Life After Gambling is a Team Sport

By: A Recovering Pathological Gambler

I’ve always been happy to find a life partner who is a dynamo. My fiancé and I met and fell in love just a few years ago, I found her energy and persistence irresistible. Little did I know these attributes would soon make her irreplaceable too.

Here’s my story: One of the other loves of my life is my sport. I’m obsessed with tennis. As a young Asian American man, I grew up practicing, studying and playing it 24/7. I celebrated every victory and grieved every loss. My vacations always coincided with the Grand Slam schedule, especially the U.S. Open. To me, the courts represent the ultimate challenge and the greatest excitement, physically, mentally, emotionally.

And then I discovered one more element to add even more spice to my tennis-mania. Betting. Online betting venues, doubles partners, tournament pools at our tennis club – these became parts of my daily routine. My obsession now went far beyond who won. I calculated odds, drilled down into how many matches each player would win, even how many aces a given player would serve.

All of this math became sadly simple in a very short period of time. It turned into a never-ending exercise in subtraction. I lost more, lied and hid more, leaving me less time with family and friends, much reduced cash, and very little happiness.

The only things that increased were the level of my embarrassment and my desperation to score a big one. I knew what was happening to my financial stability. It was all downhill erosion.

The addiction seemed nearly unbearable. But the isolation may have been worse in some ways. I was raised in a culture where men didn’t seek help. We don’t confide in others about our problems. We are strong, self-reliant, always in control. The shame of admitting I was a mess weighed on my conscience and self-esteem more than the mess itself.

But my fiancé is as sharp as she is beautiful. She figured out what was happening. And she did something that still blows my mind: She said, “Let’s deal with this right up front and let’s deal with this together.

We found Maryhaven and everything began to shift. I realized I had a brain disorder. She found out how my disease affected my ability to be honest about where I had been and what I was doing. It was even more complicated because I truly do love to play tennis, with or without a bet. Now, we work with Maria to strategize how we will respond to issues. I focus on avoiding the relapse. She thinks ahead about constructive ways to respond if I do.

We’re already seeing big wins. For example, we developed a plan for how I could talk to my family. I started off very carefully, going to my uncle first. I remember how stressed and worried I was about this conversation. To my surprise and relief, he only asked, “How can I help?” Just like that. No judgment. No condemnation. No criticism of my seeking help or talking about it.

I’ve been in recovery now for four months and I know I’ve still a long way to go. And yet, I’m filled with hope and I’m grateful. We come together to counseling every week. We openly discuss tough issues and we find ways to work through them. My uncle has become another safe person to sort through anxiety, anger, confusion. All three of us realize how “normalized” gambling is in our world. Literally everyone buys lottery tickets, puts down $10 on office sports betting pools, purchases a raffle ticket to support a good cause, plays card or throws dice. Many churches hold casino nights and earn a lot of revenue from weekly bingo games. When nine out of ten people can gamble and not get hooked, all these activities seem like harmless fun.

But they’re anything but enjoyable for those of us whose brains are hijacked by the dopamine rush of the game. It’s reassuring to know that Maryhaven and at least two people in my family stand with me.

Today, I truly feel like a winner. I’m finding new strength, I have a plan and, most importantly, I have a team who can encourage, support and even call me out when I need it most.

About the Author

A Recovering Pathological Gambler

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