Addiction is a powerful disease that knows no bounds and can take anyone into its shackles with little-to-no-effort sometimes. Once you’re in it, it’s easy to spiral into constant negative thoughts that further contribute to the addiction, and before you know it you’re a mess.
This happened to me. I think the worst part of it all was that it all seemed seemingly innocent throughout my late teens and early twenties. Going out, having fun, and sometimes dabbling in “extracurricular activities” let’s call them.
My addiction of choice was primarily gambling, which was often fueled together with alcohol and other narcotics that are usually used in conjunction with alcohol quite regularly. I prefer not to name it, but I’m sure some of us know what it is.
With a young family under my wing now and an addiction I haven’t managed to shake off yet, I knew something had to be done.
This is a story of how I tackled my addiction in order to start living a normal life of which my daughter can one day be proud of.
I come from war-torn Serbia during the Yugoslav war period, which went for an entire decade, from 1991 to 2001.
My mother, however, was born in Melbourne, Australia. My mother, unfortunately, had her own series of unfortunate events, which lead to her having to live with her grandparents in Serbia, meaning she had to move back there after having spent her early childhood in Melbourne.
It wasn’t until 1990 that I was born. My mum had already been living her life overseas and it was a great country with a lot of agriculture and work at that time. My parents saw that by 1994, things were taking a turn for the worse and decided to move to Sydney, Australia.
As my mother was a citizen of Australia, and she could hold dual-citizenship with Serbia, we were able to become citizens by descent and move to Australia with two suitcases.
My aunty had already been living in Australia all her life, and we managed to settle into her house whilst my parents got on their feet and managed to get their own apartment.
We didn’t know much – me, especially (I was four). But my parents were the ones in the biggest struggle as they both didn’t know English. As they didn’t know much English and relied on the people that we knew, we moved to a neighborhood that we thought would be a good choice at the time due to the low cost and being fairly close to my aunty.
I grew up in an area called Cabramatta, located in Sydney suburbia. At the time, this location was dubbed the “Heroin Capital of Australia”. It wasn’t uncommon to see syringes in the sandpit at the park or for my mother (Who had red hair, and a pale European appearance) to be asked if she wanted a hit by a dealer from the street whilst going grocery shopping.
It also wasn’t uncommon at all to see people passed out under the staircase of our apartment, where there was no intercom or lock.
The worst of all I think for my parents was that the apartment was on ground level and people have attempted to break in twice whilst my dad was waiting at the door with a cricket bat. My mother had to take turns with our neighbor to watch the clothes so they wouldn’t get stolen, and we basically weren’t allowed to play anywhere except the front yard.
Whilst the majority of this area had been cleaned up and is now an awesome multicultural place to live, during the early 90’s it was quite the spectacle. This had gone on for a while already, though and we didn’t know we were on the tail end of it.
Perhaps not even a year later, we moved away to a new apartment as soon as my parents could afford it. This place was great – there were kids from Serbia, and my parents managed to meet some amazing friends there as well that they’re still together with today.
Things were looking good for our family from this point. We had managed to get in with the local schools and make a lot of friends. As we come from quite a unique background, you can imagine that there weren’t many of us in the school. However, the schools were filled with multicultural kids and it was probably one of the only areas that had such a diverse background at the time of different nationalities.
This particular area, however, always had drugs and crime in its cornerstone.
Things were seemingly normal, growing up and going through school. Starting to smoke cannabis at 15 years old was very normal. Jigging school, to go to my friends house because he was one of the first to have cable internet an entire week in a row. Yes, all of this was seemingly normal to me because of where I had grown up. And I loved it.
I would be smoking cannabis quite religiously from this point on and jigging school. Obviously it didn’t take long for my mother to catch on and find me with cannabis.
At this point, my mother wanted to pull me out of school but didn’t happen to do so. I did, however, leave early on and went straight to early college in Australia.
In these two years, I wasn’t really drinking, smoking, or anything. I was actually addicted to games, World of Warcraft precisely. I did this for two or so years until I was around 18 years old and my mother wanted me to get a job.
I don’t think anyone prepares you for your first paycheck. At least the school doesn’t teach you this. I think my parents sort of just assumed we’d be OK and let me control my income on my own. To this day, I wish I had been sending the income directly to my mum – but hindsight is something we should never dwell on in my experience. It only adds to the torture.
But I think that was it for me — that first paycheck.
Ever since then, I’ve never saved a cent and have always spent my entire pay. At first, it was on sensible things such as TVs, PlayStation, etc. As I started to go out, then it started being funneled into alcohol. What happened next I wasn’t prepared for.
We started heading out to the local “Sports Clubs” because of the fact that they were serving jugs of beer, and were cheaper if you were a member. It was a great gig.
