Once Upon a Time I Blew $2,000 on a Gambling Addiction

I’d written parts of this in 2015 and never got around to publishing it. I’ve added additional colour commentary to it to finish out the story, so everything in italics are new, 2018 additions to the uncompleted 2015 draft.

What? Just because I paid off my student loans, invest surplus cash flow, and married the love of my life you think I have it all together? That could be the furthest thing from the truth. While I think I manage to do some things right and head in the correct general direction in life, I’ve suffered from severe procrastination, thumb sucking, indecisiveness, and a slew of other bad habits. I still struggle with some of them. On a superficial level, it might seem that I have it all figured out. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. The worst habit I ever spiralled into was an online poker addiction. It cost me $2,000 at a time when I literally had no money.

Actually, it was worse than that: I had no money in my pockets and owed tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.

Although it was a brief, 2 month flirt with addiction – and I don’t use that word lightly: this was addiction in the sense someone is addicted to cocaine – it was a very informative period in my life. To this day, I wonder if the $2,000 was worth the life experience and lesson I learned from this ordeal.

2018 version of me says naw, I’m probably trying to make myself feel better for literally burning $2,000 like an idiot.

I was reading this article by a PhD student who almost committed suicide because of the mental imbalance that her studies were having on her. I can related. When I was doing my masters, I felt a lot of stress: to get great grades; judging myself against other students; grading for courses that were entirely based on final exams; uncertainty of career prospects; being away from family, friends, and my then-girlfriend-now-wife. It was exciting and difficult at the same time to move to London to study and live.

As all these stressors started bearing down on me with time, I started to crack. I definitely started drinking beer on a subliminal impulse, guided more by a knee-jerk reaction than a conscious choice to consume. Never a good sign.

Then, I started playing poker online. It was all innocent at first. My roommate and I would play for, as he called it, “shits and giggles” to have some fun and relax after long days in lectures and libraries.

I was super addicted to playing online poker, mainly on PokerStars and Full Tilt. Addicted in the sense that my brain would get random urges during the day to bust out the laptop and play some hands. I would be sitting in a cafeteria eating lunch in between classes and need to start playing. Or I’d be sitting in a lecture and I’d have the strongest urge to walk out and start playing. It was crazy. I’ve never felt that level of addiction before. I think I can flat out say I know on some level what people go through when they say they are addicted to something, like actually, literally addicted.

The climax of this story was when my then-girlfriend-now-wife came to visit me in London for a few weeks. One night, we go out for this Groupon wine drinking thing and after having a few glasses of liquid courage, I say this to her:

“Baby, I’ve been meaning to tell you this for awhile now, and, umm, I don’t know how to say this… well… I was really lonely and I felt like I couldn’t help myself…”

The look on her face was one of horror, as she told me afterwards, that she thought I was about to tell her that I was cheating on her with someone else.

And when I said “… I lost about $2,000 playing online poker” the look on her face changed from horror to relief, followed by laughter. I guess it’s that life hack that you should front run something fictional but super bad before you deliver your bad news. I wasn’t smart enough to be consciously doing that – I was just stuttering and avoiding getting to the point because I was afraid to spill the news.

I gave up the online poker after that cold turkey. There were a few instances in the year afterwards where I still felt that pull to play, and I think I lost a couple hundred additional dollars. Today, no urge to play. I do play in real life with some friends occasionally, but no desire to play online.

7 years on, I have long forgotten about that $2,000 I blew as a dumb, young grad student living in the UK.