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Mary Sojourner M.A

Women's secret addiction: as powerful as crack cocaine, more deadly...and it's legal

compulsive gambling can be a destroyer

I'm the same as most recovering addicts - the most fun I ever had nearly killed me. And while I was in the grip of my addiction, I would have told you I'd never give it up. I wasn't an alcoholic, a tweaker, a junkie or a woman irresistibly drawn to dangerous men. Once every three weeks, or two - or one - I drove happily to my dealer. My mouth was dry, my heart pounding joyfully. The Arizona highway wound down through dark green Ponderosa pine into pinon-juniper desert. The red-rock canyons of the Verde Valley lay off in the west. All of it - fragrant pine and juniper, glowing canyons, the sun in a huge turquoise sky seemed prenaturally gorgeous. I sipped from my convenience store coffee, munched a stale donut and considered it gourmet dining.

My excitement grew with each landmark that told me I was half-way there, three-quarters there, two exit ramps away. At last I turned off the highway and drove up the hill to my dealer. I loved the way the neon signs burned pastel against the bright morning light. The poem posted at the entrance to the parking lot. You're crazy busy/no time for fun. Come play with us. You could be the One. had been written by an employee. I loved the marketing-crafted illusion that we were all in this together.

It was about a block from my car to the big smoked glass doors of the little casino. Most late mornings, I walked in ninety or a hundred degree heat, so by the time I pushed through those doors into the cool and faintly smoky air of the main gambling room, I felt as though I had walked into heaven. The Security Guard greeted me by name. I waved back and raced for the ATM. By the end of my gambling addiction career, I'd visit that ATM four to eight times on a typical visit. I'd often find myself broke by 11 p.m., over my withdrawal limit and frantic for the hour to pass until I could draw out more money.

This morning, as I write my introduction to you, I can't remember the knot in my gut when the ATM said Exceeded daily limit or how I paced the midnight parking lot, trying to make myself bask in the desert night - that sweet amalgam of brilliant sky and juniper perfume and blessedly cool air I had once so treasured. All I can remember is the calm rush of seeing two hundred dollars in twenties slide out of the ATM and the bounce in my step as I headed back to my favorite slot machine.

That is the nature of gambling addiction. More than any other type of addict or alcoholic, we live with what treatment professionals have named euphoric recall. Most of us can only remember the good times. And when we remember the neon, the jackpots, the feeling that no one or no thing could penetrate the buzz that filled us when we sat at our favorite slot machine, the neurochemistry of our brains reacts exactly as it did when we pushed through those big smoked glass doors into "heaven". And so, the recidivism rate for gambling addicts is higher than for any other addiction---as is the suicide rate.

I've been clean nearly a year. Only as clean time has mounted up have I been able to look back and see the damage my gambling addiction wreaked - to my financial security, to my friendships, to my brain and my life. In these blog entries, I'll share what I have learned - not just from living through one of the harshest withdrawals known to addicts - but from the year of research I did for my new book, She Bets Her Life: a true story of gambling addiction. Writing SBHL was in itself part of my on-going recovery. I wrote the book because at the time I began it, I'd been unable to find one like it - a book that speaks directly to the woman gambling addict and to her partner, friends and family - and offers practical help.

I cannot separate myself from my addiction. I learned that the hard way. I cannot separate myself from my writing. It is my medicine, my lifeline and my offering to my communities - my circle of family, my circle of writing colleagues, my circles of sister and fellow gambling addicts and the circles of worried and baffled partners, friends and families of those of us caught in the prison of pathological gambling. Writing has brought me hope. May my words bring the same to you.


About the Author

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).