I had been actively gambling nearly all of my adult life, a period spanning more than 30 years. It started with some bets at the racetrack in my teen years, then progressed to active sports betting in my mid-20s. I can still remember the rush of excitement that went through me the end of games drew near, wondering if my team was going to cover the spread. In the early 1990’s, I was introduced to the game of blackjack which nearly immediately became what I thought was the love of my life. I was wrong. Blackjack, as with all forms of gambling, was simply a cruel mistress, who I kept going back to time and time again, even as every other area of my life was completely falling apart. Once I started playing blackjack, I needed the instant gratification that came from this card game. It now took too long for me to have to wait a few hours for a ball game I had bet on to end, or even the 20 or so minute wait between races at the track. Every single hand was a new game, and a new chance to try again.
I became consumed by my passion for gambling and would spend entire weekends at the casino after payday, always trying for that “big win”. Sometimes it came, but as I have learned this past year, “When you win you lose, and when you lose you lose.” Every time I “won”, I would return as soon as possible to the casino, and give it all back along with several hundred more dollars. There was never to enough to keep me satisfied. My desire and passion for gambling kept me from establishing meaningful friendships and relationships. I always told others (and myself), “Look, I’m single, with no family to take care of. What business is it of anybody else’s what I do with my money”? The truth is, I never had a chance at a family, because I was too busy escaping into the world of gambling to try to hide from my depression and feelings of low self-esteem.
The first time I tried to quit gambling was in 1993. I kept thinking I could do it on my own, without help, because I had the answers. In the years since that first attempt at quitting, every time I went back to the blackjack table, things always managed to get worse. The following things happened because of the guy who once proudly said “Get off my back, I’m not hurting anybody except myself!” I once fell asleep while driving between casinos, ruining a couple of family’s live whom I had never even met. Later I was fired from a job I loved because I was stealing money to finance my gambling. When these things happened, people who knew me were shocked, because everybody who knew me considered me to be a real standup person, generally a straight arrow. Except my immediate family, my parents and brother. They had known for years. Gambling took everything I loved away from me. My family and friends no longer trusted me. I tried moving to get away from situations, but it didn’t take me long to find a casino. My last 8 or 9 years of gambling simply became an escape for me, trying to hide from years of guilt at the damage I had inflicted.
After years of trying to escape my problems through gambling, I went back to GA meetings, where somebody recommended this treatment program to me. I was literally at the end of my rope, having burned every relationship that was ever important to me. I didn’t believe it was possible for me to not gamble. But I knew that I had no choice but to stop, or I would die. I already had a plan in mind for running away from everything and everybody, to just take off and rip through my life savings and small inheritance I had. But I met with Lisa and Dawn at Gamblers Choice two days after the last day I gambled, and they offered me hope. They seemed to believe in me, when I had given up on myself. The GC program taught me how to live again. The assignments given helped me look at the reasons why I gambled as long as I did, and taught me to live in the now, instead of my terrible past. They taught me how love myself again and became a guide for becoming a better human and contributing member of society. And yes, I learned how to stop gambling on a daily basis. It has been over 14 months since I last placed a bet. I have continued going to GA meetings after I finished treatment and they are continuing to help me as I now try to help others along the way. Sometimes the idea of never gambling again seems absurd to me, but I know that I can GET THROUGH TODAY without it. I can live with the fact that every day I need to make choices, and the first choice is always not to gamble.
One of my prayers today and every day is for the young people who are struggling with this addiction. I pray that they will not face the years of despair that I went through before getting help.