She Bets Her Life

A writer and former compulsive gambler reflects on women and addiction.

Alchemy: Scheherazade's Sisters - telling stories to save our lives

Miracle - My book, She Bets Her Life, is released today.

Two years ago I found myself in a 16' X 10' shack near 29 Palms, California.  I was trapped in the shimmering aura of an ocular migraine - the third in two days.  The temperature was in the high nineties. That night a fifty mph wind ripped a window off the shack.  I woke to a fourth migraine and wanted to be anywhere but in my skin.  I was one month clean from gambling, too far from the home that had ceased to be a home and clinging to the last thread to who I was - writing.

She Bets Her Life: a true story of gambling addiction began that night.  I didn't know it.  All I knew was that I had to find out what was causing the migraines - and I had to find out why my thoughts were jamming on top of each other like mesquite branches in a flash flood.  I climbed out of bed, turned on my computer and googled Gambling Withdrawal.  There was nothing - except for a research paper on the similarities between gambling addiction and cocaine.  When I looked up cocaine withdrawal, I found a description of what I was experiencing.  It was cold comfort, but it was enough to allow me to go back to bed and sleep.

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She Bets Her Life: a true story of gambling addiction is released today by Seal Press.  It has been a year since my last bet.  That relapse lasted 90 minutes.  I'd have two years clean had I not become angry at a friend and gambled to "show her" - to the tune of five hundred dollars and an hour and a half of tedium.  I haven't had an ocular migraine in over a year.  I sleep through the night.  Food tastes delicious.  I feel connections with friends and family lighting up more every day. I feel the connections in my brain coming alive.  And yet I miss casinos and lavish buffets and hitting the Max Bet button knowing that anything could happen almost every day.  But I understand why.

Writing She Bets Her Life taught me about the underpinnings of my addiction - at the genetic level, at cellular, neurochemical and behavioral levels; the family dynamics level and at the level over which no gambling addict has control: the exquisitely effective manipulations of the gambling industry of the gambler's brain.  I learned not just the mechanics of addiction. And I learned - as the book seemed to weave itself - the stories of a circle of recovering women gamblers who called themselves Scheherazade's Sisters.  

They do not tell stories to gain another day of life from a cruel husband, as in the old legend from The Arabian Nights. Instead, they spin out words and memories, anger and laughter, gorgeous and tattered threads of how each woman gambler is different and all are the same, into lifelines. The women tell their stories. As their words unfold, you might remember the power of story. A story can save a life.        ---She Bets Her Life

The Sisters are Delfina, who was wakened from a failed suicide attempt by her loving and terrified husband; Nora, the young representative (in her words) from Gayavania; Candace, a former lap dancer and Steel Magnolia; Helen, who grew up in rural Oklahoma and became a slot machine junkie at seventy; Barb, everybody's dream of the good daughter who finally ran out of anything to give; Sharon, an elegant yuppie who will never forget the 3 a.m. that all nine of her credit cards maxed out; K-Siu, a second generation Montagnard woman who still dreams of the beautiful pictures on the family dice; Ginny, who tells the circle that any African-American sister knows she has to go the extra mile and running that mile sent her right into the soothing aura of her favorite video poker machine; Celie, whose people own the fanciest casino in Palm Spring and who found herself pouring back every penny of her share of the profits into the slots; and me, whose life may well have been saved by the other women.

The Sisters are composites of all the women I met gambling and in 12-step support groups - as is Scheherazade's Sisters itself.  I am bound by a commitment to anonymity.  But, composites or not, the Sisters' stories are the stories of all women gamblers, stories of delight, fun, excitement, obsession, loss, divorce, embezzlement, bad bargains, prison and worse.  I love seeing the Sisters in this book.  I miss hanging out with them as I once did.  But change is the essence of alchemy.

Alchemy is not about changing lead into gold.  The ancient alchemists were spiritual teachers.  They knew that what they taught was blasphemy to the icy murderers of the Inquisition.  So they cloaked the practice of soul transmutation in the language of chemistry.  They taught the possibility of the most miraculous - Change.  And they taught that in order to change, the alchemist needed to descend into The Black Work - to enter into a sealed vessel and endure.  

Addiction is a sealed vessel.  And, for me, withdrawal was a sealed vessel.  Two years ago, I wondered if I would ever emerge.  I have.  And brought out with me She Bets Her Life: a true story of gambling addiction.  Now it is yours.

 

 

 

Mary Sojourner, M.A., is the author of She Bets Her Life: A True Story of Gambling Addiction (Seal Press/ April 2010) and Going Through Ghosts (U.Nevada Press, 2010).

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