When I was 12 my mother died. She was diagnosed with brain cancer before I was old enough to understand what was happening. When I was 9 she had an operation to remove the tumor in her brain. They were able to successfully remove the tumor, but we were left with only a shell of the incredible woman she once was.
The family’s pain was immense. The three years between her surgery and her passing were an excruciating open wound of grief, a mourning process that wouldn’t end. My father was our rock. He watched his world crumble before him and still had the strength to remain composed and tend to his two sons. He never raised a hand or even his voice to us in frustration. He didn’t dive into a bottle. He put his head down and carried us through the darkness as best he could.
My father is a great man, but he is still only one man. He continued working full time to provide for us, so often my brother and I were left to our own devices. As a child, I was ill equipped to deal with issues of life and death, disease, and terminally ill care. Walking into my parents bedroom and seeing my mother laying there day after day took its toll on my mental state.
I slowly slipped into a deep depression. I missed my mother. I was afraid of death. I would spend hours in the dark thinking about dying and being buried alone in a coffin for eternity. I felt an incredible guilt towards the end of her care as I started to wish that she would die. I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I couldn’t watch her or the rest of my family continue to suffer, I wanted it to be over.
The extended grieving process honed my coping mechanisms to a fine edge. I had limited options at that age, but I used what I had to the best of my ability. I learned how to run and hide like a pro. When I couldn’t sneak away to my friend’s house for the weekend I would seek internal refuge. I read fantasy books, watched television for hours, and played video games late into the night. I built myself an enormous castle inside my head and raised the draw bridge.
I can still remember walking home from school and thinking about the video game I was going to play when I got there. My mind would focus all its energy on whatever distraction it could maintain to avoid the issues it had no way to process. Unfortunately these coping mechanism long outlived their usefulness and have continued through my adult years, often to my detriment.
I graduated from high school and headed off to college. I continued the theme of “run and hide” and chose a school as far away from home as I could get. I ended up in Missouri. I didn’t have the social skills to build a support system of friends and quickly started to relapse into depression. I started playing an online video game obsessively and had to withdraw in the middle of my second semester to avoid failing all my classes.
I returned to Texas and moved back in with my father and step mother. I continued gaming in excess, but I was able to control it enough to enroll in a local university and continue my education. I will always remember the Myers-Briggs exercise we did during orientation. 100 kids filled out a questionnaire and it told us what category we fit into. We were then told to go stand in our square, so we could meet others like ourselves. I was an INFJ (introversion, intuition, feeling, judging) and, as I have most of my life, I stood alone in my square.
I moved on campus with an old childhood friend who had recently moved back to Texas. It was good to live with someone familiar, but my social skills still weren’t up to the task of building a support system. I eventually joined a fraternity to try and fill the gap, which quickly alienated me from my friend. I wasn’t frat boy material, it always felt disingenuous, but I stuck with it for a couple years, enough time to meet a few girls and make a couple connections.
I eventually fell back into gaming to cope with my isolation. I was able to complete enough of my course work and hold down a part time job to at least maintain a semblance of stability. This is around the point I discovered online poker. Online poker was an answer to my prayers, a productive video game for me to sit in my castle and produce something more than points on a scoreboard.
For whatever reason online poker is one of the few games I have never felt addicted to. It was a way for me to make an income using the skill sets I had, but it was never an all consuming obsession like most of my previous online excursions. I was never an amazing poker player. In the early days just a basic understanding of strategy and the patience to wait for a good hand were enough to be profitable. I would put in enough sessions to pay for my bills and then go back to playing my other games.
I’ve never held a full time job outside the poker world. My last job was as a help desk tech support during my senior year of college. I worked all the night shifts and once the managers went home at five, I would supplement my income with party poker sessions while I was resetting people’s passwords on the phone.
Once I got out of school I decided to try and start a home game with a hustler I’d met playing in underground games. We were supposed to go in on an apartment and split all the bills and profits. He showed up once to drop off a poker table, chips, and chairs, and he never came back again. I tried to make a go of it, but as it turns out, an introverted gamer without many social skills doesn’t make a very good poker promoter.
Thus began my career as a poker dealer. I started off picking up the worst parts of shifts from a dealer who would call me when the game was bad and he wanted to go home. Sometimes, when the game got good after he called me, I would show up and he would tell me he had changed his mind and keep the shift. I was eventually able to bribe the floor man with a sack of weed to get my own shifts. This particular establishment wasn’t exactly a bastion of moral character.
I could continue at length with stories about my dealing career and underground days, but I bring it up more as an aside than as a central plot line. I always enjoyed the service aspect of dealing and running games, it suited me much better than being a player. One of the positives of being an introvert is the ability to realistically asses your skill sets, and when I do that, playing poker doesn’t match up well with my best qualities.
I have dealt, played, and run poker rooms for over 15 years. The house games have been a source of easy money that it has been tough to quit. Instead of investing the time to build new skills and move towards a better match for my personality, I fall back into the routine of picking up shifts when things get tough and hiding in my castle with my games and stories.
My New Year’s resolution is to break out of my castle. To build the skills I need to establish a social network that can support me as I attempt to achieve a more fulfilling life. I will focus my energies only on positive experiences and people. I will not be discouraged by the inevitable set backs and back slides along the way. I will live in the present and be grateful for the blessings I have.
Thank you so much for reading my story. If any of this resonates with you please feel free to ask me any questions you have or tell me your own story.