I lost $3000 that night. The realization of that amount only came in the morning when I woke up. I didn’t manage to beat the casino, instead, the gambling house knocked out the last money from my wallet, and with that, my self-worth. I was showered in self-blame, anger, frustration and sadness. Caught up in a spiral that only could go down further. Still, I had that devil voice inside telling me that next time I would be the winner. When I got out of it 10 years later, I had lost roughly $100.000, but won my life back. How did I manage to swim to the surface of dark nights of raging adrenaline, scattered hope and roulette balls hitting the wrong numbers?
I admit, I have an obsessive character. Nothing wrong with that in fact. Fueled with ambition, passion and a good set of brains it got me to be successful in my work. In fact, during the period of my gambling addiction, I was also addicted to my work. Funny and bitter enough, after another loss, I used to work twice as hard the following days. The rent had to be paid. Simple math.
But let me start from the beginning, how did I get myself into this game that you only can lose since you fight with yourself? And what did I take out of it?
“Every gambler knows, that to lose, is what you are really here for”
U2 song text from “ Every single wave”
It all started with a friend taking me to a casino when I was about 21 years old. I was instantly hooked by the one-armed bandits, the smooth green fields with red and black numbers, the sizzling of casino coins and the grim smokey faces of the gamblers that every now and then got stirred up by the ecstatic shouts of recreational gamblers that had their company’s day out. Not long after that, I would call it home. And honestly, I started to feel at home in that house of sin, greed and short moments of bliss. I also found out that I really love the game.
I tell myself now that it was just a very expensive hobby. In a way it was, but it also prevented me from buying a house, do some sane investments and set up a healthy financial foundation for the years to come. It utterly destroyed that healthy basis with each night I threw myself into the waves of random luck and found myself swept on the shore of self pity the next morning with empty pockets. So why didn’t that good set of brains tell me to stop and get the hell out of there? Well, It did every time I lost. It shouted at me to stop: You F***** Loser!
The art of gambling
Let me tell you something about gambling and addiction. I did win money for sure, I had my nights of sheer luck. The orgasmic sensation of having a wave of that small roulette ball hitting all the right numbers. The superior feeling it gave me. Adrenaline releasing a firework of newborn futures in my head. I felt invincible like Arnold Schwarzenegger coming to claim casino justice. I was finally winning. These rare moments provided for the best feeling of all: freedom.
Casinos are the playground of the dark edge of life. Its a tango salon of people dancing with their faith until sunrise. It’s the ultimate flight from any nine to five job where you get wrung out by a boss. Whenever I had that rare short moment of winning, I was the king of my life and abundance was just one more round of blackjack away. One more zero game and the ball hitting 26 again when I left all my previous winnings on that number. Make no mistake, there have been plenty of moments I got very close to walking out of that dangerous place with 5K in my pocket. But, come one, just one more shot. Do it again Jack!
And then I lost it all. Not in one shot. First I lost the next shot. But the sweet taste of swift victory was still in my mouth. So I went on, and on, and on because the croupier that just gave me such a sublime sequence surely could do it again. But he didn’t. When my pockets where empty again, he would clap his hands leaving me empty handed with an excusing grin. And with some compassion in his eyes, silently telling me that I should have stopped at the peak.
The art of stopping
But as any gambler can probably tell you, that is the hardest part. To just leave with some profit. I always won the biggest amounts of money in the first half hour. A quick bull run of utter luck coming my way. But I stayed almost always. Due to the very dangerous cocktail of newborn confidence, reignited hopes and the knowledge that I was still so much behind. I saw often people leave with stacks of coins piling out of their pockets. Why couldn’t I do that?
Pride stepped into the game too. Don’t underestimate the force of adrenaline times pride. Face loss is one of the top reasons gamblers stay to undergo their lonely descent into the abyss and to hit the ultimate bottom of the ATM refusing to give money. And I tell you, this really can lead to drama. One older German gentleman once tried desperately to sell his wallet to me. Also, once i found 500 euro sticking out of an ATM. Somebody pinned the money but forgot it altogether. It's truly a crazy place.
