My gambling addiction story began on my 21st birthday. My parents had decided to celebrate the occasion with a trip down to the Claridge Casino in Atlantic City. I was in absolute awe of the sights and sounds of the gaming room floor; I was especially fascinated with the variety and simplicity of the slot machines. On the way out, I had placed $20.00 into a machine and hit for $1200. I remember feeling completely exhilarated from winning so much money with seemingly little effort. Winning was the worst thing that could have happened to me because I was immediately hooked.
These trips to the casino together became a frequent occurrence over the years. It was fun and something we did as a family. In those early days, I was smart with my winnings paying off credit card debt and an auto loan over a short amount of time. Eventually I started taking trips to the casino on my own and my love of gambling soon became an obsession. At this point, I began lying about where I was going; my tolerance for winning/losing became exceedingly high. I just wanted to be in action, the money did not matter. I believe deep down I knew I had a gambling problem, but I felt I could stop on my own if I really wanted to.
2012 was a pivotal year into the descent of my gambling addiction. My beloved mother was diagnosed with stage 3 uterine cancer and I was utterly devastated. My father also had a host of his own medical problems and the stress of being their primary caregiver took its toll on me. Gambling had become an escape from this new reality I had to face. I felt helpless and completely out of control. A few years later, my sister, dad and mom passed away within 4 months of each other. I was broken both spiritually and emotionally. Gambling filled the void in my heart, and it became my identity. The gambling addiction took over. I let most of my relationships deteriorate, isolating myself from most social situations.
My health suffered both physically and mentally. I neglected all my financial responsibilities, only paying creditors when things were about to be “shut off” or bills sent to collection agencies. Nothing mattered anymore and I was comfortable accepting the fact that this gambling addiction was going to destroy me. In 2018, I went to my first recovery meeting and placed judgment on everyone in the room. I believed that I really did not have a problem like “those people” because really the only person I had hurt was myself and I had not lost “everything”. I decided I did not need recovery and I continued gambling; I got progressively worse. I believe the guilt I felt from blowing nearly all of inheritance money propelled me to reconsider getting gambling addiction help. My biggest challenge was accepting the fact that I would not be caught; I had no external motivation for me to stop (i.e. a significant other, kids, etc.). My life and own potential became my why.
I attended my second “first” recovery meeting in May 2019. I felt intimidated and uncomfortable going, but I knew I had to push past these feelings and to speak openly about my gambling addiction. I also had to make myself accountable to the people in the room because I did not have the support at home. Over the next few months, I opened up about addiction to family and friends. I made my recovery a priority in my life by regularly attending meetings and working on my character defects, which led me to gamble in the first place.
Things were going great, until almost 5 months into my recovery, I inadvertently placed a bet. I was so angry with myself that I stopped attending meetings and speaking to others in recovery. In the month, I had gone without going to recovery meetings; I fell back into my “stinking thinking” and maladaptive ways of coping with life. Although I did not have the urge to gamble, I knew, in the right circumstances I would again. I reached out to my recovery brothers and sisters and they encouraged me to pick up where I had left off in my recovery journey. I was not going to let one mistake undo all the progress I had made.
I returned to my recovery meetings in October 2019 with a slightly different approach then I had in the beginning. In my early days of recovery, I had held on to my “all or nothing” mentality almost becoming compulsive with wanting to overcome my addiction. This time I worked on incorporating self-care and balance into my life. I had “self-care Sunday” in which I did things like attend church service, grocery shop, meal prep, soak in the bathtub, and prepare my schedule/goals for the week. I made it a point to workout consistently 2 to 3 times a week and designated Fridays for “Fun Finance” in which I tracked my weekly expenditures and made sure; I was up to date with all bills. To the average person, this just appears to be ordinary errands, but to me all of this constitutes “self-care” because it gave me a sense of structure and personal responsibility; two things that I did not have in my gambling days. I had to accept the fact that I could not rush recovery. I did not destroy my life overnight and it made sense it would take some time and effort to get it back on track.
As this year comes to an end, I reflect on how the global pandemic actually helped me in my journey. Spiritually, I have grown and become more reliant on my higher power (God). I found a sponsor that I can work with on a one-on-one basis, to do “12 step work” something I believe separates recovery from simply abstaining from gambling. With the shutdown of physical meetings, I was able to utilize virtual tools of recovery that I would not have otherwise considered such as podcasts, zoom recovery meetings, and virtual therapy sessions.
These things without a doubt, prevented complacency from setting in because I was constantly learning from others about this insidious gambling addiction. I have had the opportunity to participate in podcasts, gambling addiction forums, and run recovery meetings. I also created a woman’s preferred problem gambling support group meeting that has been going since late June. I was first inspired to start a women’s preferred meeting in early January because I had attended one in person and loved it. There were very few women in the meetings that I had attended and sometimes I did not feel comfortable sharing things that the members (mostly men) could not relate to. I also felt it was a safe space for me as I had previously had inappropriate comments made towards me from male attendees. I attended a few more of these meetings and felt my confidence grow when giving my therapy. My goal was to create a woman’s preferred meeting local to the region of the state in which I lived, but I was fearful because I didn’t think I had the experience to do so.
The pandemic happened and the hopes of starting this local in person meeting were put on the back burner. I re-visited the idea in late June, this time creating a virtual zoom meeting. I figured this would be a good opportunity to check interest from women who were local to my region as well as gain support from the members of the in-person women’s meeting I had previously attended. Today, I am proud to say, that the meeting continues to grow, and we have “regulars” from different parts of the country. I plan to keep this virtual women’s preferred meeting going indefinitely, even after the pandemic is over.
Admittedly, I am currently being challenged with other compulsive behaviors (i.e. overeating, overuse of phone, co-dependency) but I remain hopeful that I will also overcome them as well. The takeaway message is that addiction seeks to keep us isolated, ashamed and powerless. Connection, I truly believe, is the key to beating addiction. I am happy that there are virtual resources out there like Kindbridge that make recovery possible. There is life after gambling addiction; it is time to start living it!