Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chasing the Dragon

By Pauly
Hollyweird, CA

It's safe to assume that the majority of my readers had experiences in the drug subculture (both above ground and underground). I mean, our new President admitted to snorting cocaine and smoking the rope. And everyone on Capitol Hill knows that many moons before W became born again, he was one of the biggest coke fiends in Texas.

But here in America, we don't judge people in power based on the substances they ingest or the shit they shoot up. Imagine if we did just that and judged the occasional abuser and rounded up all those hedonists and tossed them into Gitmo? Then we'd have no botox-riddled movie stars to fawn after and no steroids-addled athletes to admire and definitely no Obamamania. What's left? A bunch of Mormons in the White House. That's what. And my incarcerated self would be trying to figure out how to to divvy up the ad revenues on the Tao of Jail to a harem of wives.

At some point, we've all dabbled. A little weed here, maybe a few pills there, or a fistful of magic mushrooms from time to time. A few of you might be lit, buzzed, or crunked right now. Heck, I bet a bunch of you were total yopo junkies. Some days I look at Michalski and I think, "For fuck's sake, the sot is all yopo'd up. We've lost another brave soul."

And don't get me started about Ibogaine.

For those pure souls out there who don't know, the term chasing the dragon is drug slang. Simply put, you're chasing the dragon if you are smoking heroin instead of snorting or shooting it.

Ancient Chinese culture, art, and history is shrouded with dragon mysticism. The term chasing the dragon had origins back in days during the opium epidemics in the US and the UK. In the end of the 20th century, the slang was applied to smoking heroin.

These days, the term can be applied to any sort of morbid addiction.

Oh, poor Suzy. She's chasing the dragon again. That's her third Triple Espresso today.

We all have one thing that we habitually do that we shouldn't do. I happen to have like ten of those things. Pot Limit Omaha is by far the worst of my poker liabilities. PLO is my own personal heroin. When I play PLO cash games, all I'm really doing is chasing the dragon. Chasing that high. I've been struggling to kick that savory affliction. I tried other games like Badugi, but that was just methadone and only prevented me from getting physically sick. I craved more. I needed more. I desired more.

I don't feel normal unless I'm playing PLO.

Some medical geeks attribute pathological gambling addiction to a brain disease that is both "chemically and genetically driven." Most gambling junkies experience a chemical change to their brains when they are in the act of gambling. The gambler's high. And the moment that they are done (and by done meaning busto with no more money left to gamble) they experience high levels of depression.

Sometimes, I used to think that my post-gambling sadness had everything to do with the all that Catholic guilt about losing money. But it was not the case. The onset of the blues had everything to do with the fact that I chemically felt abnormal when I stopped gambling.

The banality and absurdity of every day life is utter torture. I don't know how some people put up with it. Maybe that's why so many people are on happy pills and other prescribed psychiatric medication.

I have hobbies and activities to keep me sane in an insane world. But all of those distractions are addictions. The key to beating an addiction is to find something that is less harmful and self-destructive to get addicted to. In the end, that's all we do, right? Swap addictions.

Smokers develop addictions to eating when they quit smoking. When addicts kick drugs or booze or gambling, they get hooked on religion, working out, or become addicted with the recovery process. And let's not forget sex. One of my friends from college who has been in and out of rehab numerous times told me that the craziest sexual encounters he ever had were at rehab centers.

"Orgies on the roof," he would tell me.

Our personalities are defined by the choices we make which are often ruled by our addictions. There's some expressions that I have heard along the way that really explains the quagmire that addicts are constantly dealing with. Potheads will tell you that nothing beats the first high of the day. Nothing. All you are doing is chasing that high for the rest of the day.

And one of my favorite cokehead jokes is this...
Q. When is the best time to snort a line of cocaine?
A. After you just snorted a line of cocaine.
You see the logic. It's a never ending relentless pursuit towards futility. Like a puppy chasing its tail like a fiend. Add cocaine and that's one fucked up pooch.

The inevitable confrontation occurs. The moment of truth when you actually catch the dragon and have to stand face to face with your own addiction. Do you slay the dragon? Does the dragon light your ass up and you're burned to the crisp? Or do you come to a mutual understanding that you both are linked together in a twisted relationship. One could not exist without the other.

