HOW I GOT DELIVERED FROM MY POKER ADDICTION
On this blog I’ll tell how I was delivered from a poker addiction, which lasted for two years. I write this blog especially for people who poker a lot and who want to stop forever. Also people who have a gambling addiction may find answers on how to stop.
In the year 2000 I visited the US (I live in the Netherlands) with my family to visit some family members. One member offered a weekend to Atlantic City at his expense. We went there and there I had my first poker experience for real money. Somehow I was attracted to that game and I tried to play it in the Netherlands once, but at the time it seemed pretty expensive to me: Texas Hold’em 20/40 (around 10/20 euro) was the cheapest game to play.
In Atlantic City I could play $2/$4 Texas Hold’em. After an hour of playing I won $120. The foundation for my addiction was established. Before this weekend I had watched a family member play poker on the internet. That seemed very interesting to me. At the time I was a student (so I had a lot of free time), lived in a student house and had an internet connection…
Back in the Netherlands I could not wait to be in my student room and watch the particular site. On that site, you could also play without money, so I played for points first. All in all it took some time before I played with real money. I could not believe that one could earn money by ‘just’ playing poker. My first experiences were actually quite negative. I played on $0,50/$1 tables and soon lost my initial $50. I didn’t understand how this could happen. In the US I won pretty much pretty soon and now I lost it all at once? Apparently the internet poker players knew the rules much better than the people in the casino.
I remember that I shared my poker experiences much rosier than they really were. I never told about losses. And when a fellow student accidentilly watched the table I played at, while I was losing all my money, I quickly deposited some money on my account so I didn’t have to explain I only lost money at pokersites. How the initial period of my addiction was like I don’t remember exactly anymore, but I know that my life was increasingly marked by playing poker. The rush I experienced when I finally won a game was so great that I wanted to play more and more. At a certain point, every moment of the day when I was not playing poker, cards were displayed on my mind. If you’re addicted to poker you’ll probably know what I mean.
After a while I played better, but the balance on my account was going up and down significantly. This had to do with the fact that I regularly played poker after I had been in the city. I had already had a lot of beer so I was not able to make any good decisions anymore.
At a given moment, maybe after half a year or so, I could not pay my rent anymore. Until then I only once told my parents about playing poker online. My mother then said “You should never do that”, so I never talked about it again with my parents. But now I needed money, so I decided to call my dad. I told about my problem and that I was playing poker a lot. My father put money into my bank account and asked if I would stop playing poker. I agreed and the problem seemed to be solved. But that’s not how addictions work.
I was still convinced that this was a fast and enjoyable way of earning (a lot of) money. But because I lost a reasonable amount of money I decided to buy some books about poker. On Amazon.com I ordered some books that had high ratings and I began to study them. The content of the books was backed up by mathematics so I started applying the methods. I played better than before, but the combination of alcohol and discipline is an impossible combination, at least for me. On top of that, after having played Texas Hold’em for hours and hours I wanted to play something else too, and when I played for example Omaha Hi/Lo Pot limit I could loose the money I won after playing a couple of weeks.
I had to disappoint my father when, after a while, he asked if I still played poker. I tried to convince him that it was possible to earn a living with playing poker. He thought it was not socially desirable to make a living like that. Did you have to say on a party: “Yeah, I’m a professional poker player.”?
My roommates looked at me a little awkward, because I was almost always playing poker, but as a student it seems like almost everything is allowed. At least, when you live in a student house where the morality is ‘Long live the student life: another beer!”
At a given moment my computer monitor had broken down. Because I was quite lazy at the time, I then played poker on the computer of my roommates for months, also at night. However, when someone came home, I quickly stopped, because somehow I didn’t want them to know that I really used almost all my time to play poker.
My mother could see that things were not going allright in my life. About once a month I came home. She asked how I was doing and why I had such black bordered eyes. Then I lied and lied and lied.
