GAMBLING ADDICTION

MY STORY

Introduction

My name is Jamie. I’m married and have a wonderful family. I’m a small business owner, former college athlete, and honor student. Basically, I probably look a lot like many of your friends and co-workers.

I’m also a compulsive gambler.

For many years, I tried to quit gambling on my own. I could quit for short stretches—and even made it nine months at one point—but would eventually relapse and end up in even worse condition than before financially and emotionally.

Now, I haven’t gambled since July 15th of 2010.

Here’s my story…

Growing up, I gambled almost every day.

You see, I was a golf rat. I spent every weekday of my childhood at the golf course with my buddies. We’d play skins for a quarter to “keep things interesting”.

This continued on into high school and eventually to college. The stakes were never very high and winning or losing didn’t have an impact on my daily life.

It was all just harmless fun.

My First Experience With Problem Gambling

I first became aware of problem gambling when I was in college. It wasn’t me, but a very close friend of mine that had become addicted to gambling.

When they called to ask me for money, I was in shock. They had a job and it didn’t make any sense why they needed money to pay basic bills.

Eventually, I came to find out that they had become addicted to slot machines and every paycheck was going to the casino.

So, I bailed them out. I sent them money with the promise of being repaid.

Then the phone rang again. And again. And again. Each time, I knew that the request for more money was coming. I couldn’t say no, so I continued to send it.

As months passed, I continued to try to help. I setup plans for paying bills, catching up on credit cards and even had an envelope system they agreed would work.

But it didn’t. The problem continued to grow.

As you can imagine, seeing the effect gambling was having on my friend was devastating. I began to hate the casinos and swore I’d never go again.

THE SUMMER OF 2003

I had just turned 21 and like most college kids, spent a lot of my time hanging out with friends and partying.

With school out for the summer, my buddies and I would spend the days playing golf and the nights at the bars.

One afternoon, a few of my friends were heading over to hang out with their high school buddies and play poker. I had never played, but decided to tag along.

For the first little bit, I just watched. The game was Texas Hold-Em. Though I didn’t even know the hand ranks, after a while I decided to jump in. The game was very low stakes and I didn’t want to be the weird kid sitting and watching.

I don’t remember, but I’m sure I lost money that day. We went out that night and I didn’t give poker much of a second thought.

MONEYMAKER ON ESPN

In a house full of athletes, our TV was always tuned into ESPN. Therefore, when they decided to air the World Series of Poker Main Event as a series, our house full of guys was watching.

The 2003 WSOP was a script perfect for a movie, featuring the everyday man (Chris Moneymaker) against the pros. In the end, the accountant from Tennessee took down the championship and in doing so ignited the Texas Hold ‘Em poker boom.

As we watched the series, our house joined in the action. We began having regular home games. For myself and few other roommates, that wasn’t enough. The WSOP featured ads for online poker rooms and we jumped on our computers to play.

While I had played golf on our college team my freshman and sophomore years, I had now quit and therefore had even more free time on my hands. I was also looking for a competitve outlet and playing poker was filling that void.

MATH & CAUTION

At this time, I was not even a year removed from my experience helping my friend. I still hated gambling, but poker felt different. 

My friend was a slot machine player, where the odds are controlled by the casino. With poker it was different, the casinos took a small piece of every pot (rake), but by knowing the odds of each hand combination and future cards, you could gain an edge on the people you were playing against. Math had always been my strongest subject in school, so it was a natural fit.

Not only did I have the math on my side, but I was also fully aware of the pitfalls of gambling. Knowing this, I’d gamble within my means and would cash out once I doubled up.

For the most part, it worked. I won a little and when I lost, it was within my means.

THE STAKES INCREASE

After awhile, the $25 buy-ins weren’t as appealing as they once were. I had gained experience and started playing $50 or $100 buy-in tables.

Not only did I increase my stakes, but I also started to play more than one table at a time (multi-table). Playing conservatively, you fold most hands. It can get pretty boring and by playing several tables at once, it was easier to focus and only make good decisions.

IT WORKS…

After not having much success for a year or so, I finally started to figure things out. I had an approach to the game that was working.

There was one month that really sticks out in my mind. It was January of 2005. I was getting close to graduation, but I had no desire to enter the working world. After all, in one month I had seen $100 grow into more money than I could expect to make in a month of work as a marketer.

I was hooked.

Pretty soon, I was multi-tabling at $100-400 buy-ins each. The swings began to increase and the withdrawals began to decrease. I even added a second monitor to play eight tables at once.

UNTIL IT DOESN’T!

While I always considered myself a winning player, I had a massive leak in my game play.

Tilt.

In poker, tilt is an emotional state where you lose all sense of proper game play and begin making aggressive moves that are based in anger, not math.

A trigger for my tilt was when I would get all of my money in on a hand with massive odds to win, only to have my opponent pull one of the two cards in the deck that could save them. When these things happened, I lost my mind.

A week of playing conservatively and winning would be wiped out by a 15 minute session on tilt.

THE LOSSES ADD UP

Over time, my losses began adding up to signifcant amounts. I was no longer playing within my means and was using credit cards to fund my gambling problem.

All the while, I was still convinced I could and would turn things around. The next time would be different because I wouldn’t play as long. I’d cash out when I was ahead and would quit at the first sign of tilt.

