I had been exposed to gambling my entire life. As a kid, it was winning tickets from arcade games; as a teenager it was playing cards and dice with my family for small pots of cash; as an adult, it was going to the casino with friends or playing poker tournaments. I was able to gamble "normally" for many years, but the point it all changed was when I started gambling to "escape". I had just left a 3-year relationship, I had a ton of stress at work, and I started going to the casino by myself because it was a place I always had fun at and was comfortable in that environment.
Very quickly, all I wanted to do was sit in front of a slot machine, drink beer, smoke cigarettes and zone out. I didn't have to think about life or my problems - I could just play games all day. I started taking cash advances off my credit cards because I would always run out of money before I was ready to stop drinking and gambling. Within a year, I went from having no credit card debt to minimum payments that were higher than I could afford. That didn't stop me though - I didn't know I had a gambling problem. I thought I had anxiety and depression issues, I thought I was terrible at managing money. I was in denial, and I stayed there for another 8 years. I changed jobs and moved across the country twice, but I was still a compulsive gambler. I constantly gambled my bill money, my grocery money, and my fun money. I filed bankruptcy, borrowed money from family, manipulated my tax withholdings, and took online payday loans. It was a constant cycle of robbing Peter to pay Paul. I never had money to go out to dinner, or buy new socks, but I always could find money to gamble.
In the last year or two of gambling, it wasn't even fun anymore. I wanted to stop but I couldn't. I couldn't NOT go to the casino. I think my record was 8 days without gambling, then I was right back at it again. I hated myself and didn't recognize the person I had become. I wanted to die. I thought it was the only way to break this miserable cycle that had become my life. Then, in Oct 2014, I decided to look for help. My reasons for seeking help weren't the right ones, but they led me to counseling and Gamblers Anonymous. I hated being at that first meeting. The whole premise was completely foreign to me, no one seemed to be like me, I barely said anything. The one thing I did do though was listen and I'm so grateful that I did. Everyone at the meeting told their stories and I could relate to all of them in different ways. I remember that a woman was celebrating her 60 day anniversary and I thought that 60 days without gambling seemed like an eternity.
I learned two things in my first GA meeting: 1) I learned the term "compulsive gambler" and that it applied to me, and 2) I was not alone. I was not the only person to have this problem. I left that meeting with hope. Hope that I could actually stop gambling. That's pretty huge coming from someone who has said "Hope is for suckers" more times than I can count. I continued going to meetings and working my recovery program and today, I have over 2 years of abstinence from gambling. I'm not going to say it was easy, because it wasn't. But I couldn't have done it without the people in GA. Everyone wanted me to succeed and going to meetings twice a week held me accountable for my actions. My life is so different now - I deal with problems head on and I have no need to escape. Life is far from perfect, but my worst day in recovery is still much better than my best day while I was gambling.
I hope that sharing a little bit of my story motivates you to go to a GA meeting. There is hope and your life can be better if you put in the effort to change it.
These are the stories of actual GA members who wanted to share their experiences with you in the hope that it will encourage you to come to a GA meeting for help.