I was born the product of an alcoholic & compulsive gambling, Irish Catholic, father & a strong, courageous French Catholic mother. I grew up in a large family with 2 sisters and 6 brothers. My home life was chaotic & dysfunctional with no apparent loving intimacy between our parents. In our home, gambling was a way of life; my father, along with his mother, held frequent weekend poker sessions. My childhood was affected by my father’s alcoholic rages. This caused me to experience shame, fear, guilt & low self-esteem amongst my peers.
My Dad was born into a wealthy hardworking family in New Brunswick. He was a very selfish & jealous person. In later years after I left home I began to understand my father’s behaviour but never really forgave him for not supporting us financially. His parent’s (my grandparents) sent him off to boarding school at the age of 5 years with a peck on the cheek and would not see him for months. They lavished Dad with an abundance of material objects which of course spoiled him and never taught him to be a responsible citizen. Dad had the material world by the tail but did not know what to do with it. Their wedding present was a completely outfitted 350 acre farm on the ocean.
I realize now that my Dad probably tried as best as he could to achieve a balanced life but he was limited in his ability to do so. The alcohol addiction always won the battle. Both Dad and Mom lacked the knowledge about addictions. Mom had an overwhelming faith and confidence in the church’s ability to help an alcoholic with his addiction by taking a pledge in the presence of the parish priest. Perhaps Dad thought so too but all failed each time he took the pledge.
Within our Irish community it was the norm for most men to drink alcohol in excess and play poker. It was not considered a good party or dance unless there was a rip-roaring fist fight with bloody nose & all. So all this made for a frightening childhood.
During Dad’s alcoholic rages he never hurt his children physically but wounded us emotionally. He repeatedly threatened to hurt our Mom. One of my vivid childhood memories was to hide all the sharp knives in the flour bin when we received word that Dad was on his way home inebriated. My sister & I would put Mom between us in our bed to keep her safe from being attacked by Dad. To this day, I do not leave sharp knives on the kitchen counter.
I give credit to my Mom’s incredible example of strength & courage she instilled in me which helped when making meaningful decisions in my life. It always amazed me how my mother survived the dysfunction in her own family – no alcohol, drug or gambling addiction but a religious addiction. Her mother was an extremely rigid religious person. This was very detrimental to Mom leading a normal life. Her mother was adamant that anything which gave one joy was sinful. ONE MUST SUFFER TO GAIN ENTRANCE TO HEAVEN.
After Mom’s 9th child was born she said “enough is enough”. Mom being a devout Roman Catholic, she could not practice birth control. If she chose to she would be condemned by the church. Mom had to hitch a ride home from the hospital ( 20 miles away ) after my baby sister’s birth because Dad had to play a baseball game. He arrived home the next day inebriated. Everyone in the community loved Dad. He was very atheletic, handsome & comical to outsiders. ( Dr. Jekyl & Mr High ). So Mom told Dad to leave that very day. Because Mom asked Dad to leave she was persecuted by the community. Excommunicated from the communion rail, not allowed to play the church organ on Sundays which she had done since she was 14 years old.
Following the birth of my baby sister there were a number of meagre years for all of us when Mom was struggling to find ways to support us. Mom refreshed in her hairdressing profession and set up her own shop- sold Avon – hitched rides – no car- to sell shoes, fuller brush household items and also held a part-time position with Stats Canada. Later she took in boarders when some of us “flew the coop”. Mom would say “ where there’s a will there’s always a way”. Another belief was “when all fails Good Ole Saint Anne will help us”. Those were words I heard from Mom often.
Although Mom showed strength, positive attitude and tireless energy the community never forgave her for telling “poor Charlie” to leave. We as children were abused verbally by the community calling Mom a prostitute for separating from her husband. They never appreciated the abuse which Mom had endured from Dad. Mom always held her head high with dignity and believed that she had made the right decision by separating and trying to achieve balance and success in her life. She directed each one of us to discover our potential. As each one of us graduated in our field we helped share the expense of educating the younger ones. Many times Mom would become discouraged but always found a positive perspective to the challenge.
Mom certainly was a perfectionist which affected all of us children- sometimes good and sometimes not so good. It was difficult to satisfy Mom when we did a household chore. Sorry to say, I have inherited some of Mom’s imperfections e.g. Mom had difficulty accepting a gift graciously. Not too long ago I caught myself making the same error. My daughter presented me with a box album for my birthday. My immediate response was negative -” I do not need this dear, I have all my photos in albums”. It took me a few seconds to recognize my horrible behaviour and apologized, then mentioned how nice this box will be for my favourite recipes. My new ability to recognize and make amends is mainly due to the principles of the GA program.
