GSS 008: What’s It Like to Attend a Gamblers Anonymous Meeting?

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Full Episode Transcript

This is episode eight of the Gambling Still Sucks Podcast. In this episode, we’ll discuss what it’s like to attend your very first Gamblers Anonymous meeting. 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. I haven’t gambled since July 15th of 2010. If you’ve listened to past episodes, you know that I am a big believer in the in the power of Gamblers Anonymous.

I know what it’s done for my life, and I’ve seen the same for other people’s lives. But a question I often see ask is, “Hey, what actually happens at a meeting?” And so in this episode, I hope to share what it’s like to attend your first Gamblers Anonymous meeting so that you’ll feel more comfortable the first time you walk in the doors.

I know. I wish I would have had this guy. I think I even Googled like, What do you do? And maybe I got some of the information, but it’s always nice to know what you’re walking into. And so what can you expect from a Gamblers Anonymous meeting? In this episode, I’ll be sharing the format for our group. But what I found is that it’s very similar to many other groups around the country and around the world.

So there may be slight difference in the order of operations and depending on how many people are there. But this will give you an idea of what to basically expect from any Gamblers Anonymous meeting.

So the very first thing and this is this is an insider tip, and this is not a serious one, but it’s an important one, which is a lot of meetings have some kind of coffee or juice or a snack, maybe donuts or something like that.

When people ask, “hey, would you like something?” Go grab one. I waited three or four weeks before I felt comfortable. These aren’t things you don’t have to pitch in money for. This is just stuff people bring. It’s for everyone. So don’t feel like you shouldn’t because it’s your first night. Go grab something, grab a coffee. It’ll make you feel more comfortable.

If you’re a little hungry, grab a little snack if there’s something there. This is the important tip. Grab a snack. It’s for anyone. You don’t have to throw any money in.

On that topic, Gamblers Anonymous groups are self-supporting, so contributions from the group are used to pay for things like snacks or to rent the place.

They’re needed because a lot of times they’re at a church or something else, and there’s a little minimal cost involved. Or to get new literature, those types of things. And so there’s often some kind of collection or a bucket to throw some money in your first night. Don’t feel any obligation to do so, even your second. I mean, most groups, I think what you’ll find is and you can ask the suggested pitch is maybe a buck or two.

And when you’re at a point where you can do that and you have the money to do so, definitely do so because it helps the group. But don’t stop attending or feel bad if you’re not able to put in a night or a couple of nights or whatever the case may be. And so we’ve covered snacks and we’ve covered it’s self-supporting.

Now, what’s the actual meeting going to be like? And it usually consist of a mix of reading and therapy. And so for our group, we have a reading of the first half. So there’s the yellow book. It’s called The Combo Book. It has a lot of the literature that you’ll find on the Gamblers Anonymous website. And each night we read through that, and that’s the first half of the meeting, which takes 15 to 20 minutes to read through it.

We take turns reading. But on your first night, I’ve never seen a group that forces people to read.. It’s always optional. And even in later nights, you can say, “Hey, look. Do you mind if I let you know when I’m comfortable?” That’s never been a problem in our group, and I don’t see it being a problem in any other group.

So you can sort of read from the book whenever you’re comfortable, but there’s usually some kind of reading from one of the Gamblers Anonymous literature pieces. In our group, we read the yellow book and then go around the 20 questions. And so on your first night, the group, somebody from the group will ask you the 20 questions. This is something everybody does on their very first night.

If there are nights where we don’t have a new person, we just go around the room and kind of one after another, ask one, two or three and go around the table with the 20 questions. But your first night you will be asked the 20 questions. It’s a simple yes or no. Nobody’s going to judge you. What you’ll find I remember my first night was the 20 questions I got to, I don’t know, 14 or 15.

And I was like, man, I have to say no to something because I had so many yeses. So I had some white lies there, probably on my first night. But over time, and especially as you start to see, like when you go around the room, most of the people there say yes to most every one of the questions.

They’re very applicable to everybody. So don’t feel bad if you have a yes to nearly all of the questions or all of the questions. Just answer them honestly. Simple yes or no. You don’t have to explain yourself. Nobody there is going to be judging you because, like I say, we’re all in the same boat. We all answer yes to most of the questions.

That’s the reason we’re in the group. So then for our group, after we do the 20 questions, there’s also a blue book, the Day at a time Book, very similar to the combo book. It’s been adapted from Alcoholics Anonymous and it’s just a daily reading. This is the place that you will see a lot of references to God.

And keep in mind that in Gamblers Anonymous, when references are made to God, it just means higher power. It’s not any specific deity. It is a generic term for whatever you view as your higher power. And I know I’ve heard people say, “Hey, my dog, my cat was my higher power.” It literally means whatever it means to you.

