Here is a little of my story that I made public in Nov of 2011 during addictions awareness week. I have gambled across Canada and in the United States. This is some of my story of gambling and recovery. Along the way I have led a life of secrecy and anguish. Two and a half years ago in the fall of 2009 after many years of depression/ addiction I left The Pas, MB, and all of MB without warning to anyone. I lived Terri Clarks song “A million ways to run”. I was reported as a missing person across Canada. I had held an important position at the United Steelworkers Local 1-324 at the time helping to represent workers across Manitoba in workplaces. While being able to help others I was unable to help myself for well over twenty years. The journey to the end of my life via suicide which compulsive gambling and it’s destructive behaviors often lead to began. My story which I share is with the desire that it will help other addicted gamblers know there is hope. It can get better.
AN ADDICTED GAMBLERS JOURNEY BACK TO SANITY POSSIBLE THANKS TO A LOT OF HELP In the middle of nowhere in an isolated field north of Kingston, Ontario a Manitoba man battling decades of depression/gambling addiction life ends (or so I thought) after placing his final bet of his life with his last $18.00 on a baseball game between New York Yankees & the Seattle Mariners. I was listening to the game on the car radio. The date was September 18, 2009 NYY were up 2-1 with 2 out and a man on second for Seattle in the bottom of the ninth. I had picked NYY to win which would have completed a four pick combo ticket where all games had to be correct for the bettor to win. Mariano Rivera was in relief for NYY and he had won 40 of 41 games that season in relief. Up to the plate stepped Ishiro Suzuki with first base opened. NYY decided to pitch to him. Ishiro Suzuki hit a home run off Rivera and won the game for Seattle 3-2. it was indicative of my life. My life was made up of many many days when it was the bottom of the ninth while I was gambling and a home run was hit (metaphorically) leaving me wiped out again. Fate had other plans and my suicide attempts weren’t successful following the game in September of 2009. I still don’t know why my suicide attempts weren’t successful, however thats not important. Subsequently I ended up in a hospital on a psychiatric ward in Kingston, Ont.
My journey back to sanity began. Instead of a journey to the end of my life. This was only possible with plenty of help from very caring people. For the first time in my life I was willing to ask, and accept help for my depression & addiction. The United Steelworkers who I worked for got in touch with me and said “you get the help you need, and if there’s anything we can do please let us know”. Where does one begin when it comes time to reveal publicly that you are sick with an incurable illness which is a gambling addiction fueled by depression that you hope to have in remission for the rest of your life? I want to reveal this publicly because too often people are found dead because they didn’t feel there were any other options. It’s been tough these last few months. High profile news showing hockey players taking their lives as they fought depression and coming to know their demons won. These last two years in my own recovery I had thought of doing the same thing yet survived. I recently wrote to Michael Landsberg of TSN’s OTR about the loss of his friend hockey player Wade Belak who committed suicide and Michael was kind enough to write me back. Michael also suffers from depression and wrote a wonderful letter about his buddy Wade on his website revealing to all what depression does to us. I highly recommend reading this should you be wanting to discover more about depression and how a seemingly happy person would rather die than breathe and face the pain of depression and addictions.
I left the Addiction Center in Brandon run by Addictions Foundation of Manitoba on October 18th, 2011. It was my second time participating in the fourteen day program in two years after over 20 years of compulsive gambling & depression. My gambling of choice was primarily Proline Sports Select & VLTs. However I gambled on most everything at one time or another. AFM has helped me save my life these past two & a half years. My experiences at AFM have been extremely positive. It was November 3rd, 2009 when I first left Parkwood Treatment Center as an in-house patient following the 14 day gambling addict program. “We can only recover by being willing to help ourselves. Others can provide us with the tools however we must be willing to open the tool box to repair/heal ourselves”. My tool box has been opened thousands of times these last two years. I was a very secret gambler all my life which is another reason I believe it is time to speak out publicly about problem gambling in Manitoba. I hope the Provincial Government continues to support AFM and all the great work they are doing by increasing the amount of resources available to AFM for problem gamblers.
The Manitoba Government has done much great work, however I believe we can do even better. There are too many of us who need help and can’t find our way to get it, because of our pride or barriers that are self imposed, and others that are not. We need to talk about such barriers and eliminating them. I wish to share what life in the shadows is like with your readers, listeners, watchers and those of us who have lived there yet found our way back to hope and the promise of better days ahead. It is with understanding and optimism that I share also for those who are still in the shadows. In the dark unforgiving horror story which is their life of addiction/depression so that they may know there is a way to win the battle with your demons. In most cases folks like me would keep a low profile and attempt to hide their illness. I have chosen after a 5 km walk in the Brandon Hills today and a lot of thought to communicate rather than be silenced due to stigma, and potential consequences which may not be favourable. However it has taken me two years since my first time in Parkwood Treatment Center to reach this point. My health is a work in progress. Healthcare providers in Brandon and across Manitoba such as AFM Councillors, Nurses, & Doctors have been instrumental to my being able to cope, and build hope. I refer to it as my “hoping and coping skills”.
