I didn’t start gambling until I was in my mid 20s. Even when I lived in California, not too far from Las Vegas, I never made it to the Strip. My first time gambling was at a casino with friends here in Minnesota.
I would go 3-4 times for the next several years, sometimes by myself and sometimes with friends. But it was generally an occasional, social thing for me, and I was conservative with my gambling.
Once I started having problems at work, I started going more frequently because I knew it was a place where I could lose myself. I did it to escape problems and to chase the big win. The more I gambled, the more I’d lose. That added more and more pressure.
Eventually, my life changed and I was less interested in gambling. I got married and had a son. I gambled maybe 2-3 times a year with a friend; it was nothing more than that.
After a few years, however, I found myself in a rough situation again with work. My relationship also began to suffer. I returned to gambling to escape work and marital issues, and got reacquainted with that high, that rush of winning.
The next two years were difficult, filled with ups and downs that seemed to get more severe. I began to acquire credit card debt and withdrew money from 401K savings. I eventually depleted all my funds. I found myself chasing the win because I really needed the money.
I’d sneak out to the casino late at night when everyone was asleep. I’d make it back in time to get a few hours of sleep before work. This happened maybe 20 times over the course of two years.
Tax time was also very stressful. When my wife saw all the reported winnings, I could no longer hide the fact that I went to the casino far more often than she knew. One year I was able to write off a large percentage of my winnings, but for another I ended up owing the IRS thousands.
I would try to set goals and plans for myself. I wanted to win enough to pay off debt and have a little bit of a cushion. For a time, I managed to do that through high-stakes slots, but I began to slip. I gambled more aggressive and found myself quickly back in the hole.
During the course of these two-plus years, I experienced many feelings and emotions. I was angry… I was angry that I was losing money, angry about the problems I had at work, angry about my marital problems and angry at the casino. And, of course, I was mad at myself. I remember asking myself, “When is this going to stop?”
I also remember feeling like my heart was going to explode because of the guilt and dishonesty I had in trying to hide the problem. I tossed and turned at night, unable to sleep, because of my mountain of problems.
I finally told my wife that I had a problem when I knew I was about to lose her trust. And because of one of her parent’s addiction problems, she knew about the various support systems available. She told me in no uncertain terms that I had to get help.
I called the helpline and was told I needed to go to a 30-day treatment center. However, I was concerned about my employer learning about my situation so I opted to go to Gamblers Anonymous. This was just over five years ago; I have not gambled since.
I am lucky that I have had such a supportive spouse. In addition to finding a resource for me, she also attended Gam-Anon. That helped her to understand the process that I was going through.
If someone is reading this who is thinking they may have a problem and wondering if they should get help, this is what I would tell them: Don’t prolong the problem. Once you start to have problems with sleep and anger, talk to someone. And if you’re borrowing money to gamble, you have an addiction. It’s that simple.
Each story of someone recovering from gambling addiction is similar, but the difference is in how much damage you allow to occur. How much damage do you have to have? Do you want to lose your job? Your marriage? Your home? Your life?
I did not want to lose my life as a result of gambling. I would never put my family through that. I finally drew the line and got the help I needed.