St. Augustine wrote extensively about temptation. He said that they were necessary in order to achieve spiritual progress. One of Augustine's most famous passages from his epic screed Confessions involved lust...
"There seethed all around me a cauldron of lawless loves. I loved not yet, yet I loved to love, and out of a deep-seated want, I hated myself for wanting not. I sought what I might love, in love with loving, and I hated safety... To love then, and to be beloved, was sweet to me; but more, when I obtained to enjoy the person I loved. I defiled, therefore, the spring of friendship with the filth of concupiscence, and I beclouded its brightness with the hell of lustfulness."
Ah, the hell of lustfulness. Sounds a lot like the streets of Las Vegas, doesn't it?

Addiction defines the majority of your behavior. We're addicted to many things in life, some obvious and some not-so obvious. Your behavior is a collection of decisions that you make. Each of those individual decisions add up. And at the end of the day, we're all just trying to make the best possible decisions so we don't give into temptation. That we don't lose our will.

It's easier for some than others. Some folks can walk right past a craps table without stopping. People can wander by a Dunkin' Donuts without feasting.

Poker is like any street drug. The more that you ingest, the bigger the tolerance that you develop. NL was just a gateway drug to PLO. Four cards. Double the action. Fix me up a fuckin' speedball, Johnny! Let's get it all in with a gutshot and a flush draw and an over pair.

Over the last few years, I have gone through various periods of time when I'm playing a ton of poker or on the contrary, I'm rarely playing. Sometimes, you just have to play. You need to play. That's all you think about. That's your main priority. Everything else becomes secondary. You can't even take a dump without missing a hand so you drag your laptop on the shitter with you.

I had a horrible bout of sports betting and I kicked my craving for big action before I lost a significant amount of cash. I got lucky that way. Most people learn lessons after they went broke and got their leg broken by a thug named Yuri. I was able to walk away with a profit and learned one of life's harsh lessons in the process. There is a happy ending to my story. I was one of the fortunate ones and caught myself before I really took a nose dive into the abyss.

As I wrote extensively in the Born to Gamble series, sports betting has always been in my life for as long as I can recall...
One of my earliest memories was watching the Superbowl XI in 1977 with my father. The Raiders beat the Vikings and my old man was extremely enthusiastic about the win since he had both the Raiders and the over in the game. He hit his parlay and that unstuck him for the NFL playoffs. Watching my first televised sporting was coupled with my first experience with gambling. The two began symbiotic relationship, that still exists in my mind today. From the moment Super Bowl XI ended, I presumed that my father had bet on every sporting event on TV over the next several years. Instead of asking him who won the Jets game, I'd say, "Did you win your bet?" - Born to Gamble Part I: Where It All Begins
I can stay out of the pits. I'm don't get off on black jack like I used to. Craps is fun when you have a bunch of friends with you, but other than that, I don't have an urge to roll the bones. And the slots? Don't turn me on.

Pai Gow is a whole other story and I ran into some festering problems with deviant bouts with Pai Gow. Alas, that was just one of those ugly moments in my life when I swapped one addiction (sports betting) for another (Pai Gow). I was still in the process of overcoming one addiction and became hopelessly addicted to the other. Two for the price of two.

I have since successfully kicked both. It took a lot of determination, discipline, and understanding of the root of why I gambled such large sums. It's pretty obvious. I'm a thrill seeker. I want the buzz. Writing gets me higher than any drug I have ingested. So any other activity doesn't compare to that vivacity. I was doomed with gambling.

Two dimes on a game. At the time, I justified it because I could afford to lose that much. It was at a weird time in my life when I was making so much money with different websites, and playing online poker, and as a freelance writer. The size of the bet had to mean something to me. I started the escalation in wagers.

My brazen betting habits began at the tail end of the 2006 NFL season and spilled over into the playoffs. I was in Melbourne, Australia at the start of the NFL playoffs. That was in the wake of the UIEGA and Neteller froze my account in January 2007. I could not fund nor cash out of my account at my favorite online sports book. I was caught in limbo. Ah, temptation was just around the corner. The Crown Casino had a sportsbook. I quickly found out that they charged too much juice. A couple of local bookies were recommended to me and they welcomed my action.

