'Football, Gambling and Me'

Reflecting on his BBC documentary 'Football, Gambling and Me' which was broadcast on Monday night, Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson says he has been overwhelmed by the response, and insists he now has a responsibility to help others with gambling addiction.

'I just wanted to help one person'

I did this to help one person and the reaction has been amazing. For 36 years I've gone through this without having a choice. I didn't have a choice. Today I've got a choice.

I'm not a bad person trying to become good, which I always previously thought I was. I know I'm ill, which means I can't gamble, and can't drink. That's why I did the programme: for one person to sit there watching it and think: 'I'm ill, I'm not a bad person.' That was it for me.

Even if it's not the gambler - even if it's the person's wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, partner, friend - to sit there and think: 'They don't hate me, they're just not well.' I wanted to get that across either way.

Hopefully that helps one person, and that person helps 100 people because all the people around them become happier, too.

The amount of people that have told me it's impacted them positively has been amazing.

I don't want someone to go through what I went through, and I don't want people to go through what my wife Kate went through.

'I'm not a bad person, I'm ill'

That narrative only changed for me just over a year ago, when I last gambled. I went to a friend of mine and told him I was struggling badly. I kept going back, kept gambling, and the outcome was always zero.

I was hurting my wife Kate all the time with lies and spending our money. I hated myself for it.

My friend told me I had an illness. He told me it was nothing to do with me being a bad person. He said: 'Until you recognise it is an illness, you'll never get better, you'll just keep going back.' That was when it changed for me.

The one thing I'd say to gambling addicts is you're not a bad person. You're an ill person who needs to get well.

If you had a nut allergy, you'd stop eating nuts. It's the same with gambling. You've got an illness, so you have to stop doing it a day at a time.

'One day at a time'

If someone said to me now I couldn't drink or gamble for the rest of my life, I'd find that amazingly difficult. It would overwhelm me so much that I'd probably start drinking or gambling again.

But today, when I wake up every day and say: 'Today I won't have a drink, won't have a bet, and won't take drugs.' That's doable. I can do that.

It's about living in the day. Enjoy it and get through it. It's doable.

If someone can understand this, they can have the best life ever. If they don't get it, it can be misery every day of their lives. It doesn't matter if you're 23, 45, 62 years of age. If you understand that you have an illness, and arrest this a day at a time, your life will become better.
Paul Merson

I live in the present day now. I don't think about the future and don't look back on the past either. The past you can't change, and if you live today right, tomorrow is going to be better. Today is all we get anyway. It doesn't matter who you are: the richest or poorest person in the world, you only get today.

It's amazing, because if someone can understand this, they can have the best life ever. If they don't get it, it can be misery every day of their lives.

It doesn't matter if you're 23, 45, 62 years of age. If you understand that you have an illness, and arrest this a day at a time, your life will become better.

If you don't, and you keep on thinking you're not ill, that you're just a bad person, your life will be a misery.

'I have a responsibility now'

Paul Merson
Image: Merson won five major trophies with Arsenal, and also played for Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, Portsmouth and Walsall

Life is good at the moment. Today it's good. It's 100 times better than it used to be. Even when I don't have good days now, it's still 100 times better than those bad days.

I still get a lot of pleasure from being on Soccer Saturday and football is still my life.

I'm not going to say I'm sitting on a cloud and everything is great every minute of the day. Some days it is hard, but it's 100 times better than what it was.

My thing is to keep on going one day at a time, because I carry the message of a lot of other people. I understand that now. If I started gambling again, how is that going to help those people? People will think this way of thinking doesn't work, but it does. I've got to make sure I stay well.

Those that are ill: look for the similarities in my case, not the differences. Don't look at me and think: 'He's lost £7m, I would never do that, so it's not a problem.' It's all relative.

Their brain will be telling them: 'You're alright, you haven't lost £7m, you don't have a problem!'

I'm trying to help one person, but if God forbid I went back to gambling, the people I've helped will think: 'It doesn't work.'

I'm not saying I'm a crusader, there are loads of people who help others. But I've put myself out there now. I have a responsibility now.

If you have been affected by the topics in this article visit GamCare, the leading UK provider of free information, advice and support for anyone harmed by gambling.

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