ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

BREAKING THE CYCLE OF ADDICTION

So Iím sitting there in the casino, mindlessly punching buttons while nickle after nickle is electronically transferred from my $5 bill to the vast coffers ofÖ well, whoever it is who controls Las Vegas these days.

The mob?

General Electric?

Siegfried and Roy?

Then suddenly it occurs to me: "Wait a minute! You donít gamble! Why are you playing this slot machine?"

OK, technically, I wasnít playing the machine. It was playing me.

Toying with me. Teasing me with an occasional flash of lights and clang of bells. And I wasnít really gambling, because I KNEW I was going to lose the whole $5 eventually. Still, it seemed a little hypocritical for one who has opposed gambling to be participating in it, however innocuously.

My aversion to gambling began nearly 40 years ago, when we were passing through Las Vegas during one of our familyís frequent trips to California. As I recall, my sister Wanda Lynne had just turned 18, and Mom and Dad wanted to let her throw a few nickels into the slot machine Ė now that she was "legal" and everything. So even though it was fairly late, Dad parked in front of the Golden Nugget and he and Mom and Wanda Lynne went into the casino, leaving my youngest sister Kathy and I to wait in the car.

I donít remember if I was sick before they went inside. I do remember that I was pretty upset about being left in the car with Kathy, who wasnít any happier about being left with me. So we sat there in our car parked on Las Vegas Boulevard, tearfully bathed in the artificial glow of reflected light and motion, and it just seemed like the time was right for me to throw up. So I did. Right there on the vinyl interior of Dadís beloved Impala.

Kathy went running for help and came back with a police officer just as Mom, Dad and Wanda Lynne emerged from the casino. The officer took one look at my tear-stained face and the mess in the back seat. Then he glared at my sheepish parents.

It was at that precise moment that I decided that gambling is dumb.

And if that wasnít enough to convince me, some years later I got a first-hand look at the devastation of gambling addiction on personal lives and families, as someone near and dear struggled with the affliction. So painful was that experience for all of us who knew and loved this family, I began to think of myself gambling-proof. I could walk through casinos and not feel even the slightest tremor of desire to try my hand at blackjack or drop a nickel into a machine.

Until now, when suddenly Iím pushing buttons, spinning tumblers andÖ well, gambling.

Donít get me wrong Ė Iím no slot machine junkie. I gambled away my $5, and that was enough. I felt sort of stupid and at least $5 poorer, and Iím not inclined to do it again. At least, I donít think so Ė now. But I know how addiction works. It insidiously breaks you down, a little at a time. Itís a vicious cycle that begins with something distasteful becoming tolerable, then amusing, then fun, then desirable. And then, before you know it, youíre hooked.

Thatís why Iím already thinking about our trip to California next month. Weíll be passing through Las Vegas again, and Iím planning to keep my money in my pockets. The way I see it, the time to break the cycle of addiction is now.

When the only thing Iíve lost is five bucks.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.