I escaped Australia without any damages to my sports betting roll. If anything, it swelled thanks to a nice run in the playoffs. I went into the 2007 March Madness tournament with too much confidence. I broke the majority of my basic sports betting rules. I tried to bet on as many games as possible. Again, recklessness paid off and I went 17-5-2 in the opening weekend.

Nice profit. Let's keep pressing it.

I headed out to Las Vegas for the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games with my brother and best buddy Senor. That's when things got ugly. I had one of those moments of sheer agony when I lost one muthafucker of a game. A lot of my friends were watching the game with me at Red Rock Casino. It was a $6,000 swing. I wanted to die. I couldn't speak. I couldn't eat. I couldn't breathe. All I wanted to do was crawl up in a ball and just make it all go away... not because I lost the money, but because I missed that high.

The rush. Tip-toeing on the edge of the abyss and spitting into the darkness.

Most of my profit was wiped out. But instead of walking away, I decided to chase. I should have lost everything. Instead, I won back a bunch in the Final Four. I was covering the EPT Grand Finale and I had to watch the championship game from my hotel room in Monte Carlo where I frenetically paced back and forth during the second half. I won my wager that game and made a promise to myself and the gambling gods that I would not longer place big bets. No more betting one, or two, or even three dimes a game.

A couple of weeks later, I returned to Las Vegas for two weeks to cover the WPT Championships at the Bellagio and the WSOP Circuit Event at Caesar's Palace. It was the middle of the NBA playoffs. I covered both tournaments for Poker News and on my breaks, I ran over to the sports book to place bets or to anxiously sweat the games that I had bet on. I was betting relatively small compared to what I had been doing during March Madness.

I went on a horrendous losing streak during the 2007 WPT Championships. I basically blew my entire Poker News paycheck for the Bellagio gig on a serious of devastating NBA bets. It got so bad that I asked Erick Lindgren about his lock of the day. When that did not pan out, I started chasing the dragon and began increasing the amount of my bets. I was on the brink of hitting rock bottom and losing my entire Caesar's Palace paycheck, I caught a much welcomed wave of luck. I had one dime on a game. It was a blow out and I won. I doubled up on the next game and hit that when I got lucky covered at the last second. I pressed my winnings for one final game. That hit and I had won back my Bellagio paycheck and then some.

John Caldwell from Poker News was concerned about my degeneracy. We both were about to embark upon a monster of an assignment -- the official coverage team of the 2007 WSOP. Although he knew that I could handle the pressure of the assignment, he was more worried about my sports betting which had spiraled out of control. He didn't want me to lose my entire paycheck at the Rio's sportsbook.

"You don't bet on baseball, right?" he asked.

Of course not. Only a true degenerate would do that.

Alas, my girlfriend was also worried. She knew that I wasn't betting any amount that I could not afford to lose, but she pointed out how depressed and moody and irate I would become after a gambling binge. It altered my personality and thereby affected the people around me including her. That's when I made vow. A promise. A pact. I would not place a sports bet until the 2007 NFL season. I went the entire 2007 WSOP without setting foot in a sports book. I did get sloppy in other areas such as lime tossing with Otis, but that's a post for another time.

When the NFL season rolled around, I was in London covering the 2007 WSOP Europe. There was a betting shop a few feet from the entrance to my hotel near Trafalgar Square. I walked past no less than a half a dozen on my way to the Empire Casino in Leicester Square. Billy Hill. Ladbrokes. They were everywhere. Action. Temptation. The highs. The buzz. Just one bet away from achieving nirvana...

I placed wagers at the betting shops, but I only bet small. I somehow managed to decrease the amount substantially and still gain some sort of pleasure at the same time. Although I lost one bet on a soccer match when Mike Lacey gave me a tip about Ireland in some sort of international game. I bet on the Irish and I lost when their opponents tied the game in extra time and the game ended 1-1. My British colleague Barry Carter scolded me, "That's what you get for taking a tip from an Irish football fan."

Despite my first and last foray into soccer gambling, I finally achieved a healthy balance by betting small again.

One year later, I continue to struggle. It's a day to day thing. Some days are better than others. But for now, I have sports betting and PLO under control. I chased the dragon and survived.

Now if I can just get this fuckin' monkey off my back...

Original content written and provided by Pauly from Tao of Poker at All rights reserved. RSS feeds are for non-commercial use only.

No comments:

Post a Comment