My hands trembled as I approached the betting window at the casino’s sports book. The man behind the glass wouldn’t accept my $600 bet. When he explained that it exceeded their limit for a single bet on an over/under, I hesitated momentarily. Reason and maturity tried to take control of the argument in my head, but rational thought was washed away by my elevated blood alcohol level. My pulse raced as I pushed the money back toward the man and asked him to place two identical $300 bets on the under.
I wasn’t being greedy. I just had to get back to even. I hadn’t showered or changed clothes or slept much, really, in over 40 hours. The thing I had done relentlessly for the past two days was drink alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol.
When the group I traveled with had arrived in Las Vegas for this bachelor party weekend the previous day, we found that the rest of our group started drinking and gambling without us. The groom’s brother-in-law-to-be was already down $500 as we rode the elevator to the one room we had booked for nine guys. Five hundred dollars! What an idiot, I thought. I wasn’t much of a gambler, and that seemed a ton of money wasted to me. It was the late 1990s, and we were all just starting our careers. I would have been devastated to lose that kind of money.
Besides, I wasn’t there to gamble. I was there to drink. The popular societal rule, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” rang in my ears as I ordered my first beer. It was time to get drunk and stay that way for three days, and the anticipation filled me with delight.
There isn’t enough space for sleeping when you cram nine guys in a cheap hotel room with two double beds. When the last three of us called it a night and stumbled into the room in the early morning hours, even the floor was covered in snoring bodies. So we went back to the bar, ordered night caps and took them with us to the closed pool area where we found chaise lounge chairs on which to toss and turn for a couple of hours until dawn.
With the sunrise came renewed enthusiasm for the continuation of the party. We finished our last drinks from the night before and ordered breakfast pina coladas as the pool came alive around us. It was the second weekend of the NCAA men’s division one basketball tournament, and my party of nine guys in our mid twenties were all big sports fans. I was tingling with excitement for a day full of beers and basketball. There was no time for sleep or a shower or sobering-up. Respectability would have to wait. We were in Vegas, baby.
As we lounged around the pool drinking our breakfast, it occured to me that I knew a lot about college basketball. I wasn’t willing to throw my drinking money away on slots or at a blackjack table like my friends, but maybe I could turn my years of hoops knowledge into more money for booze. I placed a fifty dollar bet on the first game of the third round of the tournament, and I won. This was going to be easy, I didn’t want to get rich, but maybe I could win enough to eat and drink for free the whole three day trip.
My second bet was a loser, but that did nothing to slow my roll. I wasn’t stumbling drunk, but just intoxicated enough to feel invincible and brilliant. A few well placed bets, and my goal would be attained. I couldn’t possibly lose. My inebriated brain was absolutely sure of it.
When the buzzer sounded on the last college basketball game of the day, I was down $600 and desperate to rewind my tragic gambling decisions. My fiance, Sheri, was going to kill me. Even though we were not yet married, we shared a joint checking account. I prayed she wouldn’t have a reason to check the balance as I had made multiple trips to the ATM.
Gone were my dreams of an expense-free vacation. All my booze-soaked mind wanted was to get back to even. The only sports bet left for the day was a West Coast NBA game I knew nothing about. Rather than pick the winner, I bet $600 that the combined score of the two teams would stay under a certain number set by the oddsmakers.
I started my gambling debacle sure my superior knowledge would make easy work of winning a few hundred bucks. Now I was $1,200 in the hole, and winging it on a bet with the same odds as a coin flip.
My friends all put down a few bucks each on the same under bet as a show of solidarity while they watched me melt down and risk an unimaginable sum – unimaginable for a guy with no savings just starting off in adult life. What had been fun for them throughout the day – watching their friend lose and drink and lose and drink some more – was no longer funny. It was suddenly desperate and pathetic.
In the late 1990s, not every game played was televised. So I sat on the end of the hotel bed and watched the scroll at the bottom of the screen on ESPN for game score updates every two minutes or so while my friends showered and prepared for a late night out at a club managed by one of our fraternity brothers. While they anticipated free drinks and hundreds of girls drinking and dancing, I guzzled beer and watched the score slowly creep up. As the time left in the game wound down toward zero, and the score remained below the under, I felt a sense of relief until one of my friends pointed out how close the game was. Overtime. I hadn’t considered the possibility of overtime.
When the fourth quarter ended, the game was tied thus extending the two teams’ opportunity to score. The overtime period was enough to make the under a losing bet.
A day and a half earlier, I scoffed at the patheticness of the bride’s brother’s $500 loss. Now I was down $1,200, out of money and full of anger and self-loathing. What promised to be an unforgettably fun weekend was transformed into a blur of vodka, beer and costly, bad decisions.
I don’t remember much for the ten hours after my last bet was conclusively a loser. I didn’t shower or change clothes before joining my friends at the dance club. I was drunk and in a horrific mood. My attitude and belligerence got me kicked out of a club managed by one of my best friends. Do you know how obnoxious you have to be to get ejected onto the streets of an unfamiliar and fairly dangerous city by your own good friend? I might not remember the condition I drank myself into, but it wasn’t my first time in that state of intoxication, and it wouldn’t be my last.
I woke up the next morning on the hotel room floor covered in my own vomit. I don’t know how I made it back to the hotel and into the room, but I was thankful to be there. Imagine that – broke, dehydrated, smelly, dirty and splattered with regurgitation – and I was thankful. Pitiful. Do you want to know the worst part?
I was livid with myself for losing all that money, but I did not blame my alcohol consumption for my arrogance or misfortune. “I see why people get in so much trouble gambling,” I mumbled to my friends while holding my head in my own hands. “Gambling is really dangerous.”
Gambling is dangerous. But I was fearless when it came to drinking alcohol. Alcohol was where the fun was. Alcohol didn’t lead to disaster. Gambling did. No correlation. Not in my young, alcohol soaked mind.
My fiance met me at the airport when my plane arrived from Las Vegas. I was terrified to tell her about the $1,200. I truly believed she might break it off with me, so I decided to tell her in the busy airport where she would have to control her reaction hoping I could smooth it over before she had a chance to fully express her disappointment.
Still now, years later, when I think about my despicable trip to Vegas, the part that shames me the most is what I did to Sheri that night. While I’m crushed to have blown $1,200 of our money, that’s not the thing that hurts the most. While I was drinking and gambling and living way beyond my means, Sheri went to Blockbuster Video to rent a movie for a quiet night in at home. She was turned away when her debit card was declined because of all of my withdrawals from the casino.
My alcoholic selfishness cost Sheri a lot more than money. It cost her peace, relaxation and contentment.
I’m not just talking about one night trying to rent a movie. I’m talking about the next 20 years of me prioritizing my need for alcohol over the simple desires of my wife.
Alcoholism is greedy and cunning. It conceals the truth even when we are surrounded by it – living in the collateral damage it leaves in its wake. Even when it costs us money. Even when it robs us of our pride and the trust earned from the people we love. Even then, we can’t see the destruction.
It is hard to cure a disease that the afflicted doesn’t acknowledge. It is hard to stop drinking, when we refuse to comprehend that drinking is the problem.
Is drinking causing problems for you or a loved one? I want to give you my ebook, Guide to Early Sobriety, for free. Even if you’re not sure you need to quit drinking, my guide is full of practical advice and details about the possible road ahead. I hope you’ll read it. What do you have to lose?
Now featured on the Untoxicated Podcast: Ep7 – Drugs, Alcohol and Teenage Invincibility with Dave Friedentag