This op-ed was first published on March 27, 2023.
I received a letter from a woman whose husband recently took his own life. While she did know about his struggles with gambling early on in their relationship, for many years she had believed it was no longer an issue.
This man was able to keep his problem gambling a secret for decades, until one day he simply couldn’t continue carrying the burden. All the humiliating defeats, the lost money, the shame which he felt he needed to hide from everyone in his life… It finally caught up to him in one tragic moment.
Now he leaves behind not just a grieving widow, but also two children. Their hearts are broken, a family now forced to grapple blindly while trying to understand what happened to this husband and father.
I wanted to address this story and the topic of suicide because sometimes my writing and podcast take on a lighter tone. I do it this way because I’ve been losing at gambling for thirty years. I have to laugh at it and myself, otherwise I’ll probably lose my mind.
But I’ve been in those dark places. I’ve owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to not-very-nice people. I’ve stood on the bridge looking down at the waters below, thinking how easy it would be to end all the accumulated pain with one last reckless move.
But somehow I’m still here. I wrote the book Never Enough Zeroes as part of my mission to connect with other addicts also caught in this terrible undertow. We need to be lifeguards for each other. We need to open up about who we are and what we’re doing—because that is the way to heal ourselves and save other people’s lives.
Isolation is so dangerous for addictive personalities. We get caught up in our own heads, which allows little problems to spiral out of control into giant messes. Meanwhile, we neglect the important things we’re supposed to be doing in our daily lives. Double trouble.
If you are struggling with gambling, drugs, or alcohol… I beg of you, swallow your pride and reach out to someone right now. You may think you can keep tormenting that venomous snake without ever getting bitten, but what happens when you realize you’ve taken it too far? At that point no one will be able to save you, when for years they would have bent over backwards to lend a hand—if only they had known what you were going through.
No one in our situation is better off dead. The beauty of life is that it offers a new opportunity every day—you just have to show up. It may not feel like the high you’ve been gunning for all this time, and you might have to accept some lows on the road to recovery… but the alternative is worse, I assure you.
The people who love you would rather see you vulnerable, however uncomfortable the moment is for everyone, than to discover your lifeless body. Let them share your tears now, and not shed them alone at your funeral.
As today’s topic shows, the unfortunate truth is that we can’t save everybody. But whenever this kind of tragedy strikes, it’s a reminder of how crucial outreach work really is. When the forces of darkness try to feast on our weaknesses and fears, we must link arms in response, to hold the line and fight the good fight as one.
Our lives just might depend on it.