Life in Balance

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On Addiction — My Time as a Gambler by Jason Applebaum

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As a compulsive gambler, I’ve lost a lot of money; easily north of six figures. By gambling, I mortgaged my future. Instead of owning my own home, I’m broke, and living with my mom in my childhood house. This isn’t the life I envisioned when I first set foot inside a casino. Believe it or not, money isn’t the only resource I lost; I also lost a sense of self. Only after entering recovery did I see what I actually lost.

Reflecting on my time as a gambler, my 10-year gambling addiction turned me into a shell of a human being. It literally sucked the essence of what it meant to be human away from me. I always thought of myself as a caring and compassionate person, with an ability to empathize with anyone in any situation. However, this all changed when gambling began to control my life. I became a bitter, hate-filled, enraged gambler, and ultimately a bitter, hate-filled, enraged human being.

My mentality was: “I want what I want, when I want it,” otherwise beware my wrath. At this point, I was not a functioning individual. I was completely unaware of my change in personality. It happened so gradually over the course of my 10-year struggle with addiction. Looking back, I wouldn’t be friends with the person I was. I think the only reason I was able to keep my friends was because they were so far removed from my addiction; I lived in Niagara Falls while they were all in Toronto.

At some point in my addiction, I realized I only felt comfortable and could only function at a high level in a casino environment. What really opened my eyes was winning $600 within five minutes of entering a casino. When a friend told me to leave with my winnings, my reaction was, “Leave?! Now I get to gamble for longer.” I had no intention of leaving until all my money was gone. This helped me realize that I was not well.

The strange thing about addiction is that even though you know you’re unwell, it takes time to comprehend the severity of the situation. I was unwilling to seek support and make the necessary changes into recovery. During this time, I was desperate to alleviate some of the building financial pressures I had, so I managed to secure a $10,000 line of credit at 30 per cent. Clearly, looking back, this wouldn’t help ease my financial burden; in fact, it added to it. Through rationalizing, this loan made sense — pay of some outstanding balances and have about $2,500 left over to gamble with. Deep down, I knew this loan was a bad decision, but, ultimately, getting the money to gamble with — the $2,500 — influenced my decision to go ahead with it. In the end, I lost all the money, and maxed out my credit cards.

At some point for a gambler, the money becomes the drug; it’s the only conduit into the gambling zone. While on a two-day trip to a casino, I lost three paycheques in about 36 hours. It wasn’t that I lost the money; it was the way in which I lost the money. Upon losing my bankroll in four hours, I continually withdrew money against my credit card, until it was maxed out. I was completely possessed by gambling. I know was in control, but it was like I was someone else. Upon reflection, I would always chase my losses in the hopes of being able to remain in the gambling zone.

In the end, I’d become someone I didn’t like. I needed to change who I was in order to become someone I could live with. After 10 years of chaos and misery, I finally made the conscious decision to take back control of my life and commit to recovery.

Part of “Mental Health Matters”

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