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I first discovered I had an addictive nature at the age of 18. I had recently started a part time job as a lottery sales clerk at our local grocery store. The job within itself was easy enough. My only role was to sale computer generated lottery tickets and scratch off cards to hopeful consumers. There was a lot of downtime involved with this position and to fill the void I would purchase a scratch off or two to entertain myself. One particular day I bought a $1 card and low and behold I won fifty bucks!
The rush I felt once I discovered I was a winner was foreign to me at the time. Many years later I would learn that what I was experiencing was the dopamine response in my brain. At that moment though, all I knew was winning money felt damn good. The very next day I decided to try my luck again. I took $5 of my winnings and got to scratching. Unfortunately all five cards were losers.
I decided to keep going because there had to be another big winner in here somewhere right? Long story short, I scratched off $100 worth of lottery tickets that day and only won a total of $10. The outcome of this event was life changing. I was fired from the first of many jobs and my introduction to the life of an compulsive gambler had begun.
One major detail I failed to mention was that at the time I was scratching my life away, I was also pregnant with my first child. It was the late 1980s and I was living with my great grandmother in a small apartment on the south side of Chicago, IL. I was afraid to tell anyone of my predicament or ask for help. I was under an extreme amount of stress and I really had no idea what I was doing with my life. It would be a decade later before I started gambling again, but in the meantime, I found solace in many other destructive activities.
The year of 1990 I was 21-years-old, stuck in an abusive relationship, pregnant with my second child, and strung out on cocaine. I was battling demons on a spiritual level and literally fighting for my life. I've always felt that I must have a few guardian angels out there, because I was somehow able to escape that situation and start over again with a fierce determination to get my life back on track.
The winter of 1995 a friend asked me if I wanted to go to the casino with her. I had relocated to Milwaukee, WI and I was pregnant with my third child. I had been working really hard on getting my life back in order. I met a nice guy that loved me for me, and equally loved my two children. I had a really good job and for the first time in my adult life, I had hope for the future. The only problem was, it was all a facade. On the surface things looked grand, but there was still unresolved issues that I had learned to mask very well. So when I got the invite to gamble, my response was an immediate yes.
That one night at the casino sent me straight to the bottom of the rabbit hole. I would spend the next twenty years of my life trying desperately to climb my way back out. That night I won a total of $2500. From that moment on, I dubbed myself "the slot machine queen." I would visit the casino an average of three to four times a week. Trying to balance family, work, and my addiction became my entire existence. My life just slowly dragged on as if I didn't have this huge monkey on my back. I got married and had another child. We went through the motions of raising a family and ignoring the fact that I had a serious problem.
I tried everything to stop gambling. Therapy, church, hypnosis, Gamblers Anonymous and even self banning myself from casinos. I was doing things unimaginable to support my habit, and we were heading for financial ruins. I seriously thought about suicide more than once, but my love for my children wouldn't let me do that to them. The sad part is, my love for gambling outweighed the love I had for anyone including myself. Fast forward 20 years later, my children were all grown and had moved out. I got fired from several jobs for misappropriations of funds and I found myself divorced, alone and homeless.
It was during this period of hitting rock bottom and my world shattering to pieces that I was finally able to put myself back together again. In solitude, I only had myself to look at. I knew this was where I had to start. I've always loved to read and during this transformation period I must have read every self help book ever written. Anything from the alchemist to the Bible, I would devour with a passion that only one clinging for dear life would understand. It was in my readings that I came across an article about getting to the root of your problems. There I found a simple exercise that finally put me back on the path that I had strayed away from so many years ago.
I had suffered a lot of childhood trauma. I was abandoned by both parents and molested by a family member. Enduring this had diminished my self worth to non-existence. It wasn't until I started cleaning house within myself did I realize just how deep self hate was programmed within me. I started with acknowledging those childhood events and forgiving all those involved. I had read about an exercise where you sit quietly and start randomly writing about people and events that needed forgiveness. I would have never imagined just how much I was holding onto without doing this. My list was very, very long.
Going back to childhood and forward to present day. I had written about events and people that I needed to forgive, but most importantly there was a lot of things that I needed to forgive myself for. This short assignment was the fork in the road for me . Once you get everything down in writing, you must then go back and offer forgiveness to each occurrence. Not just by saying it, but also by feeling it. I had to relive all those emotions and I tell you it was not an easy task.
Once I completed this and all was forgiven, I felt such a heavy burden lift from me. I can honestly say I've never felt this type of freedom before in my life. I now stood at an intersection with two options ahead. I could continue to live in the past and wallow in self pity, or I could boldly move forward with a new lease on life. I chose the later. I started meditating daily and really getting to know and love the person I was becoming. I started to write my own story the way I wanted it to be read and not as a character in a badly written play where I was doomed for heartache and misfortune. Little by little I was eliminating anything or anyone in my life that did not nurture my soul.
I also started to be true to my passions. I have a love for cooking and collecting antiques. I found that when I engaged in these activities and give it my all, I experience that dopamine response in my brain that had lead me down the path of addiction may lifetimes ago. I honestly woke up one morning and realized it had been years since I had placed a bet. The urge was completely gone and I really couldn't pinpoint when this magic took place. All I know is somewhere along my path of redemption, addiction, along with many other self destructive vices, had been forced out of my life and replaced with self love...