I sat in the basement of our local VFW hall, looking around at the legion of gambling addicts who had gathered for that evening’s Gamblers Anonymous meeting. I had finally, finally, liberated myself by confessing everything to my parents, and they had been, understandably, mystified. They had queried me for hours, growing more and more frustrated and hysterical as I related the details of what I had done. My guilt and remorse had been almost overpowering, but I had managed to sit there and take it all—their anger, their disappointment, their scorn—everything. When the shock had finally died down, they had insisted that I join GA, and I had been going to meetings for four weeks now. At this point, it was my home away from home.
At first I had dreaded coming to the meetings. I had this perception that the place was going to be filled with gruff, overweight losers—older guys who had nothing better to do with their time than to squander their cash. And there were some guys like that, but the more meetings I attended, the more I realized that there was no way to generalize the people that came to these things. The people here were old and young, male and female, white, African-American, Asian American. The only attribute we all had in common was that we had a problem and had finally come to admit it.
Every meeting was the same. People filed in and took their seats in an orderly fashion, then one of the more entrenched members got up to run the meeting. Each week there was a speaker, someone who got up to tell the story of how he or she had hit rock bottom. They were stories of reckless betting and reprehensible behavior. Stories that inevitably ended up with the speaker finding him- or herself a solitary outcast, shunned by family and friends. Some of these people had been in jail, had rendered their families penniless, had been on the verge of suicide. Listening to them was therapeutic, but also scary. I recognized myself in the beginnings of their stories—the inability to stop betting, the lust for the thrill of a win—and realized I could have ended up in a much worse place than I had.
I was so grateful that I had my parents and my friends.
After the meetings, the vibe became more sociable as everyone gathered to chat, sip coffee, and eat the snacks that some of the members provided. I had met some cool people, including a couple of guys and a girl who had graduated from my high school within the past five years. The more people like that I met, the more I realized I wasn’t alone and the more comfortable I became.
Tonight it was finally going to be my turn to share my story. I was a little reluctant to do so. I had a feeling that some of the more hardened guys in the group were going to think my story was lame compared to some of the things they had gone through. But I had to do it. It was all part of the process.
“And now I believe that one of our newer members would like to take the floor,” Betty Cross, one of the older ladies, said into the microphone. “Come on up, son,” she said, gesturing to me.
I stood up and walked to the microphone, looking out at the group. Even though I had felt nurtured by many of the members, I expected some people to look away or scoff at the pretty boy in his varsity jacket. But when I looked out at their faces, the predominant expression was one of interest and concern. I could do this. These people were just like me. They wanted to help.
“Hi,” I said into the microphone. “My name is Mike, and I have a gambling problem.”
“Hi, Mike!” they chorused back at me.
And somehow just promulgating the issue made me feel better. I took a deep breath and began to tell my story.