Saturday, May 07, 2005

Day 902 - GA Twenty Questions - My Answers

For the benefit of those here getting exposed to Gamblers Anonymous for the first time:

When a person attends a meeting for the very first time they are asked what we call the "Twenty Questions". These questions are simple questions that can be used to help the person determine for themselves whether they a compulsive gambler. No one else can decide that for another. There is no wrong or right answer to these questions. The questions require just a simple yes or no answer. They are strictly used as a guide. Most people that end up admitting they are compulsive gamblers answer yes to at least 7 of the 20.

In this post I am going to answer the twenty questions for myself. But I am going to go just a little beyond the simple yes or no. I do this periodically and hopefully the discussion will provide some insight into how I view each of the questions.

#1 - Did you ever lose time from work or school due to gambling?

YES - For me this was a clear answer of yes from that very first meeting. There were many days that I would devise excuses to leave the office early and then head straight to the casino. When I was traveling, which was often, I would find the nearest casino and be there all night instead of doing the preparation work I should have for my presentation the next day. Even on days I was at work in body I was not even close to working at full capacity for my employer. I was either wiped out from an earlier gambling session or in my mind was trying to figure out how to cover the losses and get some more cash to head back out again.

#2 - Has gambling ever made your home life unhappy?

YES - Once again an easy one for me. By the time I made it to my first meeting I had long since lost my family. My girlfriend had left with the kids, my brothers (I have 5) were all not talking to me, my mother had finally lost trust in me to the point she would not even let me in the house. Long before this point though I had made things progressively worse. The lies about where I was, how long I would be, where the money was, and more were creating complete chaos with "A" and me.

I remember the progression of the voice mails when I was on a gambling session. The first would be a simple "when will you be home?". Next would be "Are you alright? Call me back." Shortly thereafter would follow the "PLEASE call me, I m worried!". Toward the end of the cycle would be "Listen, I know you are gambling. If you lose all the money don't bother coming home." Finally the last one would always be similar to "Listen, I don't care what you do anymore, but at least let me know you aren't dead."

Of course, that doesn't even begin to describe the disappointment from the the boys. Telling them I would be there to take them to their game and then not show up. Promising them we would get them something for school and then having to tell them the money was gone. Horrible.
Yep, my home life was pretty unhappy.

#3 - Did gambling affect your reputation?

YES - Of course this question can have many parts. A person can have different "reputations" depending on the part of life you are talking about. Family, friends, co-workers all may have different views of the kind of person you are. For me, all were affected negatively. For the sake of space, and since so many of the other questions will involve the affects on my family and friends I will discuss my work reputation here and how my problem gambling degraded it.

Toward the end of my gambling "career" It was more and more difficult to get money with which to gamble. I finally got to the point of asking co-workers from my company if I could "borrow" money because "I lost my wallet", or I "left it in the hotel room". I even asked subordinates (I was a VP of Sales at a software company) for money. I asked even COMPETITORS at trade shows for money. At first this was no problem, people had always respected and trusted me and were happy to help me out. I honestly believed at the time I just needed these "loans" to get me started and I would never let them not get paid right back. I would NEVER jeopardize my job for this addiction would I? I sure would. Slowly things didn't get paid back fast enough, people starting questioning me and I did not have good answers. I went as far as to get a $25,000 loan from my company to straighten out the gambling debts. I promptly gambled that away. What I do? I CHANGED JOBS so I could get the signing bonus.

#4 - Have you ever felt remorse after gambling?

YES - When I first started gambling of course, the answer to this question was no. Gambling allowed me to entertain myself in a way I had never experienced before. I did not need anyone else's participation or approval. I could do it whenever I wanted, 24 hours a day. If I won some money I could then even allow myself some other luxury that I might not have afforded myself otherwise. After a short time though, as the losses started to occur more frequently, the days I was happy upon walking out of the casino turned into angst. My mind was stressed trying to figure out how I could lose all that money. How was I going to explain it? How would I pay the bills that it was originally intended for? Why didn't I leave when I was up? Why did I HAVE to try for that last $100.00 dollars, would it really have made that much difference given I don't have a penny in my pocket now? What lie was I going to tell when I got home?