So just keep that in mind, because I know that I’ve mentioned in earlier episode that the religious aspect or kind of view that is a religious group has pushed people away in the past. And I just hope that that doesn’t continue on in the future. And I know why people feel that way, but just know that it is a spiritual group just based on whatever you believe in or if you don’t believe in anything else.

Like I say, you can use your dog or your cat as your higher power or just the group. And that’s often the case that people view the higher power as the group and the information they get from the group. But there’s the reading from the blue book.

Then after that, our group, we take a little break. We don’t really have any smokers left. We have had some smokers. We take a little smoke break, refill, coffee and bathroom break. Like I say, the first half is maybe 20, 25 minutes for us and then come back and there’s a topic for the night.

And so with therapy, you’ll introduce yourself, just like I did at the beginning of the show. Hey, I’m Jamie. I’m a compulsive gambler, and you’ll state the last day you gambled.

So for me, July 15th of 2010. And don’t worry, you won’t have to go first. Usually the new people go last, and sometimes that’s all they say. And they say, “Hey, look, I really appreciate everybody sharing tonight. I don’t feel comfortable sharing quite yet. Maybe I’ll share next week.” And that’s completely acceptable. That can be your therapy for night one. Just simply going and listening and introducing yourself.

But as you get comfortable, you’ll start to share. And whether you want to talk about the topic that’s brought up or things that are going on in your life, or a lot of times people will use back therapy, which is just talking about their experiences gambling. It’s a lot of what I do on this. I mean, talking about, hey, you know, there was a time I used to play eight tables of poker online.

I remember the one time I lost back to back hands where I flopped the second nuts, which is the second best possible hand you could have. So there was only one hand combination that could beat me and back to back hands. Somebody out at the table had that. And so you share some of these things are, hey, I remember going to the ATM or the drives home or I mean, real low points.

The therapy is meant to get out and just kind of start to share some of those thoughts that you’ve kept to yourself for all these years. Because what you’ll find is, first of all, other people’s therapy seems like, “Wait a second there, you gave my therapy” because so much of what we have to say and we think our situation is unique, but other people had the exact same experiences while gambling and they struggle with the same things we struggled with, or they literally had the exact same experiences.

And so people talk about the relationship shifts with family members or spouses or kids or money troubles or whatever you want to share. And that’s like I say, this is a safe environment for you to share these things that you’ve kept bottled up inside. And I really think there is value in the sharing personally, but then also listening to other people’s stories.

This is where you get the real power of Gamblers Anonymous because you start to build this bank of stories in your mind so that as you start, think, Oh, hey, I’m different. And you say No. I mean, Joe shared this and he’s he’s sort of feeling the same way. And so I’m not. I’m not weird or different or hey, June had this experience where she did XYZ and I was thinking that, but then she said this work to help her and I’ll try that.

And so you’re building up all of these kind of experience bank and stories that you can draw upon in your recovery, and you just can’t get those. You can get them sort of in other ways. But I mean, there are some moments that are with me, I mean, to death. And after other people’s therapy that just rang so true with me about being a father or missing out on their child’s stuff.

And it’s heartbreaking to listen to it. I mean, when you can see and hear the pain in somebody’s voice, it sticks with you. And it’s something I couldn’t get. Reading that same story on an online chat or I couldn’t get it any other place. And so the therapy aspect is so valuable now in our group. I mean, people may share anywhere from a minute to 5 minutes.

I know other groups, maybe it’s a minute or two or they have different formats. Sometimes a limited number of people speak. Our group gets anywhere from 6 to 12 people on a normal night, so giving everybody a minute to three or 4 minutes is plenty of time. Maybe it takes, I don’t know, anywhere from 25 to 45 minutes for the therapy session.

So I mean, brings a total meeting to maybe a little over an hour. Most times it was somewhere between an hour, an hour and 20 minutes. But I know some groups are much larger. And so they either have a limited number of people that speak or their meeting might last a little longer. Now, after therapy, the most groups, I believe, stand and say the Serenity Prayer.

Often groups will hold hands during this and the Serenity Prayer. Again, it’s not a spiritual thing, but look at it as just kind of whatever your higher power is, kind of the group belief. And it’s kind of I mean, the Serenity prayer, if you’re not familiar, it’s “God. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

And that poem really summarizes what recovery’s like. Having the courage to take the actions that you need to have a successful recovery and also to accept the things you can’t change anymore, like the past. That pretty much is the format for most groups. Like I say, it’s a combination of reading and sharing, drinking some coffee and having a donut or two.

A lot of times people will hang out afterwards for just a little bit and chat or especially being the new person. One thing I warn you, people are probably going to want to talk to you. They’re going to want to share that they want you to come back. They’re going to be really excited to see you and encourage you to come back.

And it’s just like anything else. Any time somebody new comes into a group, you’re going to be a little bit of a focal point. I know this can be a hang up for people, but just know that they come from a place where they just they see you. And oftentimes I see the pain in people. And even in their first minute, I start to see some of that weight come off them.

