Alexander Gerhartz
Alexander Gerhartz

25 years of gambling addiction - God has set me free

Even as a child, I was already gambling for money. It was fun for me to compete with others. If  I won, maybe even against older kids, that was great, of course. It didn't matter whether we played with marbles or fished, (a game where coins are thrown), or whether we played poker. I sourced the money for it myself. I always had lots of toys. What I no longer needed, I sold at a street flea market and the money from that was then my gambling capital.

In our village there was a clubhouse where slot machines were set up. I really wanted to try them. I was only 13 years old and officially not allowed to gamble, but these regulations weren't taken too seriously then and so it was possible to get around them. I pestered my grandfather until he gave me five marks. The first time I played, I won about 200 marks, which was a lot. I had the feeling that you could get a lot of money very quickly this way. So I kept playing. As a teenager, I went gambling quite frequently, often several times a week. If I wasn't allowed to play at an official machine, I just went to an illegal machine.

It was a terrible cycle, because of course I was always short of money. When I needed money again, I went to gamble even more, because I always hoped that I could win the missing amount.

I noticed relatively early on that I had become addicted to gambling. I tried again and again to get out of it. I tried many things but they never worked. I was on my own early on and always thought that I would manage to get out of it by myself. I didn't think about therapy because I had friends who had gone to therapy. After a short time, they were acting  just like they used to. It seemed that all of  the therapy had been in vain.

Then I became a father, but I didn't manage to stop gambling because of it. My first relationship fell apart because of gambling, my second relationship too. I always had qualms when I gambled away all of my money again, money that I was taking away from the family and the children. I always had such an incredibly guilty conscience. But I still went gambling again and again. Somehow I always ended up in the gambling house, even though I didn't want to go there originally.

I became more and more desperate.  While others had lived, I had vegetated and pitied myself. I kept praying to God to help me. It was not that I did not believe in God. But I had always hoped that God would work the way I wanted Him to. Looking back, I realised that I didn't really want to stop gambling at all, I wanted compassion for my situation and to be helped, but I didn't want to change.

Without this addiction I would never have had to worry about money. I earned very well,  and if I hadn't taken the money to the gambling parlours, I would own two or three houses today! Occasionally, if I lost a lot of money, I would smash the slot machine in my anger. But I was never banned from the premises, even though I had applied for one myself! The operators didn't want it, I had already brought them too much money and they didn't want to lock out such clientele.

Of course, I noticed how other people were doing in life, while I was completely psychologically dependent on the slot machines. I no longer had any self-respect because I never managed to get away from this addiction. I also suffered from seeing my son so rarely and kept asking my ex-girlfriend to let me see our child.

Eventually, she agreed to let our son stay over with me at the weekend. But this meant that I had to take him to the  church service on Sunday mornings. I had accepted this, although I hated this free Christian church. I didn't want to have anything to do with them and thought they were all hypocrites. So I always dropped my son off there before the service and when his mother came to look after him, I went to the arcade to gamble.

One Sunday, when I got up, I had a very strong feeling, "Today is your day."  I thought, wow, today I have to win, today is my day!!! I had experienced something like that several times before and then actually won.

So I got the little one ready, took him to church and looked to see where his  mother was, but she wasn't there this time. I was still thinking: "Dear God, this must be a bad joke! Today is my day, I have to go to the arcade!!! This can't be." I was very annoyed. His mother just didn't come. I had no choice but to stay. Then the service started with  worship. I was angry and suddenly all stirred up when the music started. I felt I had to get out of  there, right away.

And then, I can't describe it any other way, God touched me.

I suddenly saw everything I had done wrong in my life, like in a film. I saw all the things I had done from an early age, the people I had hurt. Even at school I arbitrarily hit children, and throughout my life I have done a lot more. I have helped many people, but I have also done bad things to many people. I saw it all. I could only cry more. I thought  to myself, pull yourself together, you are a man, you can't cry here. Crying there in public was really bad. But that was outweighed by a love I suddenly felt that I can't even describe. I have always longed for love and now all of a sudden, in the middle of this situation where I saw my messed up life, I felt it with such incredible intensity.

When the service was over and my son had been collected by his mother, I wasn't angry at all. I just stayed seated in the church and didn’t go to the arcade. I first had to process what I had just experienced.

Later on I went to the arcade but suddenly it didn‘t feel right any more, it  didn't fit into my life. I then asked God again to help me. But this time I asked in a different way. I told him of my despair, that I had tried so many times to get away from my gambling addiction, but that it had never worked. I told him that I couldn't do it alone, that I could only do it with him. I asked him to help me.

And then he showed me something. He didn't show me how much money I had lost, but he showed me how much time I had lost. Life time.  I once again saw pictorially all the things that I had lost. The loved ones I had lost, to whom I could have given much more time and love . I realised that money is not the most important thing, but time to be able to love people. I realised that we are not here forever, but we do have to decide how to use our time. Sitting in front of the machine in the gambling hall was theft of precious life time.

When my former buddies who can't break free from their gambling addiction ask me how I did it, all I can say is: try God.  He set me free. I now give my time to my wife, my children and God. I am now also involved in a charity that helps people in need.

God is the ultimate love. He freed me. What I could not do alone, I have done with Him.