I never had any sympathy for addicts. I didn't care what you were addicted to, I thought you were just weak. You could quit smoking if you really wanted to. It's not meth's fault, you're the one without the resolve to stop. Your last three girlfriends left because you're a drunk? Just quit drinking, for Christ's sake. Three year old kids have to be told that a hot stove will burn them - they don't know any better. I figured if you were a grown up you knew full well what was good for you. God, was I wrong.
I found out how wrong when I stumbled on to my own addiction. I was in the middle of one of the worst times of my life. I was lonely and confused and my addiction threw it's arm around me, slapped me on the back and said "I'm here for you…" I accepted it's companionship like a man stranded in the desert for days would accept a cup of water. I embraced it like a long lost love. I made it my entire focus. When I was happy I'd celebrate with it. When I was sad, it would commiserate with me. It never told me I was stupid or not good enough. When I was bored, it rousted me off the couch. When I was lonely, it begged me to venture out, it's voice so loud in my head I couldn't ignore it. It was easily justifiable since it was not illegal, nor was it a threat to my physical health, and it was easy to keep a secret. Too easy.
Gambling is not a physiological addiction. There's nothing I ingested that made my brain say "YOU NEED THIS". Nothing got in my bloodstream or altered my chemistry. But it's still an addiction. It still spoke to me. It said things like "If you wanna have any money left after the rent, YOU NEED THIS" or "If you want that new pair of shoes, YOU NEED THIS". There was a smaller voice imploring me to be smart and be patient and be responsible, but it was a whisper. It didn't speak with the power and authority of the addiction. The addiction doesn't shut up, either. Not when things are good and not when things are bad. Not at night when you're trying to sleep, or in the middle of the day when you're at work. It doesn't know how to tell time. But it knows you need it and it knows just what to say.
Then I hit rock bottom. The first time. Yeah, one rock bottom wasn't enough to straighten me out. See, you can climb out of that hole, do all the right things, and sincerely want to get better but the addiction doesn't go away. With the help of your friends, family and a good group of other people who suffer, you can learn to quiet the screaming of the addiction and listen to the whisper instead. But the addiction doesn't go away. It hides in some dark recess waiting for it's opportunity to be your pal again. I'll never forget that now, but I didn't know it then. Not when I hit rock bottom that first time.
I'd stayed up all night, gambling until I was down to my last $6. I knew I needed diapers since I was picking up my daughter in a few hours and would have her for a few days. Even knowing that, I struggled to leave the Sands. "That machine was just about pay BIG and you could buy diapers and have gambling money too!" my addiction was saying as I left. It was all I could do to ignore it. I was angry enough already since I'd lost $165 of my own money and I'd actually been way up at one point. All in all I'd blown close to $400. I had barely enough to buy the diapers. I picked up my daughter after sleeping in my car for about two hours. I didn't want to drive home since my tank was, as was the norm during this time, only about a quarter full and I couldn't afford to put any gas in it. I was raw and irritable at the store and the mixture of self-loathing, fear and lack of sleep had me feeling very on edge. After I'd grabbed the diapers, which I calculated would come to about $5.25, my daughter tugged at my sleeve.
"Daddy, can I have some Lucky Charms?" she asked.
"No, you can't have Lucky Charms!" I snapped. "We've got corn flakes at home!"
"I don't like corn flakes, daddy…"
"Well you better learn to like 'em, because I don't have a bunch of money to piss away on cereal!"
My anger was thick and palpable. I wasn't mad at my daughter, but she didn't know that, and I couldn't explain it to her. I'd yelled at her for no reason other than she asked for something, something reasonable no less. I paid for the diapers and we rode home in silence. I'd told her I didn't have a bunch of money to piss away on cereal and she was none the wiser. She cried, as toddlers will do when their feelings are hurt and they don't know why you're mad at them. Of course I had no money for cereal. I'd blown it all on Wheel Of Fortune instead. It wasn't so much that I wouldn't get her the Lucky Charms that had her upset, it was that I'd barked at her for asking.
That got me into Gambler's Anonymous. I called my mother later that same day and told her I needed help, and fast. I was too embarrassed to tell her what the final impetus was. To her credit, she didn't ask a lot of questions and she didn't lecture. She called a friend who was in the program and that friend called me. She told me her story, listened to mine and had me at a GA meeting the next afternoon.
The stories I heard ranged from WAY worse than mine to not quite as bad. It would be maudlin to repeat them. Suffice it to say, that was the day I started to have compassion for addicts. That was the day I realized sometimes something is just bigger than you and though you may really want to stop, you can't. Not alone anyway. I went to GA once a week or more as needed for awhile.
Then I thought I was better. I stopped going to meetings. I hadn't gambled in 6 months. I was doing great! But slowly, the addiction crept back into my life. It seeped in slowly at first but it wasn't long before I was begging my parents for the rent money. It wasn't a matter of cereal now, it was a roof over our heads. I promised my mom and dad that if they bailed me out, I'd go back to GA. They did and I did.
That was about four years ago. Since that day, I've been a lot more tolerant than I ever was. I sympathize with people who suffer from any addiction and I have compassion for those who've owned up to them and sought help. I never judge or cajole anyone who asks me about GA. I just tell them my story and let know them know we're not worthless or weak. We're sick. And though there is no cure there is a treatment. And it can be scary as hell. The first step for me was asking for help and I had to take that step by myself.
But I've never walked alone since then and I never will.