But nothing changed.

Every time was exactly like the one before. I’d win for awhile, but eventually lose everything I had won as well as any other dollar I had access to at the time. The hole I was digging grew with each deposit.

BORROWING FROM FAMILY

When I would get in over my head and not be able to pay my bills, I turned to family.

I knew my family would help out as they had tried to help my friend out as well.

I would sell them on the idea that I was going to quit once and for all. In the moment, I probably meant it. However, I didn’t take any steps to treat my gambling problem and would soon after fall back into the same pattern of behavior only to go beg for more money.

Now, I wasn’t just hurting myself, but the ones that cared about me the most. Something had to change.

NOT JUST POKER

As the losses began to add up, I started playing other games to chase my losses.

On one occassion, I remember losing $800 (funded by a credit card that was over the limit) playing online roulette. As the ball spun, I couldn’t even watch the screen. I waited to hear the sound to know if I had won or lost.

Within 10 minutes, the $800 was gone.

I QUIT COLD TURKEY

Eventually, I knew I needed to make a change.

My grandma had previously quit smoking cold turkey and I sold myself on the idea that I could do the same with gambling.

For nine months, I was right.

OLD HABITS DIE HARD

I was doing well and felt quite proud of myself. I was investing time into my business and felt like I was on the right track.

When an old friend invited me to a home game, I thought “sure, I can do that.” After all, it was a low stakes game. At the most, I might lose $100.

I don’t remember how the home game went, but by the weekend I was back online playing Hold Em. The stakes were once again over my head and I picked up my misery right where I had left it.

In addition to home games, I found out that there was a local live-game in Cleveland. We didn’t have casinos at the time, but the operators donated a portion of the rake to charity which allowed them to operate within the law.

I would sneak up at any chance I could. My fiance would call me on her drive home from work, so I’d make sure that I was available to chat. Then, I’d dive right back into the room until closing time.

My losses continued to add up. My business was failing. Yet, I continued to gamble with hopes of turning things around.

I GET CAUGHT

Coming home from a business trip, I decided to stop off at a casino to play poker.

(Oh ya, this was at 7:00 AM on a riverboat because I’m one sick individual.)

Around 10 AM, my phone somehow dials out to my fiance. I find this out as she is calling back in a panic one time after another.

Keep in mind that she thinks I’ve quit gambling and this is a few months before our wedding, so ya…I’m freaked at what she may have heard.

I run to cash out, jump in my car and call her. I instantly come clean. She’s obviously shocked and hurt and I’m six hours away.

On the drive home, I called a few of the guys I regularly played poker with and tell them I’m done. It’s the last time I have spoken to them since.

I FINALLY GET LUCKY

When I finally get home, we meet and I get the biggest break I have had in my life.

While understandably upset, my fiance tells me I’m sick and need to get treatment. She even jokingly says I’m lucky that she watches a lot of the television show Intervention because she knows I have an issue and can get better if I seek out treatment.

This was the luckiest day of my life.

I GO TO GAMBLERS ANONYMOUS

I had zero interest in going to GA, but I didn’t want to lose my fiance.

I also think I was tired of the issues my gambling had created, but I had been in that state of mind and hadn’t taken action, so I credit my fiance with getting me there.

GA was a bit weird at first and I tried to think of reasons not to go. I loved playing poker and didn’t want to think of giving it up for the rest of my life. I also didn’t want to be stuck going to GA for the rest of my life.

Despite all these reasons not to go, I continue to attend. 

DEEP DEPRESSION SETS IN

After a few years of going to GA, I became deeply depressed.

I only mention this as a heads up to those that might also experience it. I think I was finally dealing with the shit I had created and that was the root of my depression.

I still deal with the depression from time to time, but I’m learning how to better address it.

WHERE I AM TODAY

I now have over seven years clean time in GA.

I’ve grown so much as a person. My finances get better every day and I no longer have the urge to ruin my life gambling.

The biggest part of my recovery has been reminding myself of the problems gambling creates in my life.

Before going to GA, I would quickly forget about these side effects and only focus on the wins. The #1 thing I need to do in recovery is remember the pain, without revisiting it.

Every now and then, I’ll think about poker. However, I’m now able to weigh the rush of playing vs the negative side effects and that makes it an easy decision to abstain.

LAUNCHING THIS PODCAST & BLOG

As part of my recovery, I’ve decided to launch this podcast and blog. There are so many others out there struggling with a gambling problem.

My hope is that my story can help them.

There’s a great TED talk Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong. In it, Johann Hari outlines his case for connection as the cure for addiction. 

I completely agree and I hope my efforts provide a chance for connection with others.

Thanks for Reading!

Jamie

TL;DR

  • Spend years trying to help a close friend quit gambling
  • Convince myself poker is different (math, etc)
  • Quit playing competitive golf and go deep into poker
  • Win for short stretches (weeks), but always tilt away profits in short bursts (hour or less)
  • Rinse and repeat for 6-7 years
  • Rack up huge debts, lie to family and friends that all is well
  • Quit for 9 months cold turkey before getting back into it (gateway was a cheap buyin game with friends)
  • Rack up more debt and lies
  • Get caught
  • Come clean
  • Go to GA
  • Learn a ton about myself
  • Rinse and repeat for 7+ years …and here I am

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