GSS 002: The Plan I Use to Quit Gambling

Episode Details

In this episode, I cover the day-to-day actions I took and continue to take in order to quit gambling.

For many years, I was stuck in the same cycle. I would try to quit gambling, but would always end up repeating my past mistakes. Now, I have over 7.5 years of clean time. Here, I outline the two key pieces to my recovery.

Full Episode Transcript

This is episode two of the Gambling Still Sucks podcast. In this episode, we’ll discuss my plan that I used to finally quit gambling. Hey there, and welcome to the Gambling Still Sucks podcast. My name is Jamie. I’m a compulsive gambler, and I’m also the host of this show. The last day I gambled was July 15th of 2010. Now, I wanted to get this episode at the front. I wanted to share with you sort of my plan that I’ve used to finally quit gambling because, like you, I mean, if you’re listening to this and you’re still struggling, I tried to quit hundreds of times. I mean, most of those times were obviously at the end of a big loss, right? I mean, we’re at our lowest, and we said, “Look, I’m never gonna do this again. I can’t do it. I can’t dig a bigger hole.” I always think things are gonna be different but then go back and do the same stuff. I mean, it’s the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

And so, well, I had my plan to quit in the past, which was just, “Look, you gotta be tougher. You just have to use willpower.” I mean, yeah, when you go to the casino, you can go; you could go, I’d tell myself, but when you get up, when you get up two times your money or three times your money, or at some arbitrary number I would set, then you have to leave. And that theory was great in theory, but then I would get there, and I’d get up the two or three times my money. I would hit that number, and then I wouldn’t leave because they said, “Well, oh man, I hit this number. I hit it too quick, or why would I leave this table? I mean, I’m playing with these guys, and they don’t even know what they’re doing. I’ve won all this money. It’d be dumb to leave now.” And inevitably, I would end with no money, and I’d be doing the walk of shame out of the casino, away from the table, and that drive home, which is just – anybody that’s done the drive home, you know exactly what I’m talking about, where you just are not in a good place. You just beat yourself up, and I had two-hour drives home at times, an hour drives home, and those were the worst when you’re just thinking a lot of bad, negative thoughts. I mean, like I say, you’re just beating yourself up because you, you were up, or you went back to the – you said you were gonna go with a limit of $200 in, you went to the ATM three more times, or whatever the case was, and all of a sudden, you’re going home with the exact same result that you’ve had hundreds of times before.

And so, if that resonates with you, I want to lay this plan out for you because this is what I’ve used now for seven and a half years to allow me to finally quit gambling, to break that habit, to break those thoughts, in order to be successful and not gamble and lose all my money at the poker table, because that was pretty terrible. And so, the very first part of my plan is just coming clean, coming clean to family and friends, or in this case, obviously, I’m coming clean to the entire world. Yeah, that’s a little scary, so if you just need to tell your wife, significant other, or your mom or dad, look, it’s easy. I’m telling the whole world; all you have to do is tell one person. No, I know it’s not easy, but coming clean is, and has been, the biggest thing that’s changed in my life.

And I actually got caught; I got caught still gambling. And so, I was forced to come clean, but I wasn’t completely forced. Obviously, once I got caught, I could have continued to lie, but I think I was just finally done. I was at that low point where I knew I needed to change, and so I started to come clean. And the day I got caught, I started calling people and telling them what was going on, and I even called some of the people I used to gamble with and said, “Hey, look,” I came clean to them and said, “I’m done. Don’t call me; I’m not gonna go.” And they all laughed and said, “Oh, sure, yeah, we’ll talk to you in a week or two when you settle down. You just lost; once you’ll be back.” But I haven’t talked to them since.

And so, the moment I started to come clean to my family, things started to change. Now, I know what you’re thinking, which is exactly what I was thinking, which was, “I can’t tell them. I’ve been lying to them. I told them all these lies, and so now if I come clean, they’re gonna hate me; they’re going to be disappointed, extremely disappointed.”

It’s gonna break their heart. I mean, the thought of telling my mom or telling my fiance, at the time—yes, fiance, that’s part of the riverboats story which we’ll get to in a future episode—telling them the truth, it was gonna hurt them. And I knew it was gonna hurt them. And so, in a way, like, I was justifying my actions by protecting them. “Okay, I’m doing this to protect them.” But, at the end of the day, when you really look at it, I wasn’t protecting them because I wasn’t looking out for their best interests because I wasn’t looking out for my best interest. And all I was doing was continuing to dig a hole by trying to do it myself. And that constant, just relying on myself and relying on my willpower, was not working.

