Dive right in. I sit trying to piece together a clever or witty way to describe this time in my life. Dive right in, keeps repeating over and over. There is no “nice” or tidy way to describe it. It was awful. It was 100% me. All my doing. I had settled in for a long time as live-in girlfriend to Giovanni, mother to Joshua and Laura, employee to the plastic surgery office. I was the party girl, always laughing, smiling, having fun. I was obsessed with the gym. Gio worked all the time, morning, noon and night, overnight and weekends. Sometimes he would travel for work and be gone for weeks at a time. It was very lonely. I was very lonely. That is until I was introduced to it. I think it was my birthday and we were on my way to my grandparents house for a family dinner and me, my brother and Gio stopped at the Kennel Club in Palm Beach to play poker. My brother had started going there a few times a month after work. Our family always had poker nights, but this was the first time that I was playing for real, with real money and strangers. It was so exciting. We all sat together at the same table and started gambling. I was HOOKED. I was surrounded by men, getting attention, they served alcohol there and I was putting my poker skills to good use. I think we all left with a little more money that day than we started, not much, but enough. Gambling quickly took the place of my eating disorder, by this time I was abusing laxatives, diuretics and diet pills in addition to going to the gym but I found that time spent at the poker room took the place of that. I couldn’t take laxatives and diuretics there. It would mean to much time away from the poker table, in a public bathroom. I would go after work with the intention of being gone only an hour or two, but I would quickly get sucked in. I could play for hours, I thought of nothing else, my mind was totally clear and focused. I could drink and play and flirt. I was witty and charming. At the time before the World Series Of Poker became huge, I was one of the very few women playing there and by far the youngest. I could manipulate the men around me, very much in the same way I did dancing. I would wear low cut shirts, bat my eyes and would often tip the waitresses very well to bring me a plain diet coke, regardless of what I ordered out loud. I found that if men think you’re a bimbo or a drunk they are more likely to call your play, essentially parting with their money. I did really well for a long time, but like any disease, you are tricked into believing YOU have control. I got comfortable there. I knew all the dealers, waitresses and floor managers. I started actually consuming drinks there. I didn’t eat very much during my work day, if I ate all. Bacardi and diet coke became dinner. I started losing money. Gone were the days walking out with a rack of chips, head held high. Now I was leaving trying to figure out how I would explain one hundred missing dollars in our checking account. It didn’t stop me from going back. Any time I needed an escape or an outlet, instead of going out to the club and dancing it off I would play poker. My saving grace was that I wasn’t addicted to the GAME or the gambling, I was addicted to the escape from my life and my thoughts. It could have been sailing or movies or squash for all I cared. It just happened to be poker.