I suppose it might seem like a silly ritual to outsiders. Every Wednesday at 6 p.m. sharp, my five friends and I meet for coffee at our favorite Starbucks. We’ve adhered to this rite for nearly ten years now. It’s our version of “boy’s night out.”
The thing about our coffee klatch is that we’ve come to know more about each other than even our wives and children do. I cheered on Manny as he struggled to retain his biggest client during a merger-acquisition deal with a mega-company. I felt Darius’ hurt when his son began experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I even cried with Joey when his wife passed from cancer. Yes, we talk soccer, stocks and swap silly stories. But the truth is a lot of things get poured out every Wednesday besides our favorite coffee brews.
That’s why we knew that Danny’s gambling was out of control before his family did – maybe even before Danny was willing to admit it to himself.
Danny got hooked the way a lot of people do. He won. A first-generation American like all of us, he really appreciates the freedoms of this country. We all own our own businesses. Danny is what I call a free-lancer, a really gifted handyman. We envy his MacGyver-like skills as he can fix literally anything. His first brush with gambling was a lot like the first time he picked up a screwdriver. He couldn’t miss. Poker, craps, roulette. Danny seemed like the master of the game.
That’s why none of us worried at first when he talked incessantly about his next trip to the casino. We thought he continued to win big pots or at least break even. Looking back, that was very naïve. We all know the odds simply don’t work that way.
But our innocence exploded the day we found Danny stole from Joey. Joey often carries a lot of cash to our coffees as he comes straight to us from his convenience store and gas station. Everyone knows his backpack contains a lot more than old socks. None of us considered it unsafe. And maybe it was this confidence that made it easier for Danny to sneak into it while our group was getting a second round of java.
One thing you should know our group. We value integrity above all else. Danny might as well have broken the military honor code. Joey called the cops. But, after reflection and input from all of us, Joey offered Danny a deal. He won’t press charges if Danny gets help.
I own a building maintenance company and Maryhavenis a tenant in one of the buildings we serve. That’s how I knew about Maryhaven’s gambling treatment experts. I had met and talked to Bruce and Maria before. They told me a lot about gambling addiction and how it can trigger so many major life crises, from divorce to theft and even to suicide.
So, I sent Danny to Bruce. It’s too early to tell, but we are hopeful. Danny confessed and apologized to his family and to us. He’s working to pay off his debts and he’s signed up for a voluntary exclusion to stay out of casinos and racinos. Ohio’s voluntary exclusion program means that, if caught, the casino or racino can evict him and he could even be subject to a misdemeanor trespassing charge.
His taking this step indicates that he’s coming out of denial and he is taking his addiction seriously. It is, after all, a brain disorder, just like any other mental health issue.
We embrace our friend and we don’t judge his illness. But the blinders are off so we will be vigilant if we think he’s lying and hiding again. As you can see, peer pressure and coffee can be a powerful and positive force.