Of course, the separation of my Mom & Dad had some ill effects on me. When my Mom separated from my Dad, she was one of the first women in the community to do so. I felt shame, guilt, & low self-esteem. I possibly believed that my Mom should have stayed with my Dad. The power of the church had a strong hold on me at that time. Perhaps, I naively believed that my Mom was wrong for leaving him. I know that I was totally confused and unhappy that we did not have a Dad in our home. On the other side, I was in a happier state of mind because we did not have to worry about Dad arriving home inebriated.
I remember that during my teenage years I had to take charge of my younger siblings because Mom’s main concern or focus was to find ways and means to support us. Each one of us had to be responsible adults at an early age. No time for me to be a carefree child. Due to a lack of interaction with a strong, loving, responsible male figure during my childhood, I suffered from lack of trust in men. My early childhood was a roller-coaster of fear, guilt, sadness and a love/hate relationship with my Mom because I had to work so hard helping her.
Although I missed the stability of having two fully functioning parents during my early years, I, somehow, moved beyond all that. I graduated in my field of studies, travelled, married, raised 3 children; and generally lived a happy life for many years. It probably was due to the example of consistent achievement goals which my Mom always set for herself -” JUST DO IT AND SOMEHOW WE WILL ACHIEVE” and she did.
When I was a child I was always trying to please to qualify me to be liked or accepted. There was
little room for me to err without feeling unworthy.
Self confidence and a positive state of mind began when I succeeded in becoming a Registered Nurse. I often think that life includes many transitions. Of course, I have had my difficulties coping with the challenge of raising my family and maintaining a healthy relationship with my husband. This year we celebrate our 46th Anniversary.
Our daughter’s adoption at 18 months. was a major adjustment. My husband had difficulty
adjusting to this stranger in our midst, consequently, causing conflict between us. Our daughter experienced a few troubled teenage years mostly due to emotional turmoil within herself. Our two sons appeared to be well adjusted children, teenagers and young adults. However, our eldest son after his marriage, allowed his dysfunctional wife to sever his relationship with his once very close brother and sister and to continue a distant & cold relationship with all of us including her own mother & her siblings.
I was always puzzled as to why I started gambling. For many years I had no desire to gamble. Actually, I was repulsed by all the gambling in our home during my childhood. Now, with the aid of the Gambler’s Anonymous program I am beginning to understand that I commenced my gambling spree during a couple of major significant emotional transitions in my life. Life became too exhausting. I experienced that I was out of control when our son started showing disrespect by accusing us for not accepting his wife’s odd behaviour. It was very difficult to accept this transition in our once loving son. Also during this period, I was absorbed with my Mom’s aging both physically & mentally and imminent death.
Previous to my introduction to gambling at the Hull casino in 1999 I occasionally purchased a bingo scratch or other instant ticket at the convenience store when I was with my mother or sister. I really had no compulsion to gamble, in fact, was always rather critical of people who spent their hard earned money so carelessly. So now I can recognize what an insidious illness gambling really is.
In 1999, I accepted an invitation to visit the casino with a friend who gambles but I would say that she was not addicted to gambling. At the beginning, I was cautious about the length of time spent at the casino. I would remain long enough to win the price of my hairdo on my return home from the hairdresser. Shortly, I began to win larger jackpots which excited me. Soon after, the casino became a refuge where there were no worries and I thought then – a fun activity for a couple of hours. During the first few months at the casino I loved the total atmosphere – it was fun – only one focus or worry – how the slot machine would react? – the anticipation of winning on entering the front door of a make believe world of carnival-like sounds, lights, smells & the frenzy activity of the people & slots – the escape from reality of life’s problems & anxieties. I was out of control of my life as I once practiced it.
I continued to gamble feeling comfortable for months and not realizing or wanting to realize that I was heading towards a disastrous outcome. After long hours at the casino, the drives home began to be more and more filled with anxieties and fears at my inability to quit gambling. Miraculously, the very next day all was forgotten; and I would, once again, be obsessed with finding that excuse to spend “a few hours” at the casino.
Actually, my husband recognized that I was in trouble with gambling long before I felt the need to stop and take inventory of my actions. My response was always a denial by saying – “ I am in control, it is just an outlet to have fun”. I also repeatedly told my husband that I could stop gambling if I wanted to. I would say, “remember how I quit smoking when I wanted to”. ( not adding that I had tried to quit smoking several times before I succeeded ).
