When I was in my 20s I fell seriously ill. Suddenly and unexpectedly I was rendered bedbound for months and unable to work for considerably longer. My world had stopped turning up on its axis, and I was fearful I would lose my job and my home.

One of the ways I coped with these events was to play the National Lottery. I had a “magic number bowl”, from which I chose the numbers each week, and an elaborate list of spending plans should I win. I even traded with God to give a proportion of my winnings to charity should He intervene on my behalf!

Of course I was very ill and very vulnerable. I quickly realised, though, that playing the lottery was only compounding my difficulties. The spending of the millions in my imagination wasted my time, and I found the weekly disappointment more than I could bear at an already difficult time. I had, however, gained an insight into the National Lottery as an “escape route”.

In therapy, we often talk about three psychological “escape routes” people think about taking. The first is to go mad. The second is to kill someone. The third is to kill oneself. The thing that unites these three areas with the National Lottery is they all become an increasingly cumbersome fantasy about how, if we simply went mad/killed someone/killed myself/won the lottery … all our problems would go away. Life is never this straightforward. Besides, the fantasy itself often becomes the problem.

The person for whom I saw this most completely was a young man who was on benefits and worked as a male escort to significantly boost his income. He spent all the money he earned on the National Lottery, often hundreds of pounds a week. He did this despite living in a flat with no carpets, and little by way of furniture. For this man, the fantasy of the millionaire lifestyle had completely taken over his life. Instead of equipping himself to compete effectively in the real world, he spent his time selling sex and buying lottery tickets to support his fantasy world.

Of course we can all view the absurdity of this man’s choices. In extremis the National Lottery fantasy obscures and suffocates life, it doesn’t enhance it. However much time you invest in the National Lottery big win fantasy, my challenge to you is that it does the same to your life as it did to this man’s. It ultimately serves as a psychological escape route, and stops you from dealing with the reality of your life more effectively.

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