In those last days all I felt was remorse after gambling, and many times during gambling. I cried many times in my car after a losing session. I can remember times that I got very dizzy and almost "passed out" with the shame at what I had done. Somehow though, the pain went away just enough soon afterwards for my mind to convince myself the way NOT to feel that way again was to get some more money and try and chase my losses. Of course this just made the "drive of shame" home from the casino worse the next time and created even more problems.

I will go into some of the deeper despair I felt after a bad session when I answer question #20.

#5 - Did you ever gamble to get money with which to pay debts or otherwise solve financial difficulties?

YES - Like many of my answers to the questions here, initially any money I spent on gambling was "extra". It was part of my entertainment budget. At some point, and I am not honestly sure when that happened for me, the money become more and more "necessary". First only in my mind. What I mean by that is I convinced myself that I needed money I thought I could win through gambling. I needed it to keep playing in order to replace the money I had taken from retirement accounts etc.... I needed it to give those "extras" to "A" and the kids as a way of keeping them at bay for missing all the time I should have been spending with them. Later in the gambling cycle the bills were so bad, the amount of money I was spending gambling so great, that the only way my sick mind could conceive of to pay the bills on time was to gamble, win, and LEAVE with the money. I never did. I only lost everything every time. Of course none of the worries about my life and my financial ruin earlier were true. I could have weathered those early storms a lot better than the ones I finally DID end up having to suffer through. In the end I ended up with nothing.

#6 - Did gambling cause a decrease in your ambition or efficiency?

YES - Most of my life I had been successful at whatever endeavor I tried. In high school I was able to get good grades and played several sports. I had a job at the local newspaper at the same time and I had pictures published on the front page on numerous occasions at 16 years old. My first jobs out of high school were in law enforcement. I moved into several great positions both sworn and non-sworn. Life presented me with an opportunity to move into the private sector as a software salesperson and eventual VP of sales providing a good product to public safety agencies. The money was good. I got to travel and see much of the world. I had met "A" and her small children at the time and we started building a life. I was happy.

Then I started gambling and everything changed. First slowly, then rapidly. Most of the time I didn't even notice. Eventually, there came a point in time where I just gave up caring what people thought about my gambling. I gave up whether I could solve the problems I once thought I was solving through gambling or not. I didn't care whether I won the deal at work anymore. I barely had the energy to get out of bed and head to the casino at the first opportunity. Basically there came a point in time where I didn't care about life at all.

#7 - After losing did you feel you must return as soon as possible and win back your losses?

YES - Every time. My sick mind told me the only way to solve the problems I had just created by gambling was to gamble again! There is a paragraph in the GA literature that describes my feeling perfectly. While describing the difficulty many people face when trying to admit they are in fact compulsive gamblers, it states "We convinced ourselves that we really had a financial problem. That if only we could make the 'big win' our problems would be solved. We swore if we could make that big win that we would never gamble again. We believed a lie." That is me. Just as soon as I had a little bit of sleep and some food, I was able to convince myself the pain was not as bad as the pain I was going to face if I didn't get some "real" (large sums) money right away to solve the problems I had just created.

#8 - After a win did you have a strong urge to return and win more?

YES - I do not actually remember how I answered this during that first GA meeting. I don't think at the time I could remember ever leaving with any winnings? Looking back now I do remember some times that for whatever reason I was forced to leave ( had to catch a plane, somehow was more worried about what "A" would say about not showing up somewhere etc.). I remember thinking those times "cool, now I have some money to start with next time already, I don't need to figure out some sneaky way to get it."

#9 - Did you often gamble until your last dollar was gone?

YES - Other than those rare times I talked about in question #8, I NEVER EVER EVER left with any money in my pocket. I can remember many times when not only did I not have any money left with which to gamble, I was not sure I had enough gas in my tank to make it home after a session. I remember after a gambling session I would not have eaten in over 24 hours. I would stop at a nearby fast food restaurant and barely manage to scrape enough change out of the ashtray to get one of the .29 burgers and some water to drink.

#10 - Did you ever borrow to finance your gambling?

YES - At first it was just from my credit cards, then it was from friends. Eventually I had "borrowed" from just about everyone I knew including my co-workers, family, friends, other gamblers, banks, and even perfect strangers. I convinced myself that all of this was just "short-term loans", that I was going to use the money to get started, and as soon as I won a little I would put the original stake back in my pocket and NO WAY was I going to touch it again, even if I lost my winnings again. Well, I still owe about half of the people I can remember at least a total of about $20,000. And that is after paying people back for over 2 years now.