Due to measures I put in place when gambling not even my immediate family, or employer knew of my problem gambling/depression and all of its consequences. I did everything necessary to fly under the radar and not be detected. Many gamblers are secretive because there is a huge amount of shame and guilt in the fact we can’t control or manage our lives anymore due to our gambling addiction. Too many of us would rather keep our illness secret. Taking it to our graves. I want to talk/share and reveal that the option of openess is far healthier. Prior to arriving at Parkwood many of our lives were without much meaning, or direction. Mine was such a life. My life was a lie. It couldn’t be a truthful honest life because I was someone I didn’t want to be, or never thought I would become. The high I got from gambling is the similar high that cocaine brings drug addicts healthcare professionals have advised me.
We can never cure our addiction. We can only put it in remission as we will always be compulsive gamblers. Better days ahead are possible thanks to the healthcare providers at the Addictions Foundation at Parkwood in Brandon, along with those at AFM on 7th Street in Brandon, whom I have come to believe are our guardian angels. It is also due to the help of loved ones who aid us in times when we don’t have the will to help/save ourselves. Along the way due to gambling I declared bankruptcy, lost a house, cars, everything except my life. I never got married, or had children due to not wanting them to be a part of my chaos. I never had one visitor in my private residence for the last 6 years prior to 2009. I was ashamed of my living conditions given that every dollar I could I put into gambling. I was homeless when I first came back to MB following trying to take my life, and needed help from family to have shelter and food. There are many of us compulsive gamblers who thanks to the help of others have a roof over our head. When I lost my house due to gambling in the early 2000’s I had to give away my 5 year old dog that I adored to a better home. It was like losing family. Although on the outside it would appear I was doing relatively well, because I always wore a mask, a facade which was a smile to avoid detection. Us addicts in many cases won’t ask for help or don’t want to burden others with our demons. Under the surface if you were to scratch a little there was nothing but numbness, chaos, self destruction, and sabotaging life again and again by “all or nothing gambling/life behavior”. Self destruction is one of the patterns of behavior many of us compulsive gamblers excel in.
Now when I smile there is authenticity to it. I continue to work hard to assure that. I would encourage all problem gamblers to attend twelve step programs which provide support for one another right across Manitoba, and around the world. Due to traditions and understanding it is anonymous I won’t comment any further about members and their incredible efforts to help one another. I make amends now for the wrongs I have done. Which will continue for the rest of my life, to which I am grateful to have the opportunity. I accept full responsibility for my addiction/illness as it is mine and mine alone. It also is my recovery that I take full responsibility for and it becomes clear that sanity can only occur when you are open and transparent about your mental illness which has a stigma attached to it. Some would prefer to leave it in the shadows so that it may go away and be buried. Wanting to bury your life, and its stigmas has consequences attached. How can you help others to know it’s okay to not be well and ask for help? Insanity, nervous breakdowns, unmanageable stress levels, depression, addiction combined with loss of respect/dignity due to doing things that I would never do in a thousand lifetimes at one point in my life that I did in just my one lifetime of being a compulsive gambler. I couldn’t ask for help as mentioned earlier, I would rather die.
Us recovering gambling folks usually have to hit bottom in our lives to be saved. Some of us hit bottom several times in our lifetimes. When gambling first took serious hold of me was approximately a week after my first visit to the Crystal Casino located on the 7th floor (I believe) of the hotel Fort Garry in 1989/90. My all or nothing personality was a perfect recipe and had all the ingredients necessary to self destruct. Following the opening of Winnipegs Crystal Casino in the Hotel Fort Garry where I found when I sat down I couldn’t get up until I lost all my money, I was attracted by the prospect of playing Proline Sports Select when it started in 1990. I remember the location I placed my first proline bet at a drugstore on Portage Ave. It was exciting and fun. However soon afterwards it wasn’t fun anymore. It was catastrophic to my life. I lived in the shadows. In the darkness. Now I am living in the light. As well as shining a light on something I believe deserves serious attention. This letter is dedicated to the memory of those who died in the darkness of their gambling addiction. Thank you K… you are my hero for lending me your flashlight which I took the batteries out of my toolbox and lit up to help me find my way. I haven’t gambled since September 18th, 2009 on anything. Today I have hope, and look forward to sharing it with those who may not.