Gambling: Just One More Hit.

As a child, I would bet on anything. I once bet my friend $10 that it wouldn’t rain that day. I played Poker with my friends every week and would illegally play online Poker through PokerStars when I was 13 years old. I was so happy to turn 18 years old so I could go to the Indian Casino. I went to Vegas every 6 months from age 21-23.

I want to be vulnerable with my readers. I believe vulnerability is our biggest strength. Here is my open and honest story of my addiction to gambling.

I struggled with being addicted to gambling all throughout my early adulthood. From 18-24 years old I probably lost more than 10 thousand dollars on Blackjack, Poker, and online sports gambling.  My family and friends knew I liked to gamble but didn’t realize how far gone I was. I hid my gambling addiction very well from my family because how ashamed I was of it. I knew I was out of control but didn’t know how to be open and honest about my problems. I was a man, and men don’t talk about their pain and struggles. I felt angry, alone, and depressed with no one to turn to. I couldn’t play the victim card because this was all self-induced suffering. This made me feel worthless and even more ashamed of the man I had become.

At my worst, I was gambling 7 days a week. I would do anything to get my high and to escape my life. I would max out my debit card limit and get $500 more from a high-interest cash advance. I remember leaving the casino depressed, stressed, and on the verge of a mental breakdown. I would yell “FUCK” as loud as I could in my car until my voice would crack and tears would roll down my cheek. This would be the average self-dialog after a loss while driving home.

You’re pathetic. How could you lose again? You piece of shit! What the hell are you thinking?!? Fuck life and everything. You don’t deserve Alicia (fiance). You don’t deserve anything! You’re worthless! You can’t tell anyone about this. Think of a lie…….. (one hour later)……I get paid Friday, I’ll win it back!!! Yeah, Ill win it all back and stop playing. I’ll win 1K and not play for a while. 

I would repeat this cycle of anger, shame, and denial. Gambling wasn’t the deep issue though, it was the symptom of a larger problem. I only gambled because I felt alone and depressed about my own life. Gambling was a coping mechanism for depression and anxiety. I felt so alive at the blackjack table and all my worries would momentarily go away. I was always looking forward to going to Las Vegas every 6 months. Like any addiction, I was chasing that high of dopamine. Soon I was betting $200 a hand on blackjack. There was one night that is stuck in my memory and shows how far my addiction had come.

In early 2012 I was planning on buying my girlfriend an engagement ring. This was at the peak of my addiction. I thought it would be a good idea to go gambling with the $3,000 cash I had taken out to buy the ring. I go to my usual Casino and put $500 dollars on blackjack. I figure I could win some more money and buy a bigger ring, a delusional justification. I was gambling because I love my girlfriend… Our minds can justify any bad decision. Anyways, I lose the $500 quickly and start putting more and more money on the table. Suddenly I’m down from $3000 to a total of $100. It’s 1am already and I’m in a deep fog, I say fuck it and go all in and win. I kept doubling my bet and kept winning. After 3 more hours of gambling, I get all my $3000 and leave the casino at 4am. I drive to the Bay Area immediately and buy the engagement ring. Sounds like a scene in a casino movie right?

Two years go by and I graduate from college. I was so busy with work, college, and my fiance that I didn’t have time to gamble. I thought I was cured of my addiction and that I could start playing Draft Kings and Fan Duel. Both sites are legal online sports gambling that plays well for young men who like to play fantasy football. I graduated from Cal Poly and received $500 in graduation money from friends and family. I had so much free time now that I was done with college. I spent that time gambling on Draft Kings and becoming absolutely obsessed with trying to win money on NBA games. I was checking my phone at least 100 times a day, looking for those small dopamine rushes when my teams were playing well. After two months of online sports gambling, I had lost all my graduation money. I was deeply ashamed of myself and was contemplating suicide. I had been lying to my fiance already about my infidelity and my gambling addiction. I felt so alone and depressed that I couldn’t hold onto this pain anymore. I finally open up about my secret life to my fiance, family, and friends. I finally could heal myself of the deep emotional wounds that were festering inside my soul. Honesty and vulnerability are so powerful. Being vulnerable can help us connect with each other in a deep and profound human level instead of the vapid surface.

Being vulnerable is seen as being weak, but it’s actually our greatest strength.

With Aloha,

Johnny Hoffman

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