#11 - Have you ever sold anything to finance gambling?

YES - Eventually I sold almost anything I had of value except my car. (See remembering day one post for further on that). I remember particularly a couple of items. The first was my Glock pistol that I had used in my LE work. It had special meaning to me though because I had scored "best in class" with it at the training when I switched to it from my revolver. I also remember selling my Mark McGwire rookie card. I think I got like $40.00 for it. I sold computers, tools and much more over my 8 years of gambling.

#12 - Were you reluctant to use "gambling money" for normal expenditures?

NO - This is my only question I answered no to at the time, and I still think today. I interpret this question as did I have a "special stash" of money set aside that could only be used for gambling. If so, my answer is correctly no. To me, money was all the same. I did not have it separated out. I told myself I was just using my money to gamble so I could have more and offer me and mine more. I was lying to myself of course, but I believed it at the time.

#13 - Did gambling make you careless of the welfare of yourself or your family?

YES - For myself it started out in small ways, not eating or sleeping well, not paying the attention I should at work, things of that nature. For my family it started small also. I didn't show up where I was supposed to. I couldn't be intimate with my spouse because I was too stressed about the money I had just lost and the lies I had told her to cover those losses. Eventually it got to the point that I didn't get them food, or pay the electric bill, or pay the rent. When I was home it was constant bickering and yelling. It was not a good living environment in any sense, for them or for me.

#14 - Did you ever gamble longer than you had planned?

YES - At Gamblers Anonymous meetings we tend to always laugh as a group when this question is asked and answered. I haven't met a person yet who was at the point of attending a meeting that said no to this one. Of course the answer is yes for me as well. There were so many days that I had other plans outside of gambling that I just did not show up for. I would sometimes wake up early to head to the casino for a "few minutes on my way to work, just to make a few quick bucks to help us out until payday". I often never made it to work. There were sometimes 24, 36, or even 48 hour gambling sessions where I never went home to take a shower, change my clothes, where I never even returned a phone call.

#15 - Have you ever gambled to escape worry or trouble?

YES - Looking back at my gambling, most of it for me was done under some misguided belief that I had to have more money to make my life better. But I do remember times I told myself "what the hell, I can't solve anything else right now anyway, I might as well go to the casino". So, in this sense I did gamble to just get away from it all and not have to deal with life as it presented itself.

#16 - Have you ever committed, or considered committing, an illegal act to finance gambling?

YES - As a believer in the United States Constitution 5th amendment not to incriminate myself I will leave this answer pretty short. But suffice to say I wrote checks when I should not have and more. Also, the key word in this question that is often overlooked is "considered".

#17 - Did gambling cause you to have difficulty in sleeping?

YES - Aside from the nights I didn't sleep at all because I was at the casino, there were many nights I lay awake worrying over the damage I had caused and trying to figure out a way to fix it.

#18 - Do arguments, disappointments or frustrations create within you an urge to gamble?

NO - Now, this is the only question in the present tense. At that first meeting I did answer yes to this, because at the time, anything caused me to gamble. If I had a good day, I gambled. If I had an argument with "A", I gambled, if I lost a deal at guessed it...I gambled! But, thankfully I can answer "no" to this question today as I learn how to deal with life better and accept the things I cannot change.

#19 - Did you ever have an urge to celebrate any good fortune by a few hours of gambling?

YES - I can remember clearly many days where I would "take out the team" after a big contract was signed or something like that. Of course my favorite place to take them was always a casino.

#20 - Have you ever considered self destruction or suicide as a result of your gambling?

YES - Too many times towards the end I seriously considered this option. The casinos here in San Diego are on mountainous roads. We also have many cliffs over the ocean. I thought of driving my car off the edge of those cliffs many times. I have tried to examine why I never did and have yet to determine why I never went through with it. I know now I am just grateful that I didn't.

So, as you can see using the guideline of answering "yes" to at least 7 of the questions, I am a compulsive gambler. But, there are many people who have changed their lives in our fellowship long before they reached the lows that I did. Each person has to determine when they are ready to accept complete surrender and a willingness to get help.