What you're about to read is a true story of how to overcome a gambling addiction.
Drew runs the blog FI Introvert. As the name suggests, he is a self-described introvert. The goal of his blog is “to help 1,000 introverts step onto the path of financial independence.” That's one of the more clearly stated goals I've seen on a blog.
Drew and I are part of an online blogging community. We had several online conversations over the summer. We determined we both lived in the DC area and decided to meet. On Labor Day, we met at a coffee shop in Arlington, VA about half way for both of us.
Two of my favorites from Drew:
How to Beat Death and Taxes with One Financial Move
4 Financial Independence Lessons from the Declaration of Independence
We immediately hit it off. We swapped stories about our blogs, our families, our struggles, and our wins in life. I found it odd, and refreshing, to hear an introvert be so open about his life. In the course of that conversation, Drew shared something with me
Like many of my interviews where people tell their stories of overcoming adversity, you'll hear about the struggle and how they defeated it.
I'll let Drew take it from here.
Tell us a little about yourself
Thank you for having me, Fred! To provide some background, I am 38 and live in the Washington, DC area.
Right now our family consists of my wife, our wonderful three and a half-year-old yellow lab mix, and me. I’ve been married for a little over a year. We are expecting our first child in March.
It will be three boys – our dog, our son, and me. My poor wife.
For fun, I enjoy guitar, running, reading, listening to podcasts, and writing on my blog. Other than that, we go skiing a couple of times a year. We live in a historic area and take lots of walks and bike rides. Both of our families are close so we spend time with them.
It is a great life for the most part. I can’t wait to bring a son into our current trio.
Tell us about your college experience and your career paths
I had an incredible high school experience. We had a unified class of 100 guys. Teachers and administrators told us that we were a special class. Of course, we had cool kids and guys on the fringe, but I think the extremes were less. Overall, we were tight.
I went to college at a small, mostly homogenous school and it was a letdown. A fraternity seemed like a cartoonish farce compared to the camaraderie of my high school class.
Mediocrity and undistinguished are good ways to describe my college career.
What I remember most of college is walking to my campus job and one of my friends telling me there was an accident. A plane had hit a building. Then I continued and saw the first tower smoking. I got to my job in the business school, and teachers and students were huddled around a television.
I distinctly remember my confusion when teachers gasped and cried out when the first tower fell. In my naiveté, I figured that everyone had evacuated. Maybe a few hundred were trapped at most.
9/11 consumed my senior year. Nothing seemed important. Before 9/11, Tyco, Worldcom, and Enron had rocked the business world. The dotcom bubble had burst. Everything I’d prepared for the last three years was bullshit.
Between my Junior and Senior year, I interned at a community hospital in the DC area. The hospital took in some casualties of the Pentagon attack.
I remember wanting to keep some connection to the tragedy, so I accepted the hospital’s job offer when I graduated. My title was an “interactive marketing specialist.” Whatever that was. I remember sitting at a bar with the offer letter in hand. $33,000 per year.
I'd stumbled around in healthcare marketing for several years and realized I was going nowhere.
At 29, I enrolled in a master’s program to work toward an MBA and a Master’s in Government. I’d taken a keen interest in politics and economics.
I quit my job and comfortable salary right before my 30th birthday. Took an internship at an advocacy non-profit for no money and then half my old salary.
Incredibly, that internship and low paying job got me to where I am today. I learned some health care policy and lobbying there. Enough to land a consulting job at a small firm where I picked up not only a ton of knowledge about health policy but consulting and research skills as well.
I got burned out though after three and a half years. Then I went into a small niche foundation in the healthcare space.
I currently work at a cancer advocacy group and am running their policy and patient support functions. I also have a consulting contract with a foundation in the same niche as my previous employer.
It’s been eight years since I took that internship for no money. I’ve 6x’d my income in the last eight years, and it all started with quitting a comfortable job and starting over at 30.
You told me something about yourself that surprised me when we met. Can you share that with us?
What I have left out of all the narratives above is a constant struggle with gambling.
After my sophomore year of college, a friend of mine suggested we go to Atlantic City. We dressed up to look older. Played blackjack until late at night and drove back to DC as the new day dawned.
I was hooked on the constant thrill of being a winner or the precipice of being broke. The atmosphere was exciting, but it was more about the highs and lows of winning and losing money.
I came home from Atlantic City and woke up the next day and downloaded online blackjack on my computer. I bought blackjack system books and tried to learn strategies to beat the game.
In essence, I brought the habit with me back to college. I'd won $1,200 or so online. That felt like a fortune. Of course, I lost it all and more and got into credit card debt.
Right after I graduated college, the online poker craze started. Of course, I had no idea how to play poker. So, I lost more money and ran up more debt. I got more and more immersed in poker. Eventually, my losses were steep enough I felt I had to move home with my mom to settle them.
Back home again
Yes, I was that loser who moved home at 25 to live with his mom.
I would come home from work, watch poker training videos, and then play until the early hours of the morning.
For the first time in my life, I saw how with incremental, everyday practice, you could get very good at something. I got good enough at poker that I was making several hundred or thousand a week. The best players at the time were making tens of thousands a week. There was a lot of money flowing into the poker economy.
Eventually, I started playing at work. I remember losing a $10,000 hand when I had two aces, and my opponent had two tens. The board came in his favor, and I lost $10,000 just like that.
A colleague of mine came into my office right after it happened. I was so stunned I could barely speak to her.
That night, I visited a friend who was in grad school. I got so drunk I jumped into a bush, and one of the branches ripped off about a half inch of my lower lip.
My life was out of control.