But the moment that I was exposed, the moment that I started to come clean to my family and my friends, was the moment everything started to change. And a lot of that, it changed because they told me things needed to change. And I needed their support in order to do that. I wasn’t just gonna go to GA on my own. I needed to be accountable. And that’s the thing that coming clean to family and friends creates for you—it creates a level of accountability. So you have other people that are on your side.


And I know, early on, I didn’t think they would be on my side. I thought like this may end relationships and it would be bad, and there was no way. They’d be so fresh with me, they wouldn’t be able to deal with me. But the reality is, for me, that that wasn’t the case. They have been extremely supportive. They’ve been the people to help me through and to push me to go to GA and to continue to go to GA, and they’ve created that accountability for me. And it’s really, really helped.

And the other thing is, a lot of my gambling was driven by this need to try and dig out of my hole, right? To get back to a place where then nobody would have to find out about it. But in coming to clean to them, I was able to make other changes in my life and to be more realistic about where I was and what I needed to do and what actions—and all of these things only started to happen when the truth came out. And as the truth came out, it really helped me because I didn’t have to live that lie anymore.

And I know for me, it tore me apart to constantly be lying. I mean, I’d be sitting in the parking lot, waiting for a phone call that I knew was gonna come in, so that I could talk to somebody and they wouldn’t know that I was then gonna run right back in and sit at the poker table because they thought I’d quit. And so I was living all these lies, and I was saying, “Oh, my business is great” when it wasn’t great. And “Oh, I’m so like, oh, I’ve never been happier” and meanwhile, gambling was just tearing apart my life.

And so, doing it in isolation wasn’t working. And once I involve my family and friends, things have just become so much easier. And so, if you’re looking to come up with a plan to help you quit, I know you think you’re in the same boat that you can’t do it, you can’t tell anyone, but I can tell you from experience that that has made all the difference for me.

And I’ll just leave you with this one other thought, which is one of my favorite things I’ve learned to do in recovery, which is just switch shoes and change places with the other person. Change places with your loved one. I mean, if it was your loved one that had the gambling problem, wouldn’t you want to know so you could help them? I mean, if they had cancer, wouldn’t you want to know so they, could you, could help them? I mean, if they had a broken foot and they couldn’t walk to get their mail, wouldn’t you want to know so you could help them?

And we all, I mean, we would all do anything to help our loved ones and our family, and so it’s really no different. And I think that helps when you start to think of things and flip, switch roles to see that look, yes, I know this is going to be difficult. They may be. But at the end of the day, they’re gonna want to help me just like I would want to help them.

And so hopefully, that switching shoes helps you to kind of get a better feel for how it will go down. And so, in addition to just coming clean and sharing my story with friends and family, the other thing that’s been a huge part of my plan is just never forgetting the pain.

And somewhere along the way, I started to realize, look, I think my brain’s just a little bit wired to forget. And it’s really sort of the only thing that makes sense, that I did the same thing over and over and literally the exact same thing over and over and thinking that those different results would come. And the only thing that makes any sense is that my brain’s wired to forget the downside, the downswing, the losses, because I never had any problem remembering the times when I won—those big wins, or even some of the smaller wins. I mean, that was what I remembered when I started gambling again. It was, “Hey, I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again.” And all along, I completely forgot the fact that when I started with a hundred bucks and ran up to a thousand, I would leave negative 400. I would lose all that thousand and then another 400.

And so the only thing that makes sense is that I’m wired to forget. And I’m sure there may be other things out there. The therapists out there are probably saying, “Oh, there’s this, that.” But for me, just keeping that memory fresh has been a huge part of my recovery. If you go to the website, I mean, just the graph, the little icon, you may not notice, but that’s a graph, and it’s the, the rise up—it represents the rise up of winning, followed by the steep loss in the free flow into negative territory.

And that graph, I drew that a long time ago. One time I was out with my wife for lunch—the complete graph—and that is part of that never forgetting the pain. And the reality is I know my graph. When you look at one segment of it, it looks like a win, but when you chart the whole thing over the six years of my gambling, it’s a very, very specific line, and it’s going negative, and it just keeps going down, and long-term, it’s going to continue to go down if I continue to gamble.

And so, like I say, never forgetting the pain is part of that. And I don’t like to dwell on it. It’s not something like I try not to beat myself up over it. And at times, I do, but I really try to just remember those things, and without dwelling on them, just so that I don’t make that same mistake again.

