I lost my swagger. I lost my confidence. I lost my freedom. I was so focused on overcoming my addiction to alcohol that I didn’t see my gambling addiction stealing everything that I was working so hard to protect from alcohol. I was proud of what I had accomplished in overcoming my alcohol addiction. Most people don’t come back from as bad as I was. So dependent on alcohol that literally every moment of my life revolved around having a drink. Mix in the copious amount of benzos that I was taking to manage my anxiety and it damn near killed me. Alcohol was public enemy #1 and rightfully so. I put everything I had into overcoming it. It was my full-time job. I was doing great, I was kicking its ass.
Then, a few months into my recovery from alcohol and benzos, just as my life was starting to come together again, I started sneaking off to the casino on the weekends. It was harmless fun, I thought. A reward for all of the hard work that I had put in. An outlet to have some fun that I felt like I had being deprived of. The problem is, my gambling had been problematic in the past. Most people didn’t know it though. I always attributed it to my drinking. I’d justify it as, “Oh, I got drunk and gambled too much last night.” What I failed to do is acknowledge that gambling played a big role in my last relapse. You see, a few years back I had nearly six months sober before I relapsed and while there were an array of factors that contributed, financial issues from gambling was definitely one.
By my one year sober anniversary, I was going to the casino multiple times per week. I was losing all of my money and then some. I was pawning my stuff, then borrowing from family to get it back. One weekend this past January, right after celebrating a year of sobriety, I hit a big win. Enough to pay off all of my debts and get myself back on track. I should’ve stopped there. I should’ve realized how fortunate I was to get back my losses. That’s not how it works though. I wanted more. Two days later I was back in the casino. A few hours later, I was completely broke again. In the panic of that moment, after abruptly losing it all and being right back in the same boat of debt that I started in two days earlier, I drank. A couple of beers at the casino bar to calm myself down from the panic that had set in. That caused more panic and regret. It’s an hour and a half drive home and I didn’t know if I’d make it without a full-on panic attack. So I stopped at the liquor store and picked up a bottle of rum. I decided not to open it, giving myself the chance to calm down naturally on the way home. I didn’t want to go down that path of alcohol and anxiety again. I made it home. The next morning, I threw the bottle of rum, still unopened, into the dumpster by my house. I had avoided a near disaster.
At my next appointment with my counselor, I told on myself. I came clean about my gambling problem and how out of control it had become. It put this new issue to deal with on our radar. Someone to confide in. But it wasn’t enough, I kept gambling. It was a full-blown addiction. Lying to get money. Lying about where I was going. I was right back in the clutches of addiction. I felt horrible. I felt lost. I felt ashamed. But I kept doing it. The one thing I did right was tell my counselor about every screw up throughout the process. I realized that keeping it a secret gave it power over me. So I eventually went public and started telling people that I was dealing with a gambling problem. It gave me some relief, but still I couldn’t kick the compulsion to rush to the casino as soon as I would have money. I keep being honest with my counselor. I start doing my own research on gambling addiction. I find a little support.
A plan needed to be developed for me to start combating this problem. Start doing SMART Recovery for gambling. Check out a Gamblers Anonymous meeting. Give up control of my finances — I was reluctant, but I eventually came around. It was still a roller coaster ride. Emotions high, emotions low. A few days without gambling, then a gambling binge. It was my worst nightmare. After all the work I put into overcoming one addiction, why did I have to learn how to deal with another one? It wasn’t fair. I felt sorry for myself.
“You’re a recovering alcoholic, you know what to do.” That is the typical response I received when talking about my gambling addiction. I loathed that reasoning. I loathed it because it was true. I did know what to do overcome this gambling problem, I just couldn’t get myself ready to accept it and do it. The good news, though, was I that I was getting tired of this cycle fast. Tired enough to actually start doing something about it. Maybe this addiction wasn’t going to require me to be miserable for years before I figured it out. Maybe I did have the power end it any time I wanted to. Maybe I just needed to get serious about this shit.
So, I did. I went back to basics. I took an inventory of everything it was costing me and was yet to cost me. I took inventory of what I was getting out of it. I identified my feelings and my triggers. I did all those things that I already knew how to do from overcoming an addiction. I did the things that worked before. Sure, there were some different feelings and different reasons for this addiction, but the concept was the same. When it all comes down it, for me, it’s about shutting up and doing what I’m supposed to do. I stopped talking about having a problem and started working on a solution. It’s not an exact science. It’s still very much a work in progress. Thank God I didn’t add alcohol back into the mix. Thank God I worked so hard to overcome an addiction already and had tools in place. Thank God for Vivitrol and counseling. Gambling damn near wrecked it all for me. I lost a lot but not too much to come back from. Now I’m in a better place mentally and emotionally. Now I’ve taken the power back.