The first time I gambled, when I was 18, I considered it simply entertainment. I might spend $20-$40 and go with some friends. It never occurred to me that gambling could become a debilitating addiction.
However, while I was in college, the impact of several events unsettled me. First, my mother’s longtime partner left her, leaving emotional wounds for all of us to deal with. And not long after that, I learned that a young girl who I had mentored died by suicide. I tried to focus and managed to graduate, but I never had a chance to truly grieve these losses while in school.
After graduating, I eventually moved back to Minnesota in 2017 and got engaged. That’s when I started to explore gambling. By the time I got married in July of 2018, I was living a double life with gambling. I remember telling my husband at the time that I felt more married to slot machines than to him.
I had been looking forward to marriage and the opportunity to be part of his family, as I was adopted and longed to be loved and experience a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, although I initially felt accepted by my husband’s family in the beginning, I eventually found it hard to be myself.
All of these struggles — rejection, abandonment, not feeling I belonged or was loved — drove me to gamble as an escape. Gambling offered a “fake happy place” for me to numb my pain and just be. I felt emotions on the outside but had deep pain inside myself. When I gambled, it felt fun, but as time progressed, I was exhausted. I felt like a robot with an altered mind and body
At first, I gambled for just a few hours. But before long, I was gambling for longer periods of time, spending $300-$500 two to three times a month. Things progressed quickly. Within a year, I was losing $1,000- $2,000 two to three times a week.
I would drive to Mystic Lake no matter what the weather was like. As I drove, I’d constantly hear a voice telling me that everything would be fine — but it was hard to numb that voice.
My gambling escalated even more. I spent a lot of my inheritance from my grandparents, approximately half a million dollars in two years
My health started going downhill. I stopped taking important medications and stopped eating, losing 30 pounds over two years. I let go and didn’t care, as if I wanted to die that way.
Well into my addiction my morals became very foggy and distorted. My socializing with friends became more isolating. I lied, I stole from my fiancé, used my inheritance and other forms of getting money (annuities, life insurance), and sold my most prized possessions. In the end, the last things I sold were my flute from childhood and a camera my grandma had bought me. I was desperate and needed money, it was my fix.
I lost my job in December 2019 and had a mental breakdown on January 2, 2020. I knew I wanted to get help and be in a safe place. My mom grabbed my childhood blanket and bear to help comfort me. I told her to take me to the ER. I had suicidal thoughts. I was done living.
I told my mother all about my gambling. She said my eyes were a different color during my breakdown and wanted to protect me from the kitchen knives. Eventually, she got me to a safe place, the hospital. I ended up celebrating my 33rd birthday in the hospital, and my mom, aunt and husband came to celebrate. I never thought I’d be where I was, but I needed to feel safe and heard in a protected environment.
It was during my hospital stay that we found a program for inpatient care for gambling addiction, the Vanguard Center at Project Turnabout in Granite Falls. I went there shortly after leaving the hospital. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.
As we drove, I noticed an eagle flying next to the car. For me, it was a symbol of a higher power. I know that a “higher power” can push some people away, but for me it’s about nature
At Vanguard, I learned a lot about addiction in general but also gambling addiction. I related to the 20 questions in the GA yellow combo book and, more and more, realized I did have a gambling problem.
Being in treatment for five weeks, I learned that gambling addiction doesn’t define me, even if it happened in my life. I learned more about how much more pain I had endured in life and its impact on my self-esteem and self-confidence. In treatment, I have a relapse prevention plan, and support has helped me continue to make my recovery number one. I learned how to advocate for myself and what I need, knowing my toolbox of coping skills when things get overwhelming and learning to be kind and gentle to my new self. Recovery is challenging but I tell myself I do the best I can do in that day and give myself credit. It’s truly okay to ask for help. I’m not alone anymore.
Sharing my story is part of the healing I do every day, part of my recovery. I hope that sharing my story can help others and be a reminder that there is help out there.