My gambling addiction gradually developed into a major concern for my husband and children. So to please them and because of my strong need to be independent I wanted to prove to them (I truly believed I could quit on my own) that I could stay away from the casino. I then banned myself from the casino for three months. As soon as the 3 months were over I returned to the casino more addicted than ever. My time spent at the casino increased into the wee hours of the early am. I was obsessed with finding every excuse to leave the house and spend a few hours gambling. I began to lie as to where I was going. My husband was crushed with my change in behaviour. He lost trust in everything I would tell him. My intention would be to only gamble for a couple of hours then go home for dinner. Gambling got such a hold on me so that I could not make that sane decision to leave the casino although I knew that I was being deceitful.-THE GAMBLING GRIP WAS SO POWERFUL-
I do recall the EXCITEMENT AND ADRENALIN RUSH upon entering the casino in mid afternoon – the WONDERMENT AND SOUNDS for the next few hours – then the ANXIETY about not being able to leave at a reasonable hour and the OVERWHELMING REMORSE & DESPERATION leaving the casino in the wee hours of the morning. This TRANSITION of feelings were repeated over and over a zillion times.
During these horrible years of gambling at the casino I would have fleeting moments of contacting the GA fellowship but always managed to convince myself that I was not addicted – GA WAS FOR THE OTHER PERSON NEXT TO ME.
Before I decided to take that step into recovery through the GA fellowship there were many nights while driving home in the wee hours of the morning I would talk, pray or scream loudly to myself or to my dead mother to intercede with God for help and strength to stop this merry-go-round of useless behaviour. At the same time, I was totally ashamed of facing my husband who was waiting & worrying at home.
Finally, in May 26, 2003, came a REVELATION in a manner that I would never have expected. The credit for this light-bulb moment goes to a young casino clerk who paid me my last jackpot (it was my 12th jackpot that night). She said to me, “SOME PEOPLE COME INTO THE CASINO EVERYDAY AT 10:00 AM AND REMAIN HERE UNTIL CLOSING AT 4:00AM THE NEXT MORNING”. These words struck me like a bolt of lightening because the length of my sessions at the casino was increasing dramatically. I truly believe that she was the messenger from some greater power than myself. Hence, I walked out of the casino door that night with determination to attend my first GA meeting the very next evening. How fortunate we are to have a meeting every day of the week in our city!
Finally, I attended my first Gamblers Anonymous meeting on May 27, 2003. The experience of entering into a room full of strangers was frightening and shameful; but at the same time exhilarating because I was emotionally, physically and spiritually bankrupt.
During my first few months at the GA meetings I mainly listened and learned from others in recovery when sharing their stories. In the beginning, I was too emotional to speak until I realized that I was not alone in this struggle for abstinence from gambling. I soon realized that this is where I have to be and want to be if I am to become healthy in all aspects of my life.
Today, I am grateful, with seven years and three months of recovery. My life has once again become fully functioning with the help of weekly GA meetings & frequent contact with fellow members. I have received an abundance of support and wisdom from the GA Fellowship. My husband and family are beginning to trust my word again. I look back at those years of sheer insanity at the casino as an experience of insight into my character. I now realize that I am not the perfect person I thought I was. I have many defects of character to change ONE DAY AT A TIME.
MY SPECIAL MESSAGE TO THE COMPULSIVE GAMBLER
An effective strategy for me to stop and stay stopped from gambling is to repeatedly compare my present serene life with the bizarre roller-coaster of feelings which I experienced upon leaving the casino at 2, 3 or 4 am. -PLAY YOUR TAPE OVER & OVER AGAIN –
Secondly, make the commitment to yourself and to the other GA members to stay in recovery. Be active in the GA Fellowship- Do your best to be a good example to the newcomers.
Last but not least, use the tools of the GA program. Read the daily reflections and live the lesson.
My husband & I read the daily reflection (blue book) every morning and try to remember the lesson from the reading throughout that day.
I wish you all a healthy recovery. Thank you for allowing me to share my life with you.
A POEM MY MOM WROTE:
ENJOY THE FLEETING MOMENTS (1986) Age 77
Put yesterday behind you
It’s gone and won’t come back.
And we cannot see ahead
Far down tomorrow’s track.
So enjoy the fleeting moments
That come just for today –
The sweet song of a bluebird
And the morning sun’s first ray
A warm and loving handclasp
And welcome letters in the mail
A bunch of fragrant violets
Warm rain splashing in a pail
Each day has something special,
Some joy or souvenir
It might be gone tomorrow
So enjoy it while it’s here.