Sometimes hitting rock bottom isn't enough.
I write to you in shame and humiliation.
You don't know me but I know you. For now, it will have to remain this way. I hope you understand.
I am writing because I am in a state of desperation. My life, once an oasis of beauty, is now in shambles. I cannot, at this time, discuss or reveal the details of how low I have stooped or to what depths I have succumbed. Just know that my situation is unbearable.
I reach out to you to ask if you would be willing to see me and if you might be prepared to give me guidance. I choose email as my vehicle for this request because of my extreme embarrassment and my need for anonymity. I fear calling you lest I risk rejection. I need to know, even before I approach you directly, if you are ready to listen without judgment or disapproval.
I thank you in advance for your consideration.
Please reply quickly. My life is at stake.
I read the email several times. It was not a prank or a put-on. It was clear to me that Doomed was a real person in very deep trouble. I answered swiftly -- with encouragement and reassurance. But it was over three weeks before I heard from Doomed again. The correspondence was short and to the point.
I know it has been a while and I thank you for your response. I just wasn't ready then. I thought I was, but I was wrong.
I think I am ready now. When can we meet?
He came in the evening, cloaked in the blanket of darkness. Surprisingly, he did not seem especially nervous or desperate. There was almost an eerie calm in his gait and his speech. Apparently, the pain and the fear were so great that he had fallen into a state of denial -- as protection against the grave reality of his situation.
He reported in organized detail the tragic odyssey of how he had plunged into the abyss of compulsive gambling. It started with local small stakes poker games in friend's basements and with the occasional "leisure" excursion to Atlantic City. "Nothing serious," he said. "I dropped a few hundred here and a few hundred there. Nothing I couldn't live with."
The lying began. The hundreds turned into thousands and Atlantic City merged with Las Vegas.
But then the lying began. "It's a business trip, dear. I'll be back in two days. I wish I could take you with me." The truth fell far from that. The hundreds turned into thousands and Atlantic City merged with Las Vegas...and it all happened in a few short months. Being the sole owner of a very successful plastics business, with qualified middle management people to cover for him, allowed Doomed to "slip away" for longer time periods with plenty of excuses in tow.
It wasn't long before Doomed had lost several hundred thousands of dollars at the Blackjack and Roulette tables and was leveraging the equipment in his plant to procure significant bank loans to cover his losses. It was your typical tragic tale, culled from the logs of addiction files that are brimming with victims whose lives never recover. But perhaps worse than his financial debacles was his deteriorating relationship with his wife and three children. Daddy seemed to almost never be home any more, and when he was, he was curiously irritable and impatient.
"It's all business related," he would lie to Rebecca. "I just need to right the ship and then everything will be fine. You'll see."
The tipping point came at 2:30 A.M. one harrowing night. He was driving back from yet another devastating losing experience when, going 85 miles an hour, his car swerved badly off the road and scuffed a divider and a road marker and ended up facing the wrong direction on the Interstate. Only a miracle allowed him to elude the oncoming traffic and escape with his life. That first email to me was sent the next morning.
In the months that followed, I saw Doomed once a week, sometimes twice, and we developed a caring and trusting relationship. I had seen addicts before, but Doomed was different. His down-spiral was severe but he faced it squarely in the eye. "I don't want to lose everything," he would frequently proclaim. "I love my wife so much and I love my kids. I guess the only one I don't love is myself." And then he would cry -- deeply, painfully, sometimes uncontrollably.
He could not have been more right. He did hate himself. And despite every success he had amassed, in business, at home, and as a community and synagogue leader, nothing changed the feeling very deep down that he was simply no good. We spent hours delving into the damage that had been wrought by his critical mother and his absent father. And we analyzed every turn of a life without friends and without hope. But it wasn't enough.
At first, the gambling came to a halt. It often does after an addict has hit bottom. I explained to Doomed that despite his flight to health, his abstinence was unlikely to continue very long. The scourge would return, I warned, and his battle was likely to be a lifelong one. Such is the fate of the gambler, the alcoholic, the drug-user, the over-eater, and every addict we know. It was tough talk, but he had to hear it.