However — what I didn’t know was that this place had slot machines, roulette tables, and blackjack machines. I’m a sucker for bright lights and entertainment.
I still remember the first night I gambled – I put in $20, and I took out $80. I went home and told my mum how amazing it was. She told me to never do that again and explained what can happen with gambling. I think that just went in one ear and out the other.
What happened in the next few weeks, well, is history. I would spend my entire fortnightly paycheck gambling at the local sports clubs. Particularly on roulette at this stage. I would actually go out for lunch from my job and spend the entire pay before lunch finished. It would take me 2 weeks before the next pay.
Every single time I did it, I would tell myself “It’s the last time”, “What am I doing?”, “How can I do this to my mother and to my family?” all whilst living in the same area that I grew up in.
This obviously continued, and I don’t think I knew how to cope with it that well back then. I was pretty young as well. This is when I thought, screw this and that I will try and forget about it and move on with my life.
I started partying, I met a new group of friends through work and I started to party really hard. I was dabbling in ecstasy, cocaine, weed, LSD, DMT, you name it.
There was one devil in there that never managed to escape past “Recreation” for me though, and all I will say is that it’s the second one that I mentioned and never bring up its name again.
The Gambling, The Thoughts and The Spiral of Addiction
Once I combined my love for alcohol, together with my narcotic of choice and having a very weak mindset – I was done for.
In the next 7 years, I would constantly be working full-time. I have a good, high-paying job as a programmer and I’ve always been a functional addict.
However, in these 7 years – I managed to spend over $500,000 on drugs, alcohol, and gambling. Even to this day, I still have debt that’s been brought on by this trifecta addiction.
Some people tend to think that addiction is only if you are sitting in a room and constantly smoking or injecting yourself until you die. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Functional addicts tend to get through the week quite well but as soon as there’s an opening for them – they manage to screw over their lives in a matter of hours. That’s what I did. Paycheck-to-paycheck, and debt-after-debt and many, many payday loans.
There would be times I would spend $7,000-$10,000 in a single night, and have to go home to tell my girlfriend at the time that I have spent everything. This has happened on three occasions and she’s pulled me out of each and every one.
This woman is now my wife. We also have a child together.
However – my addiction did not stop when that happened.
I was under the false pretense that if I got married I would fix myself. So I gave it a go. I saved up and managed not to fuel my addiction for 3 months and we actually got married. I thought I was doing great. But two weeks later I started spending all of our money again.
My wife was already pregnant before we got married so at this stage she was already 6-months or so, carrying our daughter which was an unplanned birth but I’ve always said to myself that I would keep my child if we happened to have one – and so did my wife.
I thought surely, once my kid is born, this has to be it. I won’t fuel my addictions anymore. It’s certainly the end.
Once again I was wrong.
About four weeks after my daughter was born and things were “settled” I was right back after it again, gambling, drinking, snorting.
This continued into more loans (After having closed some after our wedding) and more heartache for my wife – who was quite ready to leave at this point, not even being married for one year.
When The Pain Became Too Much And I Made A Change
I honestly believe that it’s very hard to force someone out of addiction.
I believe that they need to find something within themselves that wants them to stop, an epiphany if you will. This is why, of course, groups like GA, AA, and seeing psychiatrists are a great tool. Because they will make you dig deep to try to find the answer of why you started in the first place – but that’s just it, you need to find the answer.
People can help, but it is up to you to cross the finish line.
For me, what hit me was that the pain became all too much. I started looking over the balcony to see how high it is, wondering how tall the harbor bridge is. Calling Lifeline suicide prevention, and telling them my story – thinking they have no idea how to help me. I was scrambling for answers, and looking in every nook and cranny I could find.
I started looking at videos online. I was actually putting into YouTube, terms such as “How to be a good person”, “How to change my life”, and so on.
Somehow, I managed to run into a video of a man named David Goggins. He was doing an interview with Tom Bilyeu of Impact Theory. The video is still available and you can see it on YouTube today.
David Goggins is a man that grew up in Buffalo, New York. He lived in a great neighborhood and wasn’t poor by any means, however had an abusive father (Not something I can relate to). He basically was held back in school because of his learning disabilities and was always in constant fear of basically everything. The story is actually very true and multiple sources were contacted when David released his book for authenticity.
Basically, David was a man that had a horrible life (In a nutshell) until he was around 24 years old. At nearly 300 pounds, he decided to make a change in his life when he saw a video of United States Navy SEALs training for Hell Week.
I won’t get too deep into David’s story (If you’re interested, check the YouTube video above) but what he teaches you is how to deal with adversity and build mental fortitude. Ironically enough, he has resonated with many addicts and pulled them out of addiction.