To stop any addictive gambling, and maybe even any addiction for that matter comes with awareness, personal growth and getting really honest with yourself. I figured out that when I would deeply understand why I was gambling, maybe then I could heal that part of me and step away from it. Well, here are some of my findings
The psychology of addiction
- Lack of connection and feeling truly alive. On a deep level all these gambling years, I felt alone. There was some part of me not being able to connect to people, some part of my heart just couldn't open up. A deeper connection with the core of myself often disappeared. The sensations felt in the casino filled that black hole. They became a substitute for real life. It was in the casino that I truly became alive. The ups and downs, the feeling of luck you can experience in life, and also the pain of loss; all these emotions and feelings I intensely experienced in my hours of gambling. They felt very real to me in those dark hours. I was aware that these intense gambling experiences where not steered by the whimsical forces of life itself, but by a ball finding the right number, the card making up to 21. The rare cases that I walked out of the casino with a good win, made me feel having full control over my life. I had navigated through the waves of divine ecstasy and utter despair, condensed in just a few hours of gambling. But all of this is, of course, a big illusion. Maybe it was just a big fear of life altogether?
- Numbing yourself out. In many books, you can read that any addiction is in fact numbing yourself out to not feel the pain of life. Or the pain of a deeply hidden away lighter or heavier trauma. The pain felt of the losses in the casino, the pain of the body in the morning after for the alcoholic, the pain of lacking true intimacy for the porn-or sex addict. This pain is the substitute for the real pain of life, that sometimes can be hidden away like a snake under a stone for decades. For me, this pain was indeed connected to my personal trauma. When I look back, I did numb myself out. I could have gone deeper in the feeling of disconnectedness, breath into that loneliness. And then I would have ended up finding my stone and releasing it to let the snake come out and with that the fear of what's underneath that stone. Did I lack the courage? The will? Or maybe the guidance by a compassionate partner, friends, family? Well, I didn’t tell anybody about my secret expensive hobby for the first five years. I was too ashamed. My gambling addiction was a very well preserved darker part of me. The fact that I didn’t share the troubles it was bringing me shows in fact my disconnectedness. And of course, it cut off the possibility for anybody helping me. But…..
It was all perfect, I had to play out my addiction, I had to come out of the dark pit by myself. The scene of my gambling years was set in my semi-wild years of city life, drinking whiskey, setting up my independent business in the Arts and further exploring my freedom. The wiser part of me can forgive now fully the ‘gambler ’ in me. And forgiveness and acceptance was in fact the first step to get out of it.
The Way Out
I must say, getting out eventually was a process of years. First I told one of my best friends. That broke the spell of the secret that was only mine. This exclusivity is another thrill for spending hours in the Casino when nobody knows. Then I told my ex-partner. We made the deal that she would ask me every year around the date of my ‘deal’ with the casino if I was still ‘clean’. This deal was that I forbid myself access to the casino. Happily, I was never that much interested in online gaming. But when the year was over, I started over again. The first time I would enter the casino again, I had to endure the experience of the humiliation of staff asking me to wait in a room and then some random floor manager staring at me with a certain amount of pity. But my losses indirectly would pay for his salary, so they eventually would let me in again after a short interview.
Walking back in that shady chique pool of greed again, was like meeting an old friend from wrong standings and questionable reputation. But with strong and convincing charisma. The pull from the Casino to me was like the attraction to muscly men with wrong sunglasses and expensive cars for a well educated woman. Some of us are more pulled to their darker side than others. The aura of quick wins, highs and lows and painful losses overwhelmed me again like the first time. I lost myself again, and my money.
Next time I denied myself access for 5 years. In that time, I also moved out of the city, started a much healthier life in nature, among super conscious and healthy friends. I soon lost all appetite for gambling. The gap was filling up with a deeper and stronger connection with myself and the world around me that I never had experienced before.
I finally had set myself free.
I was more addicted to the emotions around gambling that the play itself
Last but not least. Gambling, and maybe any other addictive behavior is in fact a strong addiction to an emotional pattern. Strong conditioning creating a lot of suffering in fact. It was that pattern of strong emotions that I got addicted too. They did serve as a substitute for not feeling strongly alive in real life. This pattern is in short: neutral — boredom — emptiness — challenge and gambling — wins and losses —excitement and despair — shame and blame — denial — isolation, and back to neutral. And this circle would repeat.
At the end of the story: Je regrette rien. It was life playing a game with me while I was playing a game with money. A man has to lose himself first in order to find himself. Every addicted person will have to go through her or his unique cycle. And find their way out, with or without help, but better with. And in a way, we are all addicted to some level, not the least to emotional behavioral patterns.
I don’t need more money made easy anymore through gambling. I realize now that for what is given to me, I am more than thankful. And this thankfulness, combined with living out my talents and gifts, surrounded by people I love, makes me thrive and shine. Not a ball hitting the right spot by random luck.
Author: Lucien Lecarme
Lucien Lecarme (@tanguero13) | Twitter
The latest Tweets from Lucien Lecarme (@tanguero13). *Writer&Blogger*Bitcoin Evangelist & Believer*New world…