My gambling story started young.
I used to play machines on seaside family holidays when I was young, like 8 or 9, but my parents would drag me away when I’d run out of money.
Innocent normal stuff.
10 years later I’m at Uni in the mid 80’s and walked past a machine. Two of my friends were frantic about the fact that “it was going to drop!!” and literally begged me for 50p. I gave it to them and more frantic cries followed. Three fifty pence pieces later and this thing lit up, vibrating and chugging out 50p’s like it was having some kind of digital orgasm. The whole student union stopped what it was doing. Everyone asked what had happened and who got “it”.
Someone went to the bar and got a couple of pint glasses which just about held the £100 payout. We all had free drinks – the perfect student afternoon.
Little did I know that, right there and then, my brain had also lit up with a massive rush of dopamine and had been imprinted / programmed with a new empowering set of beliefs:
- That I was lucky.
- That gambling was fun.
- That gambling makes you popular.
- That you could get money for nothing.
The following day I walked passed the machine and put a couple of quid in it. Nothing major.
But within a week it was regular occurrence and I’d had a couple of unproductive £20 sessions. I wanted to see it light up and go crazy again. I wanted to be the centre of attention again.
Within 2 months I had blown all my student grant.
A month later I had spent all the money Dad had given me to tide me over.
I confessed all to my parents. There were tears, and questions, but I honestly felt so much better afterwards! I genuinely felt like I would never gamble again and gave them various assurances. My gambling story was over.
I think I went 6 weeks before having a few small bets. Then it escalated even more than before. I could not possibly go back and tell my poor parents. Instead I discovered loans, chequebook fraud, and unofficial overdrafts, etc.
I didn’t even sit my exams a few months later and was kicked out of university. I had effectively gambled my education away.
And I was no longer gambling to win – I was gambling to gamble again, to stay in the game. I felt at home when I was gambling.
My gambling story wasn’t over yet.
Deterioration through Gambling
I went from job to job, some of which were great (like being in the music business at the age of 21). But of course I was up gambling all night until 4am and couldn’t function properly. We had a Number #1 act in the charts and I never even went to meet them?! Richard Branson sent me an invite to party on his barge. Did I go? Think you know the answer.
I sponged off friends and girlfriends, and was even homeless on the streets of London for 3 months. Ended up in a hostel where I finally told someone my dirty secret. They gave me the address of a GA meeting which was literally only 5 minutes walk away, but I didn’t go. Didn’t need to, did I?
Back home again with good intentions… which would usually go to sh** and I would find myself gambling again, back to the cashpoint, gambling again, angry/crying and saying never again, then back at it later chasing my money. My mood swings became seriously dramatic, almost bipolar. I was like a hamster in a wheel, frantically going nowhere.
I became afraid of everything – the post, the telephone, being found out. I lived my life in dark places, in love with the buzz and the flashing lights – a gambling bubble of virtual reality. I even got a job in a place that had machines just so I could gamble. I remember having to watch the machine people come in, open up the back of the machines, and take my money away without showing any emotion.
That life cost me literally everything – money, friends, relationships, family, respect, dignity, my health and my home.
Ten years worth of pain
Ten whole years – 1% highs and 99% lows – with literally nothing to show for it.
And I had become a compulsive liar, always telling people what they wanted to hear.
Unable to look at myself in the mirror.
Things couldn’t continue as they were – yet they did.
As Einstein’s said:
Doing the same thing again & again, but expecting a different outcome,
is the definition of INSANITY.
One of my saddest memories was gambling all my wages on Christmas Eve. I had got through hundreds that day, and ended up getting my Christmas ‘presents’ from a corner shop at 11pm with the last fiver.
Four people’s main presents for £5. My family had done everything for me. It makes me want to cry with shame even now.
Soon after I got caught “borrowing” from my employer and was arrested & done for theft. Crown court with a jury, and my Mum in the dock. It was in the papers. I had lost my job, 3 stone in weight, most of my friends, family relations were in tatters, in a load of debt, and now had a theft conviction.
No self respect, no dignity. All at the prime of my life, 28 years old.
Admitting I had a problem
I went to GA and they gave me a lot of good advice. Me being me I didn’t follow any of it, but somehow managed to get through the next week and get back to the meeting.
To give you some idea how sick I was, I sat there in the early meetings and said I didn’t have much of a problem and wasn’t like the others! I think they might have heard that before.
GA was like a room full of mirrors where you could clearly see someone else’s mistakes and faults.. but not your own.
Thankfully I got great support and advice from people in the same mess as me.
A Fresh Start (eventually)
I started an IT business (despite not even being able to turn a computer on). My girlfriend of 6 weeks (now wife & mother of my children) helped buy a PC on finance for me, and we found a free desk thrown out by a skip.
On that bendy desk and old PC I taught myself how to send emails and write word docs. Then I taught myself how to program & do graphic design, all from out of date library books.
It wasn’t easy and believe me I wasn’t great at it. I had to read each book between 3-6 times as it made literally no sense. But I told myself that if I knew what was in those pages I could make a living. And I kept telling myself. Eventually it went in and I could create simple things.
I got a customer and that first year earned £6,000. Wow. But I didn’t gamble and it felt like a fortune. After a year I got a second customer, then a third. Then I started my own IT business and people began to pay me larger amounts for me to build things.
I became an employer.
I worked with companies like Microsoft.
I travelled the world running conferences and looking after clients.
A business angel invested £750k into one of my ventures without even seeing the product.
I’m still no IT genius believe me, but no-one’s laughing either. So I guess that’s something.
How much do you make NOT gambling?
The other day I added up my earnings since I stopped gambling, and have averaged £70k a year for 25yrs.
I’m no maths genius but I make that close to £2million in wages by NOT gambling?
Go figure. A nice lifestyle and everything I ever wanted… just by staying away from gambling?
Surely that’s the wrong way round.
And that’s just the money – what about the time?
I spent 40hrs a week x50 weeks x10 years = 20,000 hours.
TWENTY THOUSAND F***ING HOURS, in front of a machine being programmed and being brainwashed by gambling.
- I could have learned 20 languages and been in the UN
- Could have become a first class brain AND heart surgeon
- Should have / Could have / Would have done SO many things with that time, and money
Amazing what happens when you focus your daily efforts & attention on simple productive things, instead of running round your wheel!
Evening up the balance
Gambling turned me into a numb zombie. But since then I’ve had an enjoyable challenging life, not just an empty hollow existence.
And as well as helping myself, on my journey I’ve had the privilege to listen to + help steer hundreds of other gamblers & their families.
- I’ve been into prisons to visit gamblers and setup meetings for them inside
- Given talks in schools and helped out with popular daytime shows (where call centre staff gave me the suicidal gamblers for a whole hour – I won’t forget that in hurry)
- Setup helplines for gamblers and started self-help groups
Most importantly of all I have learned that helping other people recover helps my OWN recovery? So for me to stay off, I MUST help others stay off.
But I guess I took enough out, so now it’s time to put something back.
My gambling story is “One Day At A Time” – literally.
Frankly it doesn’t matter to me whether its 25 days, 25 months or 25 years off gambling. I don’t count and I don’t make promises I can’t keep.
I focus on today and today only, telling myself Just for Today I will not gamble. Tomorrow will look after itself when I get there.
But willpower is not enough, not with a full blown addiction. So I do specific things that make it easier for me to stay off gambling, and at the same time get things done.