Hello! My name is Dovid* and I am a Gambling Addict. I am 37 years old, with bli ayin hara, three wonderful children, and a special wife who is the source of my strength and recovery.
I began gambling in 2008. Some business associates and I lost a substantial amount of money in the stock market crash and went to Atlantic City to “chill.”
I had gone a few times before – sometimes I won and sometimes I lost, but never more than $200-$500 per visit.
However, this time my life changed forever!
I won over $25,000.00 in one night! Everything I touched that night turned to gold. I felt re-invigorated, and I was on a tremendous high – more importantly, I no longer felt like a failure.
When I got back home, all I could think about was how to win more money.
I knew I was good at this. Oddly enough, I even felt a misplaced sense of responsibility for my family to replenish our savings that we had lost due to the crash!
I knew I couldn’t just spend all of my time in Atlantic City. After all, I had a business and a family to attend to.
Ultimately, I was introduced to a local “frum” poker house. The people were friendly, always told good jokes, and there was loads of food from top restaurants.
I felt important.
The reason I am telling you this is so if there is someone reading this who is where I was, I want him – or her – to know that these guys at the poker houses don’t really care about you or your welfare. All they care about is that you spend all of your hard earned money while there. They will stroke your ego, they will make you feel important, they will sometimes even provide entertainment of the likes that I dare not detail or that can be printed in your column and they will rush to help you in any way possible – all while sucking the life out of you.
After about 8 months of attending these poker houses, losing all of my money, and almost losing both my family and our house, my wife organized an intervention and off to rehab I went.
Boy did I learn a lot about myself there! I learned how to deal with my feelings of being a failure. I learned how to be grateful for my blessings and that even losing can be a blessing in disguise. I learned more about myself and my relationship with Hashem in those 30 days than I had during my entire life. Of course, we have not told anyone outside of our immediate family about my disease.
I attend weekly meetings, as does my wife. We work the program together.
This year one of our close family friends is turning 40 over Chanukah. His wife invited 10 couples to Atlantic City two weeks after Chanukah for a surprise birthday vacation. My wife understands that I really should be staying away from there. Yet, I feel that perhaps we could still go and have a good time without gambling.
I realize that my wife has sacrificed so much for me already, and I would feel terrible if I ruined this “all-expense paid vacation” for her.
You seem to have your pulse on this topic. So, my wife and I have agreed to seek and follow your advice. Should we go, or not?
I am deeply humbled that you are trusting me to make such a monumental decision for you. However, I truly believe that only you know and understand the strength of your disease. As with any addiction, gambling can take over every aspect of the addict’s life. They will lie, cheat and steal for the sake of getting their fix. Gambling addiction has ruined both relationships and careers. It can put someone in severe financial distress and end marriages. Recovery is possible though, and any honest recovering addict knows first hand that the temptation to relapse will be with him or her for a lifetime.
Recovery for gambling addiction follows the same rules as any addiction recovery – stay away from “triggers” (people or places) that may spark a relapse. Anything that pertains to the vice needs to be avoided at all costs.
So, can a recovering gambling addict ever take a vacation to Atlantic City, the casino capital of the East Coast? Everywhere you go in Atlantic City you will run into various lures to gamble. There are even slot machines in gas stations and grocery stores. Hotels shamelessly lead guests through a maze of slots and tables as they try to make their way to the front desk or restaurant. You can’t get to the pool without being accosted by flashing lights and the ping-ping sounds of the casino.
This is not to say that all recovering gambling addicts, if and when ready, can’t take a trip to Atlantic City and still come home relapse-free. However, it is imperative that you devise a plan of action prior to leaving, and you must stick to this plan no matter what happens.
Here are a few tips.
Think carefully about who you are traveling with. If you are headed out to Atlantic City with a group of friends who plan on spending a lot of time at the casinos, think again! Make sure your travel companions are aware of your history and will help you avoid any temptation. Share your plan ahead of time with your partner.
Try making a list of all the other things there are to see and do while in AC. Though it may be a gambler’s paradise, there are a lot of other things going on. Why not treat yourself to a day at the spa.
Do not carry your credit cards on your person. Keep these in the safe in your room. Carry only a limited amount of cash, enough for lunch or whatever else you have going on that day.
Have the contact numbers of other addicts you know (it is best that you have a sponsor), your therapist, or Gamblers Anonymous with you at all times. This way, if you feel tempted and are having difficulty controlling it, you may call one of these people. Having someone to talk to that has knowledge of how you feel can help.
Take great pride in your little accomplishments throughout the vacation. If you were able to walk through the casino and not heed the call of the tables, or you split from your travel companions for the afternoon to walk the Strip while they hit the slots, you should acknowledge that. You must feel proud of yourself over the little things you didn’t do; that is what recovery is all about.
Atlantic City could be a nice place to visit – bright lights, lots of action, great shopping, world-class entertainment, and yes, gambling. As we said, even recovering gambling addicts can make a trip out there if they feel they are prepared. Be sure to make a plan and stick to it. Coming back home, knowing you faced a big temptation and didn’t relapse will be a major accomplishment.
*Name changed to protect privacyBrocha Silverstein
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