Personal reflections of a video gambling addict
|Everyone has their vice. Some people use illegal drugs or painkillers or religion or whatever, mine is gambling. It wasn't always that way. I'd never put more than a quarter in a machine really until my kids left home. Empty nest syndrome left me wondering what to do. Living in Eastern Montana, far from my extended family, left me feeling alone. The twelve and more hour days I pulled as an assistant manager at the local Walmart left me feeling tired. Lonely and tired equals vulnerable and I was.
It was after one of those long shifts at Walmart, right before my days off, that I decided to pull into a little tiny casino's just off the main street of Miles City. I went there out of curiosity more than anything. I'd never been in a casino before.
My palms began to sweat as I pulled the door open. I felt like I was doing something naughty. I avoided eye-contact with the attendant as I found a machine back in a dark corner and pushed a five dollar bill in the slot marked "Bills". In front of me on the screen were at least a dozen games. The message on the machine said to touch the one I wanted to play and place my bet. I touched the Egyptian lady. A new screen opened asking me to choose my numbers.
There were seventy five numbers on the screen in front of me. I could choose two or three or four, up to ten. I picked carefully then I pushed the play button. Numbers lit up as the machine randomly chose numbers. It hit four of the ten numbers I'd chosen, "YOU WIN" flashed on the screen and ten cents was added to the $5.00 I'd put in the machine. Ten cents minus the five cents I'd bet. $5.05 was my total money. A five cent win grabbed my attention and kept me trying for more.
Soon that front-counter attendant came to my machine. She offered to get me whatever I wanted to drink. I ordered coffee. She then asked me if I was a member of their players club. I had no idea what that meant so she explained to me that by signing up for their club I would earn points every time I played any machine or game in the building. After so many points added up they would give me free money. And I would receive five dollars if I just signed up;
Free money? I'd be crazy not to take that. I handed her my I.D. then filled out the little form. Within ten minutes I had a warm cup of coffee and watched her push a crisp new five-dollar bill in my machine. With my credits now doubled, I began to play again. An hour went by, I'd win a little, lose a little and win again. It was beginning to bore me when all of the sudden all ten of the numbers I'd chosen lit up and I won the big prize!
I stared at the machine as hundreds of little gold coins fell down the video screen. And the words "Jackpot Winner!" Flashed in front of me! I'd won eight hundred dollars for less than two hours of playing! I couldn't believe my luck.
The attendant was suddenly back at my side congratulating me. I sat stunned wondering what I was supposed to do. She said, "If I was you, I'd cash out and go buy yourself something nice." I agreed. She showed me the button to push to give me the printed ticket she needed to trade me for the cash. I got it and handed it to her. She carefully counted seven hundreds and five twenties back to me. "There you go sweetie." she said.
Because I had never been in a casino before I did not know that it was customary to tip the attendant so I tucked all of the money in my pocket. I noticed her giving me a look but I didn't know what the look meant. I thanked her a couple more times then made sure I had my jacket and purse before I left.
Outside I let the feeling of being a winner wash over me. The happiness that filled my brain and body was almost overwhelming. I shook my head and began to plan what I'd do with the money.
I thought about all the things I would like to have. Maybe I'd buy a new camera, a nice one for once. Maybe I'd take a little road trip on my days off and go explore the nearby Bad Lands of South Dakota. Maybe I'd buy some new clothes. I didn't make any decision but drove home excited for the possibilities.
The next day I visited that casino again. This time I learned how to increase my bet, and lower it again, depending on how hot the machine seemed. I also started trying to figure out if there were any patterns to the Egyptian Lady game. I thought I detected one and tried to use it. And, I put more money in the machine. I figured the $800 I'd won the day before wasn't really mine anyway, it was the casino's, and I felt no guilt about playing it back in. I didn't leave for four hours and I didn't count the money I'd lost, at least not right away. Later I realized I'd lost about $300 of the $800 I'd won the day before. I'd never seen so much money go so quickly on almost nothing. It should have been a warning, instead it was intriguing.
This is how my addiction began.
