Trips to Las Vegas have always been an internal struggle. Alas, that's where my friends wanted to go in college and where my beloved Backstreet Boys decided to have a residency. So while the bright lights of Las Vegas are beloved by many, for me they trigger the nights my mom failed to come home.
There is no doubt in my mind that my family would've wound up homeless had we lived anywhere near Sin City. Instead, my family resided just a few miles away from one casino in the California desert. A place my mother spent most of my childhood. A place I still have animosity towards because its existence gave way to my mother's addiction in a way that took her away from us more often than not. That is time we'll never get back, but along the way, my mother's gambling addiction taught me a few lessons that have allowed me to look at life with clearer eyes.
Movies and television love to push addiction as only substance based. Drugs and alcohol. That's all we ever see. On rare occasions we'll hear about Terry Crews and his porn addiction but more common are the addicts who choose from the array of narcotics or too many drinks at the bar. My mom never drank or did drugs when I was a kid. Which was a miracle given that those were as common as breathing in my hometown. Nope, her addiction was an action; gambling.
Like any other kind of addict, she came to depend on those nights (and sometimes days) at the casino. Gambling away her whole paycheck wasn't out of the ordinary. As I got older I realized that while she wasn't stumbling in drunk or high, when she did come home at 6am it was just as bad. Just like when someone is intoxicated, our mom wasn't really our mom after a night of wasting money like it was nothing. She was like Marge in that episode of The Simpsons when they got a casino; not present in more ways than one.
Addiction, it comes in so many forms that I had to remember that when it came to how I approached my own interests and vices. I never wanted something to consume me in such a way that I'd lose who I was without it.
Speaking of losing, a lot of money went into that casino a few miles from our trailer. It's an Indian casino, and my best friend is part of that tribe. I joke that my mom put more into her college education than she ever did mine. Joke, well, it's more of a statement really. Our family had always been on the low-income side of life, but the gambling made it worse. Thinking back, that's probably why I hoarded the money my father gave me. $20 every two weeks was my everything at nine-years-old. In fact, my mom would actually come to me for loans and I'd charge interest. It's a shame I didn't go into finance.
Her gambling innately taught me the importance of saving, even when you didn't have much to save in the first place. This, in turn, became my saving (no pun intended) grace when I found myself to be the least hirable person after college. Without ever having a "real" job I have enough in the bank to afford a basic tiny house. A sentiment I'm insanely proud of given I don't work your typical 9-5 and rode the struggle bus throughout my 20's.
All of that was hard work though, not luck. It seems like everyone with a gambling problem relies on luck. That includes my mom. In reality, luck is more of an amazing idea than it is a reliable actuality. We can't sit around and wish on every falling star that our life will one day be better or that we'll hit the jackpot next time. That's not sane nor is it healthy. So I never think that way. Perhaps her gambling problem has made me a little pessimistic but it's better than thinking life will always hand you a lucky advantage. We are not a straight white man with so-called Christian values and a trust fund. The world is not stacked to my, or my mom's, advantage.
Today my mom doesn't gamble as much as she used to. If you would've asked 10-year-old me who missed a Science Fair Ceremony because her mom was at the casino and couldn't give her a ride if she would believe her mom would one day tone it down, she would have looked at you with tears in her eyes in total disbelief. Her long nights away from home were brutal on my brother and me, but at least there were lessons to be learned along the way. If anything, maybe it's those lessons her daughter learned later that was her best win.