And so, how do I go about not forgetting the pain? And the

easiest one is that I go to Gamblers Anonymous. And I know this is a hot debate, and it’s something that new people, or people that are still gambling, when they talk to people that have quit, they say, “Oh, I don’t want to go. I can’t go.” There’s a lot of reasons not to go, and I know that because I also had all those same ones.

I didn’t want to go. I didn’t think I was like the people there, even though I had never met any of them. But it just didn’t seem like something I needed to do. I felt like I could do a different plan, and I know a lot of people that I’ve met, I said all, I just, I’ll just do personal one-on-one therapy, or I’ll do it on my own, I’ll just have more willpower this time. But I know from my experience that going to a weekly GA meeting has made all the difference. And it does allow me to not forget the pain. It also gives me another outlet to share my story, and kind of going back to the first one, coming clean—and these are coming clean with complete strangers—which then, over time, they don’t become strangers, or they don’t stay strangers. They become your friends. And that’s something I never thought would happen. But I have some really, really good friends from GA, which makes recovery so much easier. It’s part of my plan. But yeah, so going to GA has been huge.

And sharing my story and hearing the stories of others allows me to not forget the pain. It allows me to constantly tell myself the truth because either me or remembering things—and it’s interesting, somebody will say something that triggers a thought—they’ll say, “Oh, I remember one time I was doing X,” and I’m like, “Man, oh, I did that. I went to the ATM five times,” or, “I drove around in circles waiting for somebody to call and then do that,” or, “I ran to the mailbox. This one that we all ran to the mailbox to try and get there before somebody else did so we get the credit card statement,” or “We get any information that might expose our gambling problem.”

And so, hearing those stories and hearing other people talk about it, it reminds me. It reminds me of the pain. It reminds me of the things I don’t want to go back and revisit. And especially, especially when new people come in. I mean, you can just see it. And it reminds me. I remember my first night, I sat there, and my foot—and it was probably for 2 or 3 months—my foot would shake. It would shake under the table because I was just almost like a withdrawal thing or just kind of an uncomfortableness.

And I remember how fresh and how devastating the gambling was in my life by seeing it in other people. And so I use other people’s stories, which also triggers my stories, to not forget that pain, and then keep it fresh in my mind that, “Hey, you’re doing alright now, you’re doing really good actually right now. But if you choose to go back, here’s what’s waiting for you.” And I know that because I’ve met people that had 10 years of clean time and then they said, “I, it’s ok, I can, I’m good now. I can just do it in moderation.” And then moderation doesn’t happen, and they’re back in the program, fortunately.

But so all those stories allow me to never forget the pain. And also to hear stories that are just devastating. I mean, there are stories from fathers that I will never forget, and I didn’t actually personally experience the things that they went through. But I know that they’d be my reality if I go back to gambling. And so, collecting this bank of stories from others is something that’s been huge in my recovery and has made it so much easier to stay quit because I remember that story, and the pain in that man’s eyes when he was talking about his grown daughters telling him that they wasted their entire childhood. And I, I can put myself in switch shoes with them, and I can know that I’m not that far off, that if I go back, that’s going to be me, that’s going to be the relationship I have with my children, or lack of relationship I have.

And so, GA has been huge in allowing me to remember and to collect this awesome bank of stories that makes it easy to quit. Now, I want to mention that I know there are things that push people away from GA and that prevent them from ever coming in the first place. And I would just encourage you just to try it. Because I know personally there are things that I don’t like about GA. Oh, I’ll be the first one to say there are things that I would change if I were in charge. But the reality is the positive things that come out of GA for me are like 99 percent, 95 percent.

And so I’m willing to put up with that little bit of things that, “Hey, you know what, this isn’t how I would do it,” but what do I care? I’m getting what I want out of it. I go there because I don’t want to gamble anymore, and I get that. The other stuff that, hey, it doesn’t appeal to me, or it doesn’t kind of resonate with me, that’s fine because it might resonate with somebody else. But really, when you add it all up, the good that comes out of GA for me and for so many others far, far, far outweighs any of the negatives that you might have heard.

Now, in addition to going to GA, the other places that I go in order to kind of constantly remind myself—there’s a Reddit problem gambling group, and I like to go in there and read people’s stories. And you get the same thing; it’s like having GA, kind of on-demand. You can go and read these stories and be like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense. I was just like that.” And I try to respond to them. And most of the time, people don’t respond, which is a little frustrating. But again, it doesn’t matter. All I can do is do what I can to help them, and so hopefully, some of the things that I mention to them maybe help them along the way. But I know their posts help me. And so whether they respond or not, just going and reading those things, it’s just like GA—just adds to that story and reminder to me of what life would be like if I returned to gambling.

