Growing up, I wanted to be a professional gambler. I studied the Texas Hold’em Poker Bible and my goal was to be the World Series of Poker champion.
It’s something I set my sights on since I began playing poker at age 8. In fact, back then, I remember everyone thinking, “Hey, look at this kid who can play poker.” It was a cute thing.
I played a lot in junior high and high school. I taught my friends how to play and set up a lot of tournaments. It was a big part of my lifestyle.
Eventually, I started going to the Canterbury card club. First, I went with my brother-in-law, and then later I went by myself. I lied about how often I would go there and how long I would stay. Sometimes I would stay all night. This went on for years.
If I’d have followed the path to professional gambling, I think it would have left me emotionally and spiritually empty. When I won, I’d spend my money on unhealthy things. For me, gambling was like a drug – it calmed me down and numbed the pain. I justified my gambling because it was something I was good at. On television, when they show the World Series of Poker champion, they don’t show the dysfunction that goes on behind the scenes.
I was also addicted to alcohol and would “ping-pong” back and forth between addictions. Sometimes I wouldn’t drink but would still go to the casino. Other times, I didn’t gamble but would still drink. Later, I would learn more about the danger of switching addictions.
The impetus for my recovery was a crisis with my wife. After a series of events with drinking and gambling, she said, “Do you want to be a good father for our kids or do you want to be a poker champion?” For a number of months, I thought the poker possibility was going to win out. But, thankfully, it didn’t.
In my recovery I’ve come to understand addiction and how my past trauma was being dealt with or covered up by gambling and drinking. Addiction is the solution to a problem that the individual can’t deal with. If it is an unhealthy behavior and is repeated enough, the solution to the problem becomes the problem and the addiction process begins and is very difficult to stop because the underlying problem is still there when the addiction is taken away.
This is why we have so many cases of long-term chronic relapse. The body becomes addicted and the problem appears to be the addiction. While that’s true on the surface, underlying trauma or self esteem issues are what fuel the addiction. Until these issues are addressed, addiction never really goes away.
I’m so passionate about addiction that it’s a field I chose to go into eight years ago. I talk to a variety of groups about addiction and the various ways it manifests, including compulsive gambling. I talk to various groups of people — seniors, people in treatment centers and those who have been ordered by a court to have counseling and who may not want to talk about it.
I know there are a lot of gamblers out there still suffering. My goal is to let them know that help is out there before it totally dominates their life.