“I love the smell of pine, and I could not smell the pine trees, nor see the stars at night,” Steve recalled the moment of desperation that brought him to Beit T’Shuvah. Steve hit rock bottom on a hiking trip two years ago. He had lost all joy and sensation, and his will to live was fading, too. He had about fourteen years sober from drugs and alcohol, yet he had relapsed on something just as dangerous for him—gambling. To those in its grips, gambling is as nefarious as substances are to the substance abuser.
Steve has had a rocky journey, both on and off the trails. Hiking has been an integral outlet for decades; more than a hobby, a catharsis. His background as a paramedic and army man positioned him to successfully traverse thousands of miles of terrain over the years, and to persist through a lifetime of struggles with substance use disorder. He wasn’t always an addict—born in 1957, Steve was the eighth of ten children. Raised just outside of San Diego, Steve “played baseball and football, was an average kid that went to a private Catholic school and had a lot of friends.”
When Steve was just seven years old, his father died. This fractured the family and forced his mother to work “almost all of the time.” Steve’s siblings ranged in age by over twenty years, and he got lost in the mix. By age twelve, he was drinking and smoking pot. Steve was on his own through his formative years, and by 1989, he’d hit his first rock bottom following a two-year stint of drinking and drugging. He checked himself into his first treatment center and began his journey to physical sobriety. He never thought that years later he would be fighting another harrowing addiction…one that would prove to be just as destructive. In retrospect, Steve realizes that addiction is a disease of the mind. Without addressing its spiritual aspect, it inevitably rears its ugly head in a different form.
Two years ago, when Steve “couldn’t smell the pine trees” he had walked into the woods to attempt a 500-mile Lake Tahoe hike following a successful thru-hike of the Arizona Trail … a casual 800 miles. His wife had just announced she was leaving him. He had spent virtually all of their life’s savings and broken all trust. When Steve couldn’t enjoy nature’s brilliance while he literally flirted with the edge, a power greater nudged him to pick up the phone and call Brad, from Beit T’Shuvah’s Right Action Gambling Program. He was able to do a pre-screen standing on a cliff in the wilderness. Thank Hashem there was reception.
Steve made it here quickly. He worked his program and became an intern in the kitchen. Today, sixteen months later, Steve continues his hard work and service as a kitchen employee with “a lot of responsibilities.” Steve reports he is happy now, but his heart is in San Diego, where he lived when things fell apart. He’s working on repairing the bond with his estranged wife and finding time to enjoy the great outdoors.
Steve’s warning to those flirting with gambling is that it “seemed so harmless in the beginning.” The first time he played the slots, Steve won three thousand dollars, and either twenty or thirty thousand over the course of those first two weeks. Two years passed and Steve had spent his nest egg. His wife and he would have been able to buy a home in cash. He lost that potential home, his wife, and himself.
Gambling addiction is a common process addiction that affects millions of Americans and comes with an alarmingly high suicide rate. Its severity is underrepresented, but the truth is, as fentanyl is killing drug addicts, gamblers are killing themselves. There is a solution, apparent in Steve. In two years, he has transformed his life. He has passion and purpose, and he believes that others too can heal from gambling addiction.
Steve currently runs a Gambler’s Anonymous meeting at Beit T’Shuvah. He’s of service to newcomers and carries the message; the message that “there is hope. Beit T’Shuvah and Gambler’s Anonymous are very strong programs. Anyone with a gambling problem, please get into BTS if you can. At least get to a Gambler’s Anonymous meeting—there are tons of people waiting to help you.”