The first time someone suggested I might have a gambling problem was in high school. Before I went on a casino trip that I won at an auction, my football coach pulled me aside. He told me to be careful with my gambling, to think about what I was going to do.
Looking back on it, I think it was really insightful for someone in the 1990s to realize that someone might have a gambling problem. Unfortunately, I ignored his advice.
I started gambling at a young age. By the time I was 10, I participated in church-related activities, including cake walks, nickel rolls and games of chance. I also played my share of Bingo.
I grew up at a time when casinos were just getting started in Minnesota, and I often went and gambled there although I was under age.
When I wanted to gamble, I would do whatever it took to get the high. This could be gambling in a casino, playing the lottery or playing cards. I bet on hockey games and would even bet with friends on how many times an elevator would stop at a floor. Everything in my life involved gambling and games of chance.
The first time I sought help for my gambling was around 2007, when I went to Project Turnabout. I didn’t finish treatment, but going there was an eye opener. They told me I was a compulsive gambler, an alcoholic and a drug addict. I didn’t want to hear any of it, so I left. But I did take something from it.
For the next 10 years, I still gambled, though I had bouts of being gambling-free. I was in and out of GA meetings.
I suppose if there were a turning point, it might have been in 2017 when a little old lady pulled me aside at a GA meeting. She was probably frustrated because I still gambled some. I remember she told me three things: 1. “You’re going to make it,” 2. “Whatever you do for the next 12 months, don’t gamble,” and 3. “Keep going to the meetings.”
I found that I took a natural bond to her and what she said. I built a trusting relationship with her. If someone else told me the same thing, it might not have stuck.
I now work as a treatment coordinator. At some point, I hope to work strictly with people who have gambling problems. I thought I would be a special education teacher but I became fascinated with the social services aspect. I feel I can help people in a different way and engage them in conversations about recovery.
My advice to people struggling with gambling is to go and check out many meetings. You will find one that feels right, and when you do, treasure it. Stay in the present moment as long and often as you can, get humble and be teachable.