The whorls on my feet and toes look grotesque.
“Are you getting out or not?” asks my wife as she wipes the bathroom mirror with a towel, hairbrush in hand.
I can’t seem to shift. I have that feeling in my gut. The one where you're about to tell the truth and the devil keeps sticking his pitchfork in between your ribs and twanging them.
I open my mouth several times. Nothing comes out. I pour more hot water in the bath.
“I have something to tell you,” I whisper.
I blurt it out. There is no going back. I feel like I'm staring down the barrel of the end of my marriage and my bathroom is about to become an art gallery where the theme is blood.
“I have something to tell you.”
My tone is stern enough for her to stop what she is doing and pay attention. She sits down on the shower step. Silence. There is a look of horror on her face. I think she thinks I am about to confess to an affair.
“I have lost a lot of money gambling. And I don’t know what to do.”
The Vastness of the White Space
I quit gambling at the same time I quit alcohol. You can't comprehend how much it consumes your life until you stop and feel the vastness of the white space.
It's a dangerous time for alcoholics. If they don't fill the white space with something, the mind fools you into believing life is boring, and alcohol is the only solution.
I filled my white space with poker.
I know how absurd that sounds. A man with a gambling problem fills his life with a gambling game when he quits alcohol, but I never viewed poker as a form of gambling.
I always saw it as a game of skill. There were times when I lost control -- always in cash games -- but it wasn't the same as sports betting or the wheel.
Poker filled a hole in my life at the right time. I was playing online cash games and tournaments and competing in a local home game on a Tuesday night. It also helped my recovery because nobody drank that much during the game. It was perfect for me.
The Success Principles
It wasn’t enough. Suddenly, I was like a man possessed. I had a never ending compulsion to grow. It was as if the alcohol had prevented me from thinking for the past 20 years.
The Portcullis raised, the drawbridge lowered, and ideas came galloping through. I read a book called The Success Principles by Jack Canfield.
He told me that I could be or do anything that I wanted to be or do. It was an overwhelming moment.
The sadness of realizing that I had wasted the past 20 years of my life hit me like an Ivan Drago jab.
I was bitter, angry and full of self-loathing. And then I decided to do something about it. There was a number in The Success Principles to ring to enquire about personal one-to-one coaching.
I dialled. It was expensive. I had £30k in credit card debt. I had that feeling in my stomach again, the one from the bathtub. I went with my gut. I joined the course and added to my debt.
The $45k Goal
My coach was called Michelle. My first task was to figure out what my life purpose was. I couldn't do it. To help me Michelle suggested writing a list of all the things in life that had brought me enjoyment.
It was a short list. Poker was on it, as was football and sex. I felt like a failure. I cried, and I cried.
"Think about your job," she said. "I know you hate it, but what are the things you enjoy?"
My list grew exponentially.
“Now figure out how you can earn a living doing those things,” she said.
I decided that I wanted to help people quit alcohol. I also realized that my job (I had worked in the rail industry for the past 20 years) was making me sad.
The answer was staring me in the face. I could quit my job on the railway and help people quit alcohol.
Easier said than done. I had a wife and a child. How would I support them financially?
And that's when I had the brainwave to become a professional poker player and use that freedom to help people quit alcohol. Working with Michelle, I created a goal to earn $45,000 through poker in a year.
If I could do that, I would feel comfortable that I could pay the bills and wouldn't have to return to the 9 to 5.
At first, life was great. I built up the courage to quit. I had a year's salary. I had a plan to join another firm if it all went tits up.
There was a lightness about me. The stress of the railway was never evident to me until I quit. The freedom of waking up on my terms is something I am grateful for every day.
And then it all started to fall apart. My wife couldn’t wrap her head around it. I was spending 12 hours a day playing a game. There were times when I would lose a lot of money.
The swings scared her. In a desperate bid to reassure her I tried to buy her confidence in me by giving her half of everything I won. It wasn’t the soundest bankroll strategy.
We started to fight. We drifted apart. Eleven months after my goal had begun, I quit. I felt like a failure.
Then the strangest thing happened. As part of that goal to earn $45,000 through poker I sent an email to five editors of poker magazines.
I asked them if they wanted me to write about my story of quitting my job and earning $45,000 though poker. One of them said yes.
There was only one problem. I didn’t know how to write.
The editor was John Wenzel from Poker Pro Europe magazine and the Valleys to Vegas column was born. As I was busy losing money at the tables, more John Wenzel-types read my stories and offered me more work.
Twenty-four months after quitting my job and setting a goal to earn $45,000 through poker, I made £45,000 writing about poker.
I got to keep my freedom after all.
But why didn’t I make it as a professional poker player? What went wrong?
I asked dozens of professional poker players, who have succeeded where I failed, why?
Their answers follow in Part 2.