When I was asked to share my story, I didn’t hesitate. I think it’s so important for people to see that everyday, regular people can have a gambling addiction. And by telling my story I hope I can help others and reduce the shame of compulsive gambling.
Looking back on it, I guess it’s not surprising that I developed a gambling problem. I had a risk-taking personality and was exposed to various forms of gambling as early as age 9. My father was a bookie and sold football tickets. I’d spend my allowance and purchase tickets from him.
I became insanely addicted to gambling in my early twenties. I was working at a charity bingo hall when the casinos opened in the ’80s, and a lot of us would go to the casinos after work.
For many years, Black Jack was my game of choice. Then one night in the mid ’90s, I had a dream that I put $20 in a slot machine and won a huge jackpot. Shortly after that dream, I went to the casino, put $20 in the slot machine and won $15,000.
From that point on, I switched almost exclusively to slot machines. It was a bigger, faster win, and I liked that I could isolate myself more. With cards, I had to communicate with others.
Within six months after the big win, I realized I bit off more than I could chew. I had given back all the money, and more. I kept chasing that feeling of the huge win.
I soon became secretive about my gambling. I lied about losing and I lied about playing. I gambled any chance I could.
In 2004, I started a business that quickly had financial success. I had so much money that I thought I’d never run out. But eventually I couldn’t even come up with postage to ship a package. I started selling stolen goods to cover my losses and eventually ended up in prison on a mail fraud charge.
After prison, I was released to a halfway house, where I stayed for six weeks before I had to move out. I had nothing but a car. I’d lost a beautiful home, a great marriage, and had never previously wanted for anything. But I was angry, and the first thing I did was drive straight to Mystic Lake Casino.
Less than nine months later, I was back in prison for violating probation by gambling at casinos. I was sentenced to 15 months in a higher security prison. But this time it was different.
Something clicked the day I was shackled off to jail and I had a spiritual shift. I decided that I would never gamble again, no matter what. I evaluated the choices I made and why I did what I did. Once I was released, I took responsibility for my own actions and worked hard to get back on my feet. I took a job at a restaurant and am now the manager.
My life is so much better and calmer now. I meditate every morning and am very involved in GA meetings. I listen to others and share my story whenever I can. I receive so much respect from other people and have enormous respect for others. I am very available to my family and my friends, some of whom have gone through recovery with me.
It means a lot to me to be very honest about this disease and what it’s done to me. A lot of things about gambling made me feel like the scum of the earth. It was much worse than anything I felt as an alcohol and drug addict.
I focus on my recovery at every opportunity. I hope to make a difference to others who similarly never expected they would go through the horrible things we do as gambling addicts.