Indeed, although he was keeping his pledge not to return to the cities of sin, his gambling did return -- this time in the form of sports gambling -- available mostly online. He would hide in his office (both at home and at work), at the computer, behind closed doors, and wile away hours and hours betting on basketball and football games. This went on for many weeks without my knowing about it, until one evening, after losing $35,000 in one week, he broke down and admitted that the disease had returned.
He had resisted my referral to GA because of his high-profile status in the community.
At that point, my pleas to attend GA (Gamblers Anonymous) meetings finally hit home. He had resisted this referral because of his high-profile status in the community. He was petrified to be recognized, especially since he was still keeping his addiction a secret from his wife and family. But after seeing that all the insight in the world wasn't enough to affect any real, lasting change, he relented. He chose a remote location, far the watchful eyes and ears of his neighbors, and began his foray into the world of the 12 Step Program.
We were both so hopeful. He had taken a major step in admitting his helplessness to beat this dreaded malady, by revealing himself to other gamblers. And it wasn't easy. But once again, he became "clean," and the motivation to receive encouragement from his fellow group members seemed to be working.
I recall how discouraged he was when he reported to me about the group's discussion of the four letter word, C U R E.
"They all said that ‘cure' must be removed from our vocabulary and from our minds. It's a trap. It's like quicksand. You get complacent. You think you've got it cured, and the next thing you know you're selling your watch to buy some chips. And each time, the crash gets louder. I cannot believe I'll be battling this for the rest of my life."
Doomed continued with sessions and with GA. Eventually, the day of reckoning arrived. He came out of hiding and told his wife. It was the most painful thing he had ever done in his life. But his world survived. She sobbed and she moaned, but at least now they were crying together. He was lucky. She loved him too and pledged her support to do whatever was necessary to help him. But they both knew that he had to do this himself. It was the only way.
One day he returned from a meeting in which they talked about Step 7:
Humbly asking a Higher Power (God) to remove our shortcomings.
We discussed what he understood about that and how that might work for him. It was not the first time we had spoken about religion. Despite his failings, Doomed was actually a deeply religious Jew who prayed regularly, studied Torah, and believed profoundly in God. It was at that pivotal session that he crafted the idea that would turn his life around.
"They always speak about sponsorship at the meetings and how crucial it is. (A sponsor is defined as a more experienced person in recovery who guides the less-experienced aspirant ("sponsee" or variously, "sponsoree") through the program.)
Somehow, it never seemed to work for me. Maybe I was still too ashamed. I don't know.
What if I began to use God not only in my times of trouble and temptation, but as a constant companion?
But what if I made God my sponsor? What if I began to use Him not only in my times of trouble and temptation, but as a constant companion? What if I began a "conversation" with God, so I could completely bring Him into my daily life -- into everything I do?"
I looked at Doomed with a strange mixture of confidence and resignation. I was his biggest booster. He knew that. I rooted for him. I prayed for him. He was a fighter and I admired that. But could his idea actually work? I didn't want to set him up for disappointment again, but maybe he was on to something, after all. I just didn't know.
Doomed left my office that day with a sense of discovery. At least he had come upon something that gave him hope. I was glad for that.
When we met again there was something different about him.
"I did it," he said. "I have just spent a full week with God. I brought Him with me wherever I went. And I spoke to Him -- out loud! I told Him how I feel. I asked His advice. I shared my dilemmas with Him. I thanked Him for all I have been given. I argued with Him. I laughed with Him. I woke up talking to Him and went to sleep the same way. I marvelled at His utter genius. I complained when I felt cheated. It was.........amazing."
It may have been the first time I had ever seen him happy.
In the weeks following, his resolve got stronger and stronger. He was holding a running conversation with the Creator and he swore that he would never stop. The only way he could beat this dreaded disease was if he never allowed himself to ever be alone again. And only God could serve in that capacity.
"I am going to prove them wrong," he declared. "I will be cured. My sponsor will make sure it happens."
Treatment with Doomed ended not long after. I wasn't convinced he was cured, but he was "clean" for a long time. And I was amazed.
It was two years later when an email arrived.
Just thought you'd want to know. I haven't stopped talking. And He doesn't stop listening. My sponsor never leaves me, but my gambling has. I am eternally grateful. I'll never know if I am truly cured, but I do know that I have never been happier. The conversation just never ends.