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Malcolm’s Story: Tragedy in Early Recovery

I’m telling my story because it is an important story to tell. I came into the Gambler’s Anonymous (GA) 12-step program in March 1987, and since then I have attended thousands of meetings. I didn’t know what to expect when I went to my first meeting, but I knew I had gambled compulsively for 26 years and I couldn’t do it anymore.

My first meeting was revealing. GA members were relating the same things that happened to me—they didn’t know me but they were telling my story. They asked me to give the program 90 days and after 90 days if I didn’t think it was helping, the door would swing both ways.

During the meeting, a member asked me the 20 questions—a list of 20 symptoms of compulsive gambling. I answered 17 positively and could have answered all 20 yes. To the last question—”Did I ever consider or attempt suicide”—I answered yes. I don’t think there is anything worse than contemplating dying or killing yourself. And that’s why telling this story is so important for me.

At the first meeting, a member of GA stayed and spoke with me. The meeting ended at 9 p.m. and I got home at 11:30 p.m. I am sure my wife thought I was out gambling. For the next 12 months, I spent a lot of hours talking with this GA member. We shared our stories and our thoughts. He had a good heart, was easy going, and cheerful. It was good to be in each other’s company. Things were getting better in both of our lives. He got a job and could support his family, and I was finding myself. We were happy together and happy for each other. We became as close as brothers—we became friends.

At times, my job took me out of the area, but I continued to attend meetings even when away from home. Once, after a period of working in Miami, we were given Thursday off. I knew I could make it in time to attend my meeting in central Florida, so I headed home. I walked in and, for the first time, the room was full of members who had their heads down or were crying. I didn’t have any idea what happened.

Members came to me directly and hugged me crying even harder. My friend had taken his life. He was married and had three children. They explained to me that he had gone into his garage, left the car running, and the next morning he had died. What a tragic situation. I thought we were doing well in the program. I thought I was doing well in the program, but at that point, I knew deep in my heart if I didn’t do something more about my compulsive gambling, it would kill me too. It could have been me, it could have been anyone.

I felt so bad about my gambling addiction I had wanted to die, and the only reason I didn’t was I was too much of a coward. I’m glad I didn’t do it because 21 years later, life is really good. It took the loss of my friend, along with working the steps, getting involved and giving back, letting go and letting God, looking up and asking for help, and putting myself in a position to be helped, to get to where I am today. I know I am a compulsive gambler and I cannot gamble, but I love being in recovery. I rediscovered good qualities: kindness, goodness, and generosity. I learned that if you give you get. Today I give of myself and I stay involved.

The program has saved my life and I’ve seen it save thousands of others.

This article first appeared in FOCUS (the newsletter for the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling, Inc.), Vol. 2, 07.08, and is reprinted with permission.

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