I am amazed at how compulsive gambling changed my personality and others as well. Even though I am not an extrovert by any means, I usually am polite and will greet others in a friendly manner. From the moment I began gambling, however, my personality changed. I became withdrawn, and I focused heavily on my attempts to win back the money that I lost, and I would become angry with anyone who sat at the machine next to me, hoping to engage me in conversation. Believing that the conversation was interrupting my gambling, I became irritable and very abrupt, and I would also try to ignore the person while inwardly wanting to tell her to be quiet and to leave me alone. If someone sat beside me on the machine next to me and won a jackpot while I sat at my machine losing, I would become very angry, particularly if the person who won wanted to share the victory with me. This is the same case if I’m playing poker and the person beside me is always winning while I’m at a losing streak. Instead of congratulating them like I normally would in my non-gambling mode, I would not answer them if they said ” look, I won!” I would continue to gamble as if they weren’t there, inwardly cursing them for their good luck and my misfortune. If someone would ask me to save their machine for them, I reacted internally like “Are you kidding me? Save your own machine and stay off of mine!”, but externally I would ignore this person. I have found through talking and listening to others with the same illness that I am not alone in this. Many other compulsive gamblers have reacted in similar or even worse ways due to this illness.
Yesterday I had dinner with some friends at Carrow’s restaurant, and we spoke of some outlandish behaviors we engaged in as compulsive gamblers. One of these was our attempt to “possess” our machine, so that no one would steal our luck from it. I was told that an acquaintance of one of my friends became very angry at someone who sat down at the machine that he had been playing but had to leave in order to get more money. When he returned to the machine and saw the person playing there, he came up to the person and yelled,” GET OFF THE MACHINE! THAT’S MY MACHINE!”
Other incredible stories from my friends included their descriptions of how they would hit or bang at their machines out of their frustrations with the amount of money that they were losing. I observed this myself during one of my gambling binges. I was in a casino one evening, and I noticed that someone had banged on the machine that they were playing. I also watched while this person who had been seen in the security camera was accompanied out of the casino by the security personnel. As I saw this, I thought to myself that that could have been me, as I had hit a machine myself out of extreme exasperation.
My friends also described how they would rub the machines in the hopes that they could bring good karma and good luck to their machines. While I did not do this myself, however, I did pray some unbelievable prayers to the “gambling gods”, telling them that if they would grant me another jackpot I would stop gambling immediately. The only problem was that I didn’t stop once I got the jackpots and I eventually lost all of that money too!
I also remember not wanting to go to the atm or bathroom, because I was afraid that someone would get my machine and would take the money that I was going to win. I have heard, believe it or not, that some people would get so attached to their machines that they would wear Depends, so that they could continue to gamble without stopping to go and use the bathroom. Thank goodness I stopped gambling, before I got to that point.
As one can see from all of the above experiences, compulsive gambling can transform people, (including myself) , from being kind and sensible human beings to being selfish and greedy monsters, but this is only one of the many problems that comes along with the illness. The longer one plays without eating or drinking, the more dehydrated he or she becomes and, in addition to the exhaustion from the stress and strain of continuous playing, one can possibly pass out from lack of nourishment and fluids. When I was gambling last year in Las Vegas, I began to have leg cramps that I had not been experiencing before, and I nearly passed out twice. As thirsty and as hungry as I was, I could not for one minute stop gambling long enough to eat or to drink, and I nearly paid the price for that in passing out.
These outrageous stories all point to the fact that compulsive gambling is a serious illness that needs to be arrested, since it cannot be cured. There are many ways to achieve recovery, but I believe the most important means for obtaining recovery are the following:
1) Forgiveness of self
2) Finding and pursuing an interest despite one’s fear or doubts and
3) Attending a support group meeting to identify with others with the same problem.
I have found that forgiveness of self is most important to my recovery, because continuous guilt and self-punishment almost always led to my gambling relapses. I would become depressed and then I would want to escape the feelings of depression and sadness by visiting the casino. Finding an interest and pursuing it is another effective way to achieve recovery, because pursuing interests fills the void that was formerly occupied by gambling, because one can think about something more substantial and can become busy with less frequent thoughts of gambling. Since I have begun my writing, I have felt more joy and peace than I can remember because I am doing something that I love. Even though there are days when I still think about gambling, those are few and far between because my mind is occupied with thoughts and plans for new articles. No recovery can take place, however, without the strength and support that comes from attending meetings of a support group.
Since July 4 I have been attending meetings constantly of a support group that I feel comfortable with. I feel that connecting with others who understand and can relate to my experiences gives me encouragement and strength that I can get from no other source, because I feel accepted and that I am not alone with my problem. Support groups can also provide ways to make and build friendships which can heal the hurt from the loss of friends that was caused by the addiction. One can also learn additional ways to maintain one’s abstinence.
Whatever way one chooses to aid in his or her’s recovery, it is important to stop gambling and start recovering before one puts his or her life in danger or at an end. Compulsive gambling is a serious illness that must be arrested immediately.