That was seven years ago. To this day I have been to many more casinos and I've won the jackpot many more times. In fact, not long ago I won one for $5000. Unfortunately I've lost a whole lot more. It's not the loss of money that bothers me though, it's the loss of things that can't be counted. The loss of jobs, the loss of reputation, the loss of self-respect and finally the loss of relationships. That hurts the worst.
I try to quit. I don't allow myself to have any cash money on me. I try not to drive by the casino. I use a rubber band on my wrist to snap me out of the thoughts of gambling that plague me. Most of the time I do well. I drive directly to the place I intended to go, do my business and get myself directly home. Then there are those other times.
I struggle on stressful days. It's interesting what causes stress too. Money being deposited in to my account can cause me stress. Not having enough money to make my car payment can cause me stress. Those are the days I feel an overwhelming need to head to the casino and I can not turn around, or at least that's how it was before Corona Virus came.
Yes, Corona Virus. It changed more than one would think.
When Corona Virus came and we were ordered to stay home and only essential activities were allowed, the casino's around us shut down. In fact all casino's in the United States shut down as far as I know. And finally it hit me, gambling is not essential. I had to find other ways to take care of my stress. With that, I began to live again.
The old greenhouse that hadn't been used in years, became my first project. I cleaned out all of the old containers and straightened the floor. Then I bought a huge bag of compost. I started filling the containers one by one carrying them down the hill from the bag of compost to the green house. Then my mother came with a roll of wire. We fenced the greenhouse in to keep animals out. Then she brought half-grown veggies from Walmart. Soon it started to come to life.
From there it was only natural to get the outdoor garden up and running too. I examined the eight foot by four foot stretch that had been abandoned when my addiction took over. It was full of quack grass and weeds. I pulled out the old shovels and started to till it by hand. The more I worked the better I felt. Within two days the ground was ready to be sewed. I planted potatoes and onions and watermelon seeds. Then looked for the next thing to do.
The strawberry patch looked tempting, but cold rain had come, so I looked further. The garage was in desperate need of a good cleaning. It took me two days to get the garage cleaned and organized, but finally, I had enough room to park my car in there. I am pleased.
The pleasure that has come to me in not gambling is different than the pleasure of winning a jackpot. It's calmer and not so overwhelming. It's definitely more satisfying. I now have a list of things I wish to accomplish over the next several weeks. Now that I have found my tools and made room in the garage I'd like to build a box to plant more vegetables in. I want to plant more flowers in the newly weeded flower bed. I want to write and take classes and live again, and, thanks to the break Corona Virus gave us this year, I am and I will.
But more than all of those projects the big thing I will be working on is rebuilding relationships, beginning with the relationship I have with myself. I know it's it won't be easy, but I have begun.
I know I will always be a gambling addict. I will always have the urge to go to the casino. I will always desire to win and I will always fight the messed up logic that comes with this addiction. But now I have tools and the experience of having money because I didn't try to win.
For the first time in a long time I am looking forward to what is next.
* note to self - I haven't shown the true feelings of despair when I lose. I only touched on the losses. The first time I pushed an entire paycheck into the "bill" slot without thinking until it was all gone. The sick feeling in the pit of my stomach knowing I'd spent my rent and had no way to recoup it. The sick feeling of wanting to confess my problem to my significant other, but lying and covering it up instead. The loss of hours that could have been spent doing much more meaningful activities like making love and treasuring people who are now gone. I haven't talked about the fact that money becomes secondary to winning. How fast a jackpot can be put back in and lost. How there is no jackpot big enough, and no win that will ever be enough. And the overwhelming desire to end my life just to stop the cycle. I didn't speak to how many times I wished I had the courage to just drive off a cliff or buy a rope to hang myself. I did not tell of the hopelessness that goes along with gambling. Plus the last three or four paragraphs need a bunch of editing for smoothness. But it's late at night and I am tired. So, it is here that I will stop this piece for now. I am making it public and open to review because I need to confess before I lose my courage, this is part of my healing. Will I ever take the time to add the edits it needs? Maybe. Or maybe it is already enough.