Orange Is Not the New Black

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I have struggled with a gambling addiction for over 20 years. My first Twelve Step meeting was in the fall of 1996. I loved the people I met there because I was not judged. I was given suggestions: get a sponsor, go to meetings, work the steps and call members every day.

I heard them, but I thought there was an easier, softer way. I went to meetings, I fellowshipped with others and even got a sponsor. After about six months, I started to feel better. Yeah, I got this, I thought. Thanks for your help. I can do this without you now.

It’s the year 2000 and I’m miserable. Gambling has brought me to a new low. I am selling everything I can get my hands on, pawning items that don’t belong to me, and I just got fired from a management position for taking money from a deposit (I only borrowed it for a few days until I could win it back).

I found the recovery rooms again. You welcomed me back. Again, you didn’t judge me. I was given suggestions: go to meetings, get a sponsor, work the Steps, call people in between meetings and be of service. Okay, okay, I will do it. I will do it later. I don’t really need to do all of it. I will just do some of what is suggested.

It’s 2004, and the police are escorting me out of my job. Why did I do this again? I cannot believe I am in the same situation. I am the HR Director of this corporation, and all of my employees are watching. I was out of control (again) and not making enough to sustain my gambling habit. I did what I knew how to do; I stole it. It was almost as if the stealing had become my addiction.

I came back to the rooms, broken, tired and ashamed. I received nothing but love – no ridicule, only understanding. You all suggested that I to go to meetings, get a sponsor, work the Steps, call people between meetings and be of service. Okay, this time I will. I still didn’t.

I can hardly breathe and my heart is pounding so loudly. My thoughts are racing through my head as I step in front of the booking officer: I changed my mind. I need to get out of here. Can everyone else hear my heart pounding, too? This was a mistake. I am so scared. I don’t belong here.

I had turned myself in after taking off out of state and not showing up for my scheduled sentencing. You see, I’m now a criminal. I stole a lot of money from multiple employers so that I could continue playing cards.

I was finishing up court appearances for one of my crimes and was about to be sentenced, when another employer called the police after discovering I had written checks to myself. I could not face going to prison, so I thought it would be best if I took off with the money I had borrowed from friends and family for my court fees and try to win back enough money to cover what I had stolen. It made perfect sense in my head. I knew it was the right thing to do. I was going to win enough to stay out of prison. I believed this with all of my heart. No one would have been able to convince me otherwise.

Ten days later when all the money was gone, I was sitting in a hotel room deciding how to kill myself. I am no good to anyone. They will all be better off without me. The thoughts were very real to me until I envisioned the faces of my boys. I couldn’t do that to them.

My 352 days of incarceration were a complete Step One for me. I no longer needed further evidence of my powerlessness. I knew I needed to do everything that had been suggested to me. I would not be able to pick and choose which ones I would or wouldn’t do. I finally heard what had been suggested to me so many times.

This time, I went to meetings. For a year after I got out of jail, I went to seven meetings a week. I found a sponsor. I worked the Steps. I called people every day. I made sure I didn’t associate with anyone who was still gambling. I started a women’s meeting. I was of service.

Slowly, I was restored to sanity. I discovered that it was nearly impossible to feel ungrateful and be selfish when I was of service. My recovery brought many blessings along with much heartbreak. I learned not to allow my blessings to camouflage my need for recovery, and I did not allow my heartaches to steer me away from the people I need the most. I knew I couldn’t do this alone.

My husband and brother-in-law started Compass Recovery Center to help me fulfill my passion for assisting others caught in the web of addiction. Today, I am a gambling addiction counselor. How is it that I get to do this?

Today when I enter the prison, my heart beats a little faster as I wait for the guards to open the gate. When I walk into the room filled with over 150 inmates dressed in orange, I have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. I tear up as I share my experience, strength and hope with these inmates. I was supposed to be dressed in orange with all of them until the fall of 2017. How is it that I get to do this?

God had a different plan for me. I remember this every time I want to cancel a meeting with a sponsee or want to miss a meeting. I remember this when I don’t feel like fulfilling a commitment I’ve made or when the thought of playing one more game of cards hits my mind.

It would take a 5,000-page novel for me to share my gratitude and many blessings since coming back to the rooms, and I am so thankful I was welcomed back. By the grace of God, I have not placed a bet since March 27, 2007. I am forever grateful.

Help and support is within reach for you or a loved one battling addiction. Explore InRecovery’s national addiction treatment center directory now.
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