If there’s one thing I’ve learned about addiction, it’s that it’s progressive. I’ve learned that the hard way, having gone to treatment for compulsive gambling and chemical dependency about a half dozen times.
Although I’ve been a compulsive gambler for approximately 25 years, I’ve only actually gambled for about five of those years. Each time I’ve relapsed, the “crash and burn” has come more quickly. Every time I’ve thought I could safely place a bet, it’s been the addiction talking to me, playing tricks on me. It’s a lie.
And when I say progressive, I really do mean progressive. Gambling destroyed my integrity and value system in ways I never imagined. I ended up crossing lines I never thought I’d cross. Before becoming a compulsive gambler, I didn’t lie or steal. But I found myself feeling increasingly desperate and would do anything to get that big win. With each crash and burn, it gets worse and worse.
Over the years that I’ve been in GA, I’ve seen the addiction literally kill several people—by driving them to commit suicide. That easily could have included me. In my desperate moments, I had suicidal thoughts, like so many other compulsive gamblers.
My own addiction started after my first big win, a feeling I’ve really been chasing ever since. I was in a bar in Sioux Falls and placed a $20 bet on video poker. I won $750.
I remember the feeling being similar to the high I got with alcohol. I’m also a recovering alcoholic, though I’ve found an addiction to drinking easier to overcome than compulsive gambling.
My first taste of recovery occurred when I went to Vanguard (Vanguard Center for Gambling Recovery in Granite Falls, Minnesota) for compulsive gambling treatment in 1992, one year after it opened. I ended up working there as a tech and later as a peer counselor. I was clean for about three years.
When I left, they suggested I not drink and go to AA meetings so I wouldn’t wind up going out and gambling again. But that’s exactly what happened. I ended up going back into business where I worked in sales and travelled frequently. I started drinking again and then got back into gambling.
I have gambled several times since then, and the last time I gambled was about a year ago. While I never know what’s in store for each day, I feel good about my recovery now. I don’t have urges to gamble but I have to make sure I don’t entertain thoughts about gambling.
I work hard to stay on top of things. I know that relapses happen when I get complacent. I attend three GA meetings per week and meet regularly with a therapist, who helps me to learn to focus on positive changes in my life. I’ve explored various new avenues and activities—things I’ve never done before—like yoga.
It’s also important for me to be with other compulsive gamblers and to help them, as that helps me as well. I remind them that I, like them, had the mentality that I could control my gambling and that it’s not an addiction. They need to realize it will never get any better and that it will always get worse if they gamble in any way. There is no dabbling with gambling. The quicker it’s nipped, the better off they’ll be. Like I say, it’s progressive.