It became more difficult to face my bank statements. But, because everything which had to do with poker was done through creditcard, I only saw once a month how much money left my bank account. After a while I reached the bottom again: no more money. How it went, again I don’t remember exactly anymore, but I tried to get more money from my father. It was only then that my mother learned that I had a gambling problem. They didn’t like it and we agreed that I would try to stop.
My parents were allowed to see everything what was going on on my bank account and if creditcard amounts were withdrawn. What they didn’t know, was that in my first year of college I opened an extra bank account to pay the beer bills. In the appartment where I lived I was responsible for maintaining the beer stock and everyone had to pay me for the amount he/she had drunk. I still had that extra bank account and so I could put money on pokersites while my parents could not see it. In the following months I had told a lot of times I didn’t play poker anymore, while I still did.
In this period playing poker went really well and I saw my balance rise steadily. In the meantime I had moved to another place, because I changed my university for a college study. Because I was playing poker that much and I invested so little time in my study, my study results were moderately and my motivation was plunged to a low. When I heard that a study mate had changed from university to college that seemed to me the best solution. Then I would have a degree as soon as possible and maybe I could emigrate to the US where one could be a professional poker player more easily. I seriously thought about that.
For the new study I could start directly with an internship, because I could get exemptions for almost all other courses. I managed to finish the internship, but the coach at that place said I had put in very little effort. At some point I frequently arrived after 11 am. Because often I played poker until the sun rose, I almost never woke up early.
The last phase of my poker addiction began when I heard that there were poker tournaments at Holland Casino. You didn’t have to put in a lot of money to join a Hold’em No Limit tournament and online I had a lot of success with tournaments, so together with a couple of poker friends I played. The threshold to play on ‘normal’ tables at Holland Casino became even lower and because I thought my future would be in ‘real life’ casinos, it didn’t take long for me to play on these tables.
If you’ve played online and offline poker, you’ll know there’s a huge difference between these two. On the internet I often played two tables at once, but in the casino I played maybe only 30 to 40 hands an hour. Maybe because I was impatient and inexperienced in playing offline poker, I lost a lot in the casino.
Still, I had positive thoughts about making money by playing poker. I think this had to do with the fact that I have a positive attitude and was raised like that. And when you’re addicted, most of the time you keep on fooling yourself by thinking everything will be okay some day.
My parents again found out I still played poker. Probably because of their reaction I began doubting if playing poker was good for me and that’s why I decided to look for help at a gamblers anonymous group. I went there a couple of times. I told my story and heard stories of other people. Nobody had experience with playing poker, only with slot machines and other games at the casino. I quit going there, because I thought their thoughts about gambling in general were not okay. They thought that just like alcoholics, for some people gambling is okay and for some apparently is not. I felt that gambling was bad for everyone, but still I really wanted to do it. I longed for that excitement, the sensation and the rush of winning a game.
In short, in no time I played poker again. A poker week was coming up at Holland Casino Amsterdam with a couple of tournaments. I really wanted to join them and I decided to stay at a hotel in Amsterdam. At the time I played well at poker tournaments online, so I had really postive thoughts about them.
During the poker week I only played the first rounds of some tournaments. I also started to play on ‘normal’ tables and lost again. At the end I was really pessimistic and I remember myself walking at 4 or 5 am in the morning through the Kalverstraat aimlessly and asking myself what the point of living was. I didn’t have suicidal tendencies, but I was so disillusioned.
Because of all the poker I had forgotten about an appointment I had made with my parents that they would come over to see me. I woke up in the hotel and suddenly remembered the appointment. I almost had no time to call them anymore. Just in time I could arrange a phone card and could prevent them driving 250 miles with a trailer behind their car for nothing. I would see them at a railway station. I had a stubbly beard and the first thing my mother asked was: “You didn’t go to the hookers, right?” No, that was not the case, but she didn’t know how bad I felt. After we drove to a quiet street, I stepped out of the car and I cried with my father. After a while my mother said I should pray if Jesus would help me. Vaguely I remember I did something like that, but it didn’t have any impact. At least, that was what I thought…
If you have lied to your parents so much and have done them so much grief, you would think that at a given moment you would give up playing poker, because it had caused so much misery. Still it was not enough to let me stop. Maybe for a couple of weeks, but because there was no rush which replaced the poker rush, I looked for poker again. I once read that scientists found out that the part of the human brain which gets stimulated after you have won a poker game is the same as after you have used a dose of cocaine. I can imagine that could be true.