I won enough money though that I paid off my previous gambling debts, paid off my car, bought a MacBook, and traveled to see my Dad in Australia. I also bought a small condo in November 2007, just before the housing market collapse.
Once I got my place, my poker learning discipline waned, and I started racking up losses again. There were broken monitors and laptops, destructive, alcohol-fueled relationships, and red-eyed, laconic days in the office.
What financial consequences did this have?
Clearly, if you are playing poker all day and night, your work performance sucks. So, I wasted roughly five years at a job playing poker most days and doing as little work as possible. Obviously, that stunted my skill development and limited my earnings.
I was always in credit card debt. I played a game of moving the debt from 0% balance transfer offer to offer. When I was winning a lot, I paid down my debt. Then the losing streaks would come on with just as much intensity, and the cycle started again.
It was insanity. A crazy way to live.
Would you say you were addicted to gambling?
Yes, I was 100% addicted. So much so that I worked harder at learning poker than probably anything else. The only thing I can remember working harder at was learning to skate backward when I was like 8 or so.
But to keep the habit going, I had to win. And to play at higher stakes for higher highs, I had to get better as well. So I worked hard at it.
I have also heard that the clink of a glass is enough to trigger emotions in an alcoholic.
When I walk into a casino, I hear the chips clinking, and I get a trigger. Several times, I have downloaded a poker or gambling app the next day after being in a casino, even if I didn’t gamble. The feeling of being triggered is what makes me feel addicted.
I also know I was addicted because it negatively impacted my life. I hurt my career, relationships, health, and finances to keep playing.
How did you overcome it?
I did not want to be a loser anymore. I’ve written a lot about the auto mechanic who looked at me in disbelief and said, “You’re broke.” There was something about that moment that made me realize who I was.
I also worked with a psychologist for a while. It was a slow process. He didn’t tell me to stop gambling, but we took steps to replace the gambling with other things. Crossfit, healthier dating, grad school, work, friends. My life went from being completely consumed by gambling to having moments of contentedness and accomplishment.
I distinctly remember one day telling the psychologist I just didn’t want to gamble anymore; that I had too much to do.
I don’t enjoy gambling anymore. My friends and I went to Vegas for game one of the Stanley Cup finals. I didn’t gamble at all the whole night before. However, I gambled a little bit before we left for our flight. It was fun being silly with my friend but didn’t feel the rush anymore. I also wished we had been out in the Vegas sun instead of a stupid smoke filled casino.
My wife and I went to game five of the Stanley Cup finals in Vegas a few days later and I didn’t gamble at all. I had little desire.
How has that affected you as an adult?
Gambling has had a horrible impact on my life. I'd spent my twenties and some of my 30s struggling with it.
What I thought was that I could use poker as a way to exit the workforce instead of learning how to navigate it socially.
I believe that not understanding my introversion was a reason I saw gambling as an out from the real world. Gambling was solitary. I would not have to go to an office or interact with people or be accountable. It was an escape.
When I was winning, I felt very smart and important. When I was losing, I was very comfortable in my victimhood. I was unlucky. Unluckier than most. Woe is me.
I missed out on ski trips with high school friends, dating, social maturation, and career opportunities because I was fixated on gambling.
The flash flood of chemicals that gambling provided made relationships and a career boring. Gambling also numbed the pain of my mediocrity and confusion of where I fit in the world, if at all, post-college.
I’ve been lucky to turn things around. But I often wonder what could have been. Could I have deeper friendships? Could I have used my twenties to embark on an exciting career? Would I have traveled more? Would I have more savings?
Thank God I did not end up dead by my hand or in jail. For that, I am thankful as well as the chance to turn my life around through hard work and the support of friends, family, some mentors, and now my wife.
What would you say to anyone who is engaged in frequent gambling?
You are guaranteed to lose money over the long run in every casino game. It is a futile effort.
If you are intellectual, understand that gambling provides no economic function or value to society. If you can make this mental step, it is helpful.
Then try to understand what drives your gambling. For me, I wanted to escape work; I wanted to feel important, I wanted the chemicals that are released.
Find a professional you like and incrementally work with him or her to beat your gambling addiction. Remember, it is a disease.
Gambling is a terrible waste of time and talent. You can build a rich life. There are so many books to read, mountains to ski, songs to learn, dogs that need a home, and people to love. Life is out there for you if you can get your time and money back from a gambling addiction.
I promise it is worth it.
Thank you, Drew for your honest, open conversation about your life and your addiction.
The allure of gambling, like other forms of pleasure, and the thrills they bring can lead to more problems than pleasure. The crazy thing I've learned about addiction in dealing with our son is this. Not everyone who gambles or uses drugs or alcohol or self-medicates with other substances gets addicted.
There is no real way to know who will become an addict. When you find out, it's too late. The damage is done and often gets worse. That was our experience with Jason. That was Drew's experience with gambling. It's quite a familiar story.
When you talk to a recovering addict, to the person, they will tell you they never intended to become an addict. And I believe them Who would sign up for that lifestyle?
There are millions of addicts around the world. People are dying from overdoses at an alarming rate. As you've heard from Drew and as you know from anyone you know dealing with this disease, it becomes a disease that is out of control very quickly.
I'm grateful to Drew for his willingness to share his story in hopes that it may help someone dealing with a gambling problem. He offered some excellent advice on what to do if you or anyone you know fits that description.
Now it's your turn? Have you ever struggled with gambling? Did you overcome it? If so, how? Tell us your story or the story of someone you know who has overcome a gambling addiction. Thanks for stopping by, for reading, and for your comments.