A ‘zombie’ kicks the habit
ALL BETS ARE OFF: David has turned his back on his gambling addiction
David is explaining how he got hooked on the pokies, so much so that he became a compulsive gambler.
“The cycle was like this: I went to gamble because I was depressed. I was depressed because I was losing so much money. And I would use the justification that I was going in to win and regain my losses, which worsened my depression and my financial position.”
David (name changed) is 34 and happily married with two gorgeous children, a lovely home and a well paying managerial job.
He doesn’t take any of it for granted because he once risked losing it all through compulsive gambling which began as a simple pastime.
David was one of the estimated two per cent of the population who are problem gamblers and are being targeted by a state government TV, radio and press campaign to publicise its 24-hour gambling help line.
His experience shows how easily the lure of flashing lights and the thought of easy money can turn into a downward spiral of depression, financial ruin and family crisis.
“My gambling, mainly on poker machines in clubs, started as a way of killing time and escaping any pressures of the world,” says David.
“It was comforting at the beginning, and it was only light, but then it started escalating.
“I would go in during lunch, and my lunch breaks started getting longer, and I would sneak out during working hours as well to get a quick fix.
“I crossed an imaginary line into being addicted; I can’t remember when or how, all I knew was all of a sudden I was there.
“My losses became greater, and while I did have some rare wins in between, I began to find myself chasing my tail.
“I thought, ‘Hang on this is really hurting me financially’, but instead of stopping, I kept trying to win my money back. Any wins I was having were going straight back in to chase even bigger wins.
“I was getting finance-related stuff mailed to my office instead of my home, so my wife wouldn’t find out what I was doing.
“I would max out my credit card, and refinance through loans and what have you, and then once they had cleared, I had money in my bank account to spend again, which kept me in a circle of financial disaster.”
David justified his deceit by telling himself he was sparing his wife the anxiety he was suffering. But then she opened one letter which, despite all his efforts, got sent to their home.
It was the best thing that could have happened.
“My ultimate fear was that my family would find out; now I wish they had found out a lot sooner, because of all the support I got from them which really helped me overcome my problem,” he says.
“It didn’t take me long to realise I was out of control once I saw the hardship I had caused them. And it wasn’t about the money; it was about my dishonesty. It’s taken me a long time to regain that trust with my wife and family.”
David called G-line, the government’s problem gambling help line and was referred to the gambling treatment program conducted by St Vincent’s Hospital.
He considers himself lucky to have got out when he did, before things got a lot worse.
“I could’ve easily lost my job,” he reflects.
“My workload was probably 10–15 per cent of what it was before I became so heavily involved, but I didn’t see that at the time.
“Also when you’re a gambler, everywhere you look you manage to find the money to spend. Then you start thinking about ways of achieving it illegally as well.
“And while I never had thoughts of harming myself I could easily see myself heading in that direction too, had I stayed there.”
As part of David’s recovery, he cut off his access to money, destroying his credit cards and closing his bank accounts. His wife now handles all their finances.
“But I’m really happy with that because I’m in an honest and open relationship again, I’m not hiding anything,” he says.
“Typically, after a day of heavy losses I would come home and try to put up this front that everything was OK and I was happy, but inside the anxiety was eating me up. Now I feel free.
“My parents and my wife’s family know about it. I felt that my wife needed support, someone to talk to outside of our relationship, because she was suffering as well, and still concerned about me.
“It’s very humiliating to have them find out, but it’s also the best possible chance you have of preventing relapses and going back.”
Five months after quitting gambling, David says he is only just starting to appreciate the value of money again.
“I was desensitised to the value of money,” he says. “If you gave me a $100 bill I would think of that as five minutes worth of gambling, not a new tricycle for my daughter for Christmas or a week’s grocery shopping.
“We recently went on a week’s holiday and had a fabulous time. The total cost would’ve been gambling money that might have lasted me a couple of hours.
“When you see that it really wakes you up, especially to see the joy in your kids when they have these experiences of you as a father they will never forget.
“You can’t buy that, but you can easily throw it away.
“A life without gambling is fantastic and it is achievable with the support of your family and a program like St Vincent’s to help you understand why you were there and how to overcome it.
“There’s no better feeling of freedom, loss of anxiety, and regaining your self worth, knowing you’re an honest person. I feel that I’m at peace with myself.”