The Early Years

I was a liar at the age of five years old and a thief by the age of seven. My first gamble was probably around the age of eight or nine but I’ve no memory of what form it took. Gambling came into my life gradually, but it wasn’t my main problem.

My main problem, always, was that I wanted people to like the person I was pretending to be. I was a liar, a thief, a teller of tales. I was an actor in a solo performance. I was a loner. Always running scared of being found out.

I wasn’t a compulsive gambler until well into my teens – it become the dominant vice when I was around sixteen.

It didn’t really cause me any problems at school. I was smart, and I did ok but not really through any hard work. I spent as much time avoiding lessons as being in them but I was good at cramming in knowledge when I needed to. I learned little tricks to gain exam passes.

The saddest discovery was that shortcuts could get me around having to do hard work.

Prelude to GA Round 1

I left school with good grades. I was accepted into university. Then gambling took over my life.

I decided probably by week two of university that I was in the wrong place and now I had the freedom to do what I wanted. I didnt go to lectures, I didnt go to tutorials.

I went to the student bar and played pool for money or fired money into the bar’s slot machine.

One day another student introduced me to the local bookmakers shop and I was soon betting on horses and dogs.

The gambling took over, fully and absolutely. It was funded by theft, manipulation, and loans from all the wrong kinds of people. It got progressively worse and worse.

I got kicked out of university and I moved around, job to job, place to place; not because I wanted to move around but because it became necessary to avoid those wrong types of people. For some reason they always seemed to want their money back.

Slot machines, horses, dogs, card schools, casinos; insert any type of gambling you want. I did it, was damaged by it, and created damage wherever I went.

I came to GA in 1990, almost twenty-two. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.

GA Round 1

April 1990. I was penniless, jobless, no prospects, lots of debts, hadn’t had a girlfriend since school and had moved back in with my parents, getting pocket money.

I took to GA straight away because they told be why I gambled – I was indeed sick. I was Ill. This was all I needed to hear. The illness was the reason I was the way I was and all I had to do was attend meetings and not gamble and life would get better. And it did.

I came every week, and I didn’t gamble. I came every week for over 9 years, and I didnt gamble in all that time.

And in those 9 years, basically the whole of the 90s, I achieved the things I was always expected to achieve:
I went back to university and got qualified in IT.
I went from there straight into a management job.
I met Michelle, my wife to be. We got engaged in ’94, married in ’95, and we bought a house.
In ’96 I got a better job. In ’97 I started my own company.
We had our first child, Ian in 1998 and bought a bigger house.
By the time I drifted away from GA in ’99 I’d started what was to become a very successful company indeed.

Life was very busy. Increasingly it was too busy to find time for GA.

[6:47 pm, 28/02/2021] MarkKirkSat: Prelude to GA Round 2

The GA lesson to me was obvious: don’t gamble and I can be a success.

Success meant what it had always meant to me: money, possessions, admiration. I wasn’t pretending to be the big shot anymore. I was the big shot.

The business went from strength to strength. I worked hard at it and I didn’t gamble. I was far too busy being a big shot and enjoying the big shot life.

Our daughter Amy was born in 2001. Everything continued to go well, as far as I believed life should be anyway.

And then, eventually, it happened. It was 2006. The whole process from thought to action took all of about twenty minutes. From standing across the street from the doorway of a casino, to sitting at a blackjack table and handing over cash. Thought to action. Twenty minutes. After sixteen years.

GA didn’t enter my mind. The idea of it being an illness didn’t enter my mind. I was the big shot and I was invincible.

So invincible that over the next 7 years, I lost everything material I’d ever acquired. To the outside world, I was the guy who had everything, all the trappings of success, and I blew it all, progressively more frequently, progressively bigger stakes, progressively wilder, until all was gone.

Everything I had, everything I could steal, everything I could sell, everything I could borrow. The loans didn’t get paid, the business loans didn’t get paid, tax didn’t get paid, for six years.

No-one close to me ever knew. I was an actor I had mastered my craft. Everything was lies and deceit.

The last night I gambled was in early 2013 at the age of 45. I lost thirty-two hands of blackjack in a row. I now realise that my Higher Power was saying to me that enough was enough.

That night I screamed out loud, alone in a car, in an empty underground car park under a casino.

I went home and confessed everything to Michelle. The next day was harder. I confessed everything to my kids.
[7:09 pm, 28/02/2021] MarkKirkSat: More Abstinence

So, I came back to GA in 2013. Ashamed.

I was welcomed with nothing but love and understanding.

My intention, as before, was to stop gambling. And just as before, I stopped gambling and life started to be rebuilt.

Until everything came crashing just over over three years ago.

The past caught up with me. My credit score, once near perfect, was now through the floor. In my line of work that had huge consequences.
I had to give up the career I’d enjoyed for 20 years. Yet still I rebelled against reality. I’ll fix this. I don’t need help.
Still feeling I could call all the shots. I was determined. I would get us out of this. I wasn’t gambling but I also wasn’t solving anything. I wasn’t reaching out for help.
‘I’ was the problem.

In May 2019, things really came to a head. The bank wanted their house back. They served an eviction notice.

At twenty-one, I was penniless, jobless, no prospects, lots of debts due to gambling. At fifty-one, I was penniless, jobless, no prospects, lots of debts due to earlier gambling, and now also homeless.

And not just me. My wife and two kids too.


We were moved into a homeless shelter. We spent nearly six weeks in one large room. The building itself filled with people from every walk of life. People with problems of all kinds. There is no greater humbling experience. I recommend it to no-one.

All control was gone. I controlled nothing. I was helpless. I reached out. We were found a new home to rent.

I reached out and found help was everywhere in plentiful supply. From people everywhere who wanted to help. Not with money, most of these people also had nothing, but what they gave was love and understanding.

I’ve learned through example the lesson of humanity, and humility. I learned from others about doing the right thing, the moral things, the real difference between right and wrong. These people are my heroes, because of who they are, not what they have but what they do. The anonymous person who left a bag of potatoes on my doorstep one morning. The guy who dropped off some garden tools he didn’t need. The former co-worker who invited me to help myself to his old furniture, rugs, and household stuff he had stored in his garage.

At the age of fifty-one, I was given a lesson in why all my old values had been wrong.

Success was not about big houses, flash cars, exciting lifestyles. I had always been striving to be someone based on misplaced values.

Serenity, peace of mind, happiness, human connection, love from those closest to us. These things can’t be bought. These things can’t be won in a casino.

It took me over 50 years to finally be introduced to my Higher Power, and to allow that Higher Power to introduce me to myself, and give me a glimpse of the me that I hope to become.

At the age of 21 I was told about the 12-steps and yet it would be another 30 years before it sank in that they held the key to a different way of thinking and living.

My new way of thinking and living is now very firmly rooted in GA, it’s members, and the realisation that it is just a daily reprieve, but one filled with ever increasing gratitude and humility.

I have no regrets. I believe my life was meant to happen exactly the way it happened. I no longer believe in coincidences or luck. To find this daily sense of joy things had to happen the way they did.

I never want to leave GA again, it is home and family to me; the closest most caring family on the planet.