David teaches you to stop feeling sorry for yourself and start attacking life, making goals, crushing them, and becoming a little bit better each and every day. This sounds like typical Tony Robbins style preaching, however, the way he does it is quite different.
What I decided to do was make a goal, and stick to it.
I decided I wanted to run in a Marathon. And the Marathon I wanted to run in, was 3 months away. I’ve never been a “runner” in my life.
Training For The Marathon And Life Lessons Learned
The first thing I did to change my life was to go out to the store and buy a cheap spiral notebook and a BIC pen.
I started writing down the following:
- A page that listed all my faults and the problems that I want to tackle.
- A page that listed all the people I wanted to tell the truth to and be open about my addiction to, so that they’re aware, not on the sidelines, and can help me.
- My week-to-week training plan, of what I planned to do. I wasn’t allowed to rest until they got completed either. There was no half-assing this.
That’s basically it. And then I started to tackle the training.
A typical page on my training book might’ve looked like, 5 sets of burpees, 5 sets of planks, a 2km run, and so on. However, I wasn’t allowed to go home until this was completed.
What happened (And what David said would happen) is that after things get a little bit hard, I would start to slow down, look at the ground and start making all these excuses such as “I’m not good enough”, “I’ll just stop here”, “This isn’t for me”, etc.
These are all just excuses that we tell ourselves, and it happens in everyday things as well. Every single time you punch through these thoughts – you win.
Every single time you complete the tasks set out for the day, you win. And what you build, is discipline. Once you constantly start challenging the machine known as the human body, it starts to think “Wait, wait, what’s going on, we’re trying to stop – but he keeps going”. Eventually, you trick your mind into believing that it doesn’t have the power on you that it once had.
This is where things really got interesting for me.
This concept – started oozing out into my everyday life. I was more confident, I was starting to look good, feel good, and before I knew it I didn’t have any time for my addictions.
I stuck to the training plan and managed to get to the day of the race, losing around 10 kilos.
I finished the Marathon. It took me nearly 6 hours, but I did it. My whole goal was to complete the marathon and I wanted to give up at 30km, but my body kept pushing and I kept using the mind techniques that I learned to continue pushing through. What happened at the end was an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that can’t be explained.
I said to myself – I did it, I conquered my addiction.
I was wrong.
Celebrating Too Early And Final Tips
The worst thing you can do after you accomplish a goal when you were already so fragile, to begin with, is to celebrate too early.
I decided to go out and have a few drinks with mates, to brag about my accomplishment, show how my body looks now, and tell them how I’ve tackled my addiction.
It worked out well, however, I would now start going out more frequently, drinking more frequently and then eventually leading down the same snorting rabbit-hole again. The gambling as well came soon after again.
I had an event coming up, where I was going to meet David Goggins and share my story with a crowd of around 300.
You can imagine – that I wanted to share an amazing story of how I conquered my addiction, finished a marathon, and became a legend in my own right. This was so far from the truth though.
I talked to the curator of the event and told him that I wasn’t interested to come anymore. I failed and I didn’t want to be a part of that circle, I felt like a lie. I also wanted a refund to the event because I was broke from gambling and my family needed money. I felt pathetic and at the bottom of the world again, after having climbed so high. It’s very easy to tumble again.
However, the curator actually refunded me and told me to STILL come to the event, and to share my story, every last detail – and being raw about it.
As much as I didn’t want to do it, I felt like I had to.
I went to the event and shared my story. I told them of how I completed the Marathon and then tumbling again, spiraling into addiction once again. I was given a lot of encouragement and told me that these things can happen to the best of us. But the strongest of us all, will pick up where we left off, stop feeling sorry for ourselves and continue the fight.
Addiction isn’t easy, but giving up is easier.
I took this as a big lesson and decided that from here I would continue trying my best in order to stop the addiction.
I continued running and training, and well, to this day I haven’t spiraled down the same path.
I don’t know what the future holds, but what I do know is that we need to continue the fight each and every day and be very mindful of our thoughts and actions.
I hope the story helps some people continue to stay in the fight and beat addiction.
Some tips that I’d like to share are the following:
- Don’t be too hard on yourself, you are living in your own head most of the time and are your own best friend. If it’s not happy in there it’s going to get rough. Try your best.
- Don’t space out too much. At times, we tend to look at the corner of the room and dwell deep into our thoughts, try to avoid doing this as it causes you to often think about how you can next fuel your addiction. Instead blank it out and go for a run.
- Don’t think about the past, nor the future too much.
- As long as you learn something new on every relapse, it wasn’t a wasted effort. It has given you the tools to continue the fight the next time around until you finally beat it.
- Visit local GA, AA groups. They are very helpful.
And remember, stay strong!