Getting Nothing for Something: The Gambling Addiction

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By JDSA Intern/Arati M. Jambotkar

Intro-

It is one thing to anonymously unveil personal, deep and painful memories with strangers. But to sign your name in the hope your intimate stories can help change the course of the lives of others, is both brave and noble.

Over the past several months you’ve followed A.J. as she’s laid her soul before you.  She does this solely for the purpose of contributing to the cause of positive change.

Writing and sharing this article about her struggles of overcoming a gambling addiction, along with several other emotionally moving and powerful experiences is A.J.’s  way of,

 Just Doing Something…. Anything!

            A confession: When I was fourteen, I had a penchant for country music.  There was something about Clint Black’s Good Run of Bad Luck, a new song back in 1994, that was undeniably appealing to me.  And it still is.  Here’s an excerpt:

I’ve been to the table, and I’ve lost it all before.
I’m willing and able, always coming back for more.
Squeezing out a thin dime ’til there’s no one hanging on my arm.
I’ve gambled on a third time.
A fool will tell you it’s a charm.
If I’m betting on a loser, I’m going to have a devil to pay,
But it’s the only game I know to play.
It doesn’t matter anyway.

This past August, almost twenty years after the release of that song, I spent a pair of Friday and Saturday nights in a luxury room at the New Orleans Marriott – a room normally averaging $238.00 a night – making the grand total for the weekend a whopping $476.00…as far as hotel expenses are concerned.  Wow!  Almost five hundred bucks.  That’s the max payout on an old video poker machine at a truck stop casino, you know.  But the beautiful – and tragic – thing is that the room didn’t cost me a dime.

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I have to admit, my twenty-first birthday was fairly uneventful.  I was already indulging in alcohol and drugs at full-speed by then, so the legality of drinking brought me no level of excitement, whatsoever.  As far as being of “casino age” is concerned, that too, was shockingly unenticing – at the time.

Occasionally, I’d visit the small casino approximately fifteen miles from my hometown.  With four or five dollars in my pocket, I’d play for twenty minutes.  I wasn’t unhappy if I lost those handful of dollars…and I was only mildly happy if I’d won a few back.  I remember cashing out tickets for a couple dollars here and there, and having them add up to about twenty – ecstatic that dinner for the evening would be covered in full.  At twenty-one, I’d not yet experienced the feel of that “rush” that would soon become the greatest I have ever known.  Waiting, unbeknownst to me just around the corner, was a sense of hopelessness, defeat, and melancholy.

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Late in 2008, I spent the weekend at the largest casino in New Orleans with my now, ex-girlfriend.  The experience was nothing short of sheer Roman extravagance: a free luxury room, complimentary buffets, scintillating lights, and the type of sounds that make your breath stop short with a severe jolt.  But even then gambling still didn’t appeal to me.  After throwing ten or twenty dollars away, I’d sit next to my ex…bored. Yet again.

Regardless, she and I continued visiting the same casino, taking advantage of the luxury rooms and the complimentary meals.  Those scintillating lights and the jolting sounds were a bonus.  It was our weekend getaway…our escape from the mundane goings-on of our small town.  Slowly, the $10’s and $20’s became $40 and 50.  Then $60 and $80 in a single sitting.

I remember my first big win – the “win” I’d end up chasing over and over again for the rest of my gambling days.  I’d brought sixty dollars to a big casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, and hit enough money to buy a brand new, high-end, state-of-the-art laptop for grad school.  That’s when I discovered I could actually win at gambling.  I felt I’d just uncovered a secret about the world and life no one had ever known.  Trips to the casino started getting exciting!

I was introduced to bingo, a seemingly geriatric game, but actually not so much.  After winning $2,000 at a Super Extravaganza, I was hooked – frequenting the bingo hall every night and eventually spending more than three times the money I’d originally won.

I squandered my student loans just to break even.  When those dried up, I started borrowing from my ex.  Small increments at first – forty dollars here…fifty there.  It didn’t take long for hundreds, even  thousands of dollars, to change hands.  Each student loan check that arrived in the mail would be gone in a matter of weeks.  Once all of it vanished, I’d be left with an empty feeling and a running debt.  A debt I could only pay off when I won something big.  It was an endless pattern.

So how does gambling make me feel?  High.  Sky high.  It’s a rush.  A rush during…and rush beforehand.  Just knowing I’m about to play is greater than the rush of the win itself.  I remember those drives to the casino. The anticipation.  The nonstop talking.  The laughing.  All the while the money was still in my pocket.  I practically leapt out of my seat just thinking about walking under those bright lights.  What started off with a pull of a penny or video poker machine soon became an anticipation of better, more exciting things to come.  But after four or five hours of sitting at a machine, staring at numbers and cherries and diamonds spinning around, I became transfixed. I no longer knew what I was doing, or how much money I’d spent.  Often times I’d completely forgotten where I was, or even who I was.  I felt absolutely nothing.

Then, all at once, there it was! A feeling. A feeling of loss.  Losing filled me with a concoction of emotions; incomparable anger, shame, self-pity, and self-hatred.  But I felt something…finally.  And I kept going.  A few times, I thought about driving off the spillway bridge on the ride home from the casino, submerging myself and getting lost in the muddy water – not realizing I was already lost in a very different kind of muddy water.

Today, I know I’m powerless over gambling.  I can’t control the cycle once it begins to spin.  And it’s made my existence unmanageable.  I’ve allowed my addiction to turn me away from my God, my family, and my friends.  Everything I had ever known to be true, honorable, sacred and pure – all in favor of indulging those scintillating lights and those jolting sounds.  I knew what I was doing and what it was doing to me.  But the high…it was so undeniable.

I’ll never be able to catch back all the money I’ve lost, but it doesn’t matter.  The scariest thing about addiction is that the high feels stronger and seems better than anything money could ever bring.  That’s the high of gambling.  That’s its lie.  It’s ugly and baffling, and I never want to experience it again.  It’s the greatest price you’ll pay for something that, according to that country song back in 1994, doesn’t matter anyway.  Because today it doesn’t have to matter.

It’s not enough for me to realize that…knowing it is what makes it so priceless.

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