Mastering Numbers

By: A Struggling Student

I don’t know if I can keep it up much longer. I lie to my folks constantly. I dance my way through every call from the bill collectors. My friends don’t get it when I refuse to go out.

No one knows that I’ve drained every penny from my tuition account, even sold off my meal swipes. I’m too embarrassed to confess that I am flat broke.

I thought college was supposed to be the “time of your life” part of your life? It seemed so harmless when it started. Now everything feels painful. I am trapped by my situation and, if it weren’t for Maryhaven, I don’t know where I would turn.

I don’t look the part of the stereotypical pathological gambler. I don’t frequent casinos and I’ve never rolled a die. I’m not a lonely older person chain-smoking while I color up dozens of bingo cards. I’m not the green-eye-shaded lean gambler betting on his ace high straight.

I am a college junior, majoring in accounting and failing in gambling addiction.

Maybe part of my problem is that I really do excel at math. And I LOVE football. I can read a spreadsheet in thirty seconds and calculate a point spread in less. I can tell you the exact odds on whether a certain receiver or running back will exceed a certain yardage. I remember the completion percentages of nearly every quarterback in the NFL. I study this sport the way a cancer researcher tracks DNA mutations, methodically, intuitively, constantly.

I realized in high school that I could put my interests and talents to good use. I created an innocuous weekly football pool. My friends and I wagered five, ten bucks, whatever we could afford. Winners took the pot except for a small cut for the “house.” I earned enough from that first venture to put a down payment on a car. My parents were actually proud of me as they thought I saved all my earnings from my summer mowing business. Yes, the lies do go back a few years.

Gambling was just something I did for fun. Then, I got to college and something inside me shifted. I don’t know when full-blown addiction actually kicked in but I do know that, once it did, gambling took over my life. Every day became a roller coaster, the highest of highs when I won, smack down to rock bottom when I lost. Given my mathematical gifts, I knew when I started bottoming out the bank account that I really had to quit. But I couldn’t give it up until I won that big pot that got me back to even.

Great plan. Except “even” never happened. I maxed out credit cards and sold off my big screen high-def TV. “Even” still didn’t happen. I felt worse about myself, like a true loser. But the worse I felt, the more desperate I became, and the more desperate I became, the more I wanted to escape through gambling.

Some experts say that gambling is so seductive because it’s the only addictive behavior or substance based upon hope. I can’t speak to alcoholism or drug addiction but I can tell you that gambling sucks you in and spits you out in ways you could never imagine when you started. And you still get up every day thinking you’re about to hit the “big one.”

One day, I realized I just couldn’t pretend everything was ok any longer. I found Maryhaven through the Internet and I was relieved to know I could get confidential help from experts who understood and with financial help from the Franklin County Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board funding.

I’ve had a few relapses but slowly, inexorably, I’m unwinding myself from the choke-hold sports betting has on my throat. When I crave the euphoria of a win, I head out for a run and get my dopamine from sweating instead. When my feelings overwhelm me, I call or go see Bruce. He helps me unpack the confusing array of emotions running around in my skull.

It seems I might have been struggling with anxiety more than I knew. About a third of all those with gambling addiction suffer from a co-occurring disorder like depression or anxiety.

Soon, I will share my truth with my loved ones. I know we’re only as sick as our secrets. I just haven’t felt brave enough to confront reality yet.

I will prove to those I love that I can use numbers, not be used by them.

About the Author

A Struggling Student

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