A few months later my mother advised me to join an internet course ‘WhyJesus?’. I did, but I think I didn’t finish the course. However, it caused me to start thinking about the christian faith. I also got a christian magazine with pictures of people with large cancerous tumors which had disappeared after prayer. By this I slowly started to believe that there still is a God who is actively involved with people and that He can also help me.
At a given time I got to know my current wife. Initially I didn’t tell her about my addiction, but I did after a couple of weeks. Her first response was quite negative: she didn’t want to have any contact with me anymore. I had come to understand that playing poker was an addiction for me which had a bad influence on me and that I should totally quit playing. I tried to convince her that I would never play poker anymore, because I had God in my life. One way or the other I had become convinced that with Gods help in my life I wouldn’t have any addiction anymore. Fortunately she gave me a chance.
I moved another time, for a final internship, and then I had a room without internet connection. The internship went well, although I spent a lot of time on the internet during working time. I was active on several internet fora to discuss the purpose of life and more deep things like that.
In my new hometown I knew a christian and for some reason or the other I felt the urge to visit her. I mailed her and we agreed to meet. She was married and we played a popular boardgame, Settlers of Catan, and we talked about this and that. Until the moment that I asked if they went to church. Yeah, they went to church, and it had taken them two years to find a good one, but now they had found one and they really enjoyed going there. They also went to a ‘small group’ where they met fellow believers. If I wanted I could join them once.
I was torn apart about what I should do. On the one hand I thought: by all means do not go to such a small group or church service. But on the other hand I felt in some way or the other it could be good to go there. The threshold to go was high, but finally I joined them to a small group meeting. There was singing, bible reading, nice chat and at the end of the evening there was prayer. I went another time and after that evening was the last evening of the season. There was good food and at the end of the evening there was a prayer for every single person of the group. When it was my turn the leader of the small group asked: “Do you actually know Jesus?” I didn’t understand the question completely, because I heard the bible stories often enough in my childhood. He tried to clarify his question, but I still didn’t understand and then he invited me to go to his place to talk about it if I would like. I thought, well why not?
The small group leader made it clear that christian faith is more than knowing a couple of bible stories and going to church. He told me that through Jesus you can have a personal relationship with God and how he once got to know Jesus.
Then came the turning point in my life. He asked if I wanted to tell my sins to God and if I wanted to give my life to God. I asked how I could be sure that this was what I had to do if I wanted more of God. I think I didn’t understand much of what he said, but what did I have to lose? The small group leader also made it clear that I shouldn’t do anything because he said it, but that I had to make my own choice. Eventually he said a prayer and I repeated everything he said, because I really didn’t know what to pray. After this I experienced peace. When I got in my room I went to bed and tried to pray a bit. This was the beginning of my adventure with God which still continues.
In hindsight I think it was God who guided me in the right direction. Also God has removed the urge to play poker completely. Of course, what helped greatly was that I had a girlfriend. But I think that without God, in the difficult periods of my relationship with my girlfriend I would have played poker again. As far as I can remember I never played poker since then. However, several times I had dreams where I still played poker, but after a couple of years they ceased to exist.
With God I’ve had lots of experiences which far transcend the experience of winning a poker game or a poker tournament. And that’s an understatement. It’s difficult to describe what such an experience is like.
Also in the area of my professional career I’ve strongly experienced the help of God. I got my second job in a special way and concerning my current job it was clear to me that it came from God, because of the timing of the day I got the job, the day after and the day I would start. In the beginning the work was very difficult for me and I prayed a lot for wisdom, which I have received.
This is my story about how I got rid of my poker addiction. If you want to know more or if you have other questions or suggestions, please feel free to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org .