Gambling addiction is something that’s hard for a lot of people to understand. Once you’ve sought help and learned more about it, you realize how much it helps to be around others who know what you’re going through. That’s why programs like Gambler’s Anonymous have a lot of success.
Our situation is rather unique. We’re around another recovering gambler 24 hours a day. Charlie and I are both recovering gamblers— and we’re married to each other.
We met in treatment at the Vanguard Center for Gambling Recovery in 2004. And, as with everyone, we had our own paths to gambling addiction.
I came to Vanguard after developing a rather sudden and unexpected gambling habit that stemmed from the loss of my oldest daughter in a car accident. Prior to that I was a very casual and occasional gambler who might have gambled once or twice a year with $50 and let it go at that. Nobody in my family had addiction problems of any kind. However, after my daughter died, I needed an escape where I didn’t have to feel anything. And that’s what gambling did for me. I became obsessed with gambling and kept it a secret to everyone, including my husband at the time. It was as if I was having an affair with a machine.
Charlie got hooked on gambling after winning a good deal of money one of the first times he gambled. When things began to go bad with his business and he felt lonely and had low self-esteem, he started to go to casinos to chase the feeling of the big win. His job as a satellite installer required that he travel to five states, and he could never pass a casino on the way without stopping. As a result, there were times when he never made it to a job. Charlie, who gave up years of drinking and smoking, will tell you that quitting gambling was the hardest thing to do, even though he was not actually putting anything into his body.
When we met at Vanguard for treatment, we saw each other for who we really were. I saw the raw Charlie, someone who had hit bottom and was devastated. And he saw me in much the same way. We had nothing to hide.
The one thing we agreed on as we embarked on our new life as a couple was that we would never gamble together. We knew that that would be the beginning of the end.
There are benefits to going through our recovery together. With our common history, we know where each other is coming from. When Charlie relapsed with his gambling a few times in the first several years after treatment, I knew that he was struggling, and I understood. But I also told him that he needed to figure out what he wanted, because I did not want to go down that road again.
As partners in this journey, we are fortunate to have each other and to support each other, yet we also give each other space. We’re not in the same therapy group, we have different sponsors and we work our own programs. We do go to a lot of the same GA functions.
The lessons we learned in treatment have helped us both in our recovery and in our marriage. One thing about our being in GA, something we continue to be active in, is that our communication is more open because we work the steps. Part of that is about being honest, open-minded and willing to acknowledge a mistake. We’ve learned that it’s more helpful when we do that than to try to hide something or pretend that something is not the way it’s supposed to be.
Charlie and I are lucky. We have each other — both in marriage and in our efforts to never again gamble. But we know that others are not as fortunate. That’s why we are always trying to get the message out that those who are struggling with gambling need to know that help is out there and, most importantly, that they don’t have to be alone.