And so being there and seeing how well it can work over extended period of time. Any time I see a new person, I mean, I’m excited for the hope of them changing their life because I see that pain and misery. And so when I share with them or kind of encourage them to come back, it’s just out of a place of hoping that they can follow a similar path.

Because I know how much of a struggle it is when you’re in the moment and this is a place that can help you so much.

And so there it is. That’s basically the format of a gambler’s anonymous meeting. Like I say, you’ll see people of all walks of life, all ages, races, demographics, you name it. Gambling doesn’t single any group out over any others.

So you’ll see it all. I’ve met CEOs and I’ve met people that were unemployed. It’s the whole range. And you’ll see people at different points in their journey. And it’s so important. It is so cool to see things. The person that’s there on their very first night, they often don’t realize how much they give to the group.

And the person that has 30 years clean time gets so much from seeing that first person come in because it allows them to go back to that time when they were just getting over it and allows them to kind of revisit that place and remember that place without actually having to go there. It’s very much a symbiotic relationship.

New people helping old people—I shouldn’t say old people—people with more time in the group and vice versa. So hopefully that gives you an idea of what to expect at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. If you go to one, let me know what your experience was like. If it was different, let me know how it was different. And yeah, I just encourage you to go find out.

And if it’s the first one you go to, you go a few weeks and you’re like, I just don’t think this one’s going to be right. Try another group. If you’re fortunate enough to be in a group or in a city with multiple groups, try a different one because every group has a little different flavor. There are different people that attend it and it may be run a little different and maybe you get that one person there that you really connect with because you’re both poker players or you’re both slot players or you’re about the same age or you both like to play.

I was going to say Atari. I’m dating myself and I’m only 35. But you like to play Xbox or or video games. And so you’ll have something that you connect on if the first meeting isn’t the right one for you, it’s like doctors or anything else. Go find another one. And maybe the problem is it’s just that group isn’t a good fit for you. So explore and find a group that fits you. Because once you do, it’s extremely valuable to your recovery.

Finally, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for tuning in. Thank you for sharing it. Thank you for your reviews. Thank you for your feedback. Thanks for sending in show ideas for future episodes.

All of these things have really encouraged me and let me know that I’m doing something that is valuable and helpful. And when I started this, I know I said, “Look, I just want to do something and I know it’s going to help me.” But obviously I wanted to help other people as well. That’s why it’s a podcast. And so your response has been overwhelming, both in downloads and from the feedback and on the downloads.

We’re already over 400 downloads in just two weeks. Which that number just blows my mind. And it is frightening to me to know that that many of you are listening to my voice and the hours that have been listened to. It’s sort of incredible and surreal. But like I say, it just helps me know that I’m doing something good with my gambling addiction.

And so I appreciate you tuning in and please continue to reach out. Let me know what you think. Give me ideas for other shows in the future. If you want to come on and share your story, let me know. I’ve had a few people do that and I’m looking forward to setting up those interviews and kind of switching gears and having some people come on so we can get some interviews on here as well, because my stories all well and fine, but there are so many other stories out there that I think would be great for the world to hear.

And so if you’re comfortable sharing your story, let me know and we’ll get something set up so we can get that recorded and out into the world. So, yeah, thanks for tuning in and I look forward to seeing you in future episodes.

Now before you go, I’d like to go over a few very important things. First of all, I think it’s important to remember that problem gambling is a treatable disorder.

There’s no scientific evidence or study that suggests that this is just a terminal condition and that we’re going to be forced to deal with the negative side effects and results of our actions for the rest of our lives. And so while I know that in the moment it feels like this is something that you’re going to be struggling with for the rest of your life, science just doesn’t back that up.

Recovery is real, but we just need to seek out treatment.

And so that brings me to point number two, which is that help is available. Many of the states here in the United States actually offer free counseling and therapy for not only gamblers, but family members as well. And so you just need to know that these programs are available.

And the best way to start finding out more information is to call the hotline number. And that’s 1-800-522-4700. Again, that’s 1-800-522-4700. And this is the number run by the National Council on Problem Gambling. And so it covers all 50 states and they’re going to have information and be able to start to guide you on the path to seek out help in the area where you live.

And these hotlines aren’t just available here in the United States. They’re available around the world. So just simply open up a Web browser, type in gambling help gambling hotline, and you’ll be able to find the information for your local area in addition to the hotlines. There are numerous places where you can find gambling support and information online. If you go to

I’ll list some of these things and I’ll continue to add to this as I find new resources, whether they’re chat groups or online forums or just great information. So again, that was As a disclaimer, this podcast does not provide legal or medical advice. Look, I’m not a doctor, a therapist, or an attorney.

I’m just a guy who 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 or legal or medical advice and reliance on the information appearing on the podcast is solely at your own risk.

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