And so that’s an awesome place. Also, out of the Reddit group, there were some people that created a Discord chat, which I had no clue—this summer—what a Discord was, had zero clue. But basically, it’s just a chat group. And for those of you that don’t know what Reddit is, it’s basically like old school forums from the ’90s. It’s just a place where people post things, and people respond—it’s an online forum. And the Discord is just a chat, and it’s a lot of people that have gambling problems. And it’s all run—there aren’t therapists or other people; they may be in there lurking or whatever—but that’s not what it’s all about. It’s just other people chatting with other people that have a gambling problem, that have abstained for stretches. And a lot of us put our clean dates on there, so you can kind of know who you’re talking to.

It’s just nice. I mean, the comfort that people get when they come on, and you can just jump on and chat with somebody else and say, “Hey, look, I’m struggling with this,” or “How did you deal with this?” And so that’s an awesome resource that I use and encourage other people to jump on and take advantage of.

And so really, these two things—coming clean and never forgetting the pain, and kind of creating a system where I remind myself of my reality without—like I say—not beating myself up—it’s very much a positive thing. Because these things are the things that build up my willpower. And that’s—I once read in a book, I think it’s in “The One Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, which is—it’s an awesome book, check it out, “The One Thing”—but they talk about willpower is not on will-call. And I think so many of us use this willpower—I know I try to just use this willpower. And there were times that we could, and the willpower was strong, but then we get weak, and the willpower—it’s almost like a gas tank—it starts to wear down, and it starts to get low.

And so for me, sharing my story, attending GA, checking in on the Discord, checking in on Reddit—these are things that just keep my tank full. My willpower tank is constantly filled by doing these things.

And I really think that’s been the key to my recovery: keeping that willpower tank full through these actions and taking these steps, not just relying on the fact that, “Hey, I’m gonna do it differently next time.” I’m actually doing things to keep things fresh and keep that willpower tank full. So, that’s been a visual that’s been very helpful for me, and hopefully it helps you, is the willpower tank and keeping it full. And so, what are you doing to keep it full? And if you’ve struggled, or if you quit for long stretches but can’t quit kind of for good, look at it and say, well, maybe there were things that you were doing early on but then you stopped doing. That’s the one thing I’ve seen a lot with other people that kind of come back into the program or that post on Reddit after long stretches, and they’re back in the same thing. That’s—they—they just kind of got a sense of complacency.

And so, that’s what I fight on a day-to-day basis, is complacency. And I do it by sharing my story and never forgetting the pain. And so, those are the two key components, the backbone of my recovery, and I hope this helps you. And I look forward to hearing from you. Let me know if you implement these, if you do them, if you need any help or advice on how to best talk to a family member or a loved one. Let me know. I’ve been through it, and I’d be glad to help you. Shoot me a message on Twitter or send me an email through the website, and I’ll be happy to share, as best as I can, ideas or thoughts to help you out.

Finally, before I let you go, just want to remind you, if you haven’t already, please subscribe if you’d like to continue to receive updates for when new episodes come out. And then also, if you have a chance, I would be very, very, very thankful if you have a chance to leave that review because that’s what’s going to help spread the message, to help get this kind of ranking higher in the rankings on iTunes, on Stitcher, are the reviews. And so, if you have a chance, thirty seconds to a minute, just leave a quick review. That would be awesome. I would be very, very thankful and appreciative.

I look forward to seeing you in the next episode, where I’m going to share the riverboat story. It’s kind of the last day that I gambled, which was July 15th of 2010. Look forward to chatting with you in the next episode.

As a disclaimer, this podcast does not provide legal or medical advice. Look, I’m not a doctor, I’m not an attorney, and I’m not a therapist. I’m just a guy that had a gambling problem. So, while we’ll discuss a lot of topics and I’ll provide a lot of insight into what’s worked for me, please seek out the help of a professional. Go visit a lawyer, a doctor, or a therapist to help you deal with your gambling problem. The information that we discuss is for informational purposes and should not be taken as professional legal or medical advice. And reliance on the information appearing on this podcast is solely at your own risk.

The music for this podcast is “Something Elated” by Broke For Free and is licensed under the Creative Commons.