It was hard, but I knew it was the right thing to do. As I rose, the dozen or so pairs of eyes in the room all turned and locked on me, causing every pore in my body to explode with sweat. The middle-aged man at the front of the room spoke to me in a calm, reassuring voice. “Go ahead,” he said, “we’ve all done it once, too.”
Suddenly, I found a courage I didn’t know I had. “Hi! My name’s Bob, and I breed fish.” For a second, I thought I would faint. Then I felt as if a thousand pounds had been lifted from off my back. I’d done it! I’d taken that first step. From here it would all be downhill, Or, at least that’s what I thought. Now, with the help of my fellow sufferers, I’ve managed to make it.
That was five months ago. Mike, the leader of our FA group has asked me to speak at tomorrow night’s meeting. Now I find that I must face my past, remember it, share it, expose myself all over again. Yet I know Mike’s right. It’s the next step on the path to recovery, the road to freedom.
Thinking back, it had all started innocently enough. I was seventeen at the time. My older brother was living out on the coast. I went to spend the summer. Southern California was different than back east. It seemed everyone had a small tank. My brother was heavy into angelfish. Seven mated pairs of a couple different varieties. We’d do a spawn every couple days. Plus, we did Blue Acaras on the side, just to give it a little variety. By September, I was hooked.
But Dad wanted no part of it in his house. So when I returned home, it was cold turkey. I didn’t have it hard enough to feel the withdrawal too strongly, though.
But it was in my blood. The next summer, I enlisted. Looking back, I can’t say fish didn’t have something to do with it. I only knew I needed the freedom to explore my own “interests”. As soon as I finished boot camp and tech school, I was stationed at a base where the barracks were more like college dorms. I had only two roommates in a pretty good size room. Within two months, I had a twenty-nine gallon in a corner. Soon I had two tens and a five, then a twenty long. My roommates decided to move to town, and then I had it all to myself. I had ten tanks gurgling away. I was experimenting with everything from albino corys to zebra danios.
Before returning home, I gave it all away, because I was going to have to stay with my folks for a while. Within six weeks though, I had started school, sharing an apartment with a couple other guys. The VA and my student loans would probably have been enough to support me, but by the middle of the second semester, I’d stuffed a big old 55-gallon into my room, and there was a growing collection of tanks, lights, heaters, tubing, pumps, extension cords, and buckets spreading around the digs like penicillium in a loaf of bread. I’d already taken a part-time job to cover the extra expenses, and my roommates were understanding enough. They didn’t mind my having a little fun as long as it didn’t interfere with theirs.
All summer I had to work full time to keep my finances in order. My roommates had taken the summer off to go “hostling” around Europe. Instead, I had joined my fellow “hobbyists” on the show circuit, spending weekends in Toronto, Buffalo, Cleveland, Rochester, anyplace within a day’s drive where I might find something new, rare, or unusual.
The apartment was a wreck when my roommates returned on Labor Day weekend. They gave me two weeks to get out. I found a two-bedroom and moved out on my own. But the fish didn’t stay in the spare room. Before long they were everywhere, in all seventy-six tanks of killies, cichlids, catfishes, loaches, anabantids, and yes, even guppies. Three community tanks, five quarantine tanks for newcomers, breeding tanks, hatching tanks, rearing tanks, and a dresser full of killifish eggs stored and labeled in little bags of peat moss. Subscriptions to six magazines kept me up on the latest developments and the most recently introduced species.
By now I’d discovered the national clubs, the AKA, ACA, Betta clubs, catfish clubs, and on and on. Now I could find those rare gems by mail-order. I kept up the shows though. Of course, it wasn’t long before I tried supporting my habit by dealing. Club auctions, show auctions, local shops, and through mail-order.
Somehow, I managed to meet a nice lady and got her involved. At first, she was enjoying the travel, the show circuit, the friends I introduced her to. Once we were married, though, she realized I didn’t have time for her, the kids, the dog, or the yard work. Our electric bills and water bills were climbing steadily, but all the money I made selling was plowed right back into more fish, more tanks, more pumps, more, more, more. . .
She left. I haven’t seen her in three years now. It took two years after she left to realize my life was a waste. Six more months went by before I found the courage to face my habit and get help. Finally, though, I managed to make the break and get my life clean.
Still, every once in a while, I think just one small community tank, or maybe some small Aphyosimions, like gardneris or maybe one pair of Apistogramma agassizi won’t hurt. But I know how it works. Ask any chain smoker how it started. He’ll tell you, “One drag.” That’s why I have my friends at FA. Without their steadfast vigilance and their constant support, I wouldn’t make it.
If you think you may want to try a tank full, don’t. If you’re already hooked, get help. Don’t lose it all. If you need help, call Fishaholics Anonymous. We’re in the phone book, or call your local Social Services office for a referral.
And remember! You’re NOT alone!