This is hard for me. It’s been suggested to me several times to share my story, but I have always hesitated. Not certain why I haven’t done so, one reason could be that in the past, showing my vulnerabilities lead to ridicule and humiliation as a teenager, emotional, verbal and physical abuse, combined with guilt and shame in my early adult years. I swore I would never put myself in a vulnerable position again. To my mind, vulnerability was a sign of weakness. If you didn’t let anyone in – to see the real person inside – you couldn’t get hurt. I believe the driving thought in this process was my upbringing; secrets stayed in the home, one never exposed their personal issues in public. So telling my story has always been difficult for me. However I have come to the conclusion my story is something I should share. Not only for my own recovery but also with the thought it may help someone else who is still lost and looking for hope. I started gambling in 1998. Sorry, no, that’s not true. I really started gambling in 1994 shortly after the birth of my son. A friend asked me to go to Bingo with her. It was harmless – a fun night out with the girls maybe three or four times a year. In 1996 while having a couple of beer after work with friends, someone suggested putting twenty bucks in a VLT. We didn’t win a lot, but we didn’t lose either. We had a great time and the few beer and a couple of bucks in the VLT’s became a regular outing with one friend. The frequency of these outings escalated fairly quickly after that. After about six months, we were gambling on our own machines and the amount of money was considerably more. A few months later, I was out on my own at the VLT’s at my local pub. You’ll have to forgive me on the dates; the progression of my addiction is still somewhat foggy. I do remember very clearly the first time I gambled my half of the mortgage payment and how in true dramatic fashion, hit the jackpot and won it all back. Talk about relief. I walked away from the machine then. I was in control – or so I thought. I remember not having the money to buy an Easter present for my son and having to borrow the money from a co-worker. I remember that humiliation of having to ask the friend for the money as I couldn’t ask my husband – he would find out – and how I promised her I would stop playing the VLT’s and the shame when I didn’t stop. Looking back as the fog slowly clears, it is hard to realize how far into the addiction I was even then and how easily I convinced myself I was fine. I was my biggest cheerleader. My husband knew nothing. He trusted me. It was a night out with the girls. He had no idea I was gambling, that would be the last thing he would think of. After all, there was only one casino in town and I worked as a dealer at that casino. Casino policy barred me from gambling in any of their properties while an employee. Ironic isn’t it? I stood there forty hours a week dealing cards, spinning the wheel, all the while aware that for some patrons, it wasn’t a fun night out. I felt physically sick as I watched some of the patron’s personalities and demeanors change; watched as they lost their savings and their sanity. We were trained to watch for the signs and report it so our supervisors and management could soothe their conscious and meet their social responsibility by handing those individuals a pamphlet. So I knew better right? I had everything under control. That wasn’t me…I didn’t gamble at the tables; the few times I had (out of province of course) I exhibited some control and was able to walk away every time, win or lose. I couldn’t be a compulsive gambler; I didn’t fit the definition because I could walk away from other forms of gambling. After all, I didn’t gamble big money at the casino on the slots…it was just the 5¢ machines. The first time my husband caught me in a lie about my gambling was 2003. He returned from a lengthy deployment to discover I had borrowed money to make the mortgage payment from my in-laws. After all, I had tapped out my parents twice already. I was so ashamed of myself, guilt ridden and embarrassed. Of course I promised never to do it again and repay the money. I repaid the money, but I never fulfilled the other part of the promise. The second time my husband found out I hadn’t stopped gambling was shortly after my mother died. I recall sitting by her bed as she died, and I lied to her face when I promised I would not gamble any more. I lost three of the most amazing people in my life during my addiction, my dad in 2005, my mother-in-law (to whom I was very close) in 2006 and my idol, my mother in 2007. Now, when I think back to how self-absorbed I was in feeding my addiction, how careless I must have been towards those I lost and cannot make amends too, I am overwhelmed with guilt, shame and remorse. Nonetheless, I took the small inheritance she left me to pay off my gambling debts, swore to my husband that I wouldn’t do it again, that our posting to a new city would be a new beginning. After all, I had a clean slate. I know I promised my husband upon pain of separation and my mother on her deathbed that I wouldn’t gamble again; I had learned my lesson. I would control it this time. Yeah…that promise lasted approximately one week. How now to get around the fact that there are no VLT’s in the province we relocated too? Ah, how convenient – there are two casinos within a half hour drive. Not that I enjoyed playing the slots – my particular poison was the VLT’s; so with this in mind I was certain I could control my gambling. Didn’t like slots, so I wouldn’t spend as much – after all, it was just to pass the time until I met people in a new city. Unfortunately, all did not go as planned. My gambling increased, not in the frequency – that actually did drop off (my husband was getting sharper and I couldn’t use the excuse of meeting with friends like I had previously), but in the amount of money I bet. I didn’t have the leisurely time I had while on VLT’s. I became more of a binge gambler. I couldn’t get away as often as I would like so when I did, every two to three weeks or so, my philosophy was go big or go bust! I went bust again in 2010. Caught out by my husband, I used loneliness as an excuse and he forgave me yet again with the agreement that I would seek help. The same help I had promised to find the last time and never had. This time I followed through. I began attending counseling. I managed to stay clean for about six or seven months. My husband attended some sessions with me and we both felt progress was being made. I felt good and I stopped seeing the therapist. I was cured! Life was great. I had beaten the odds…. Needless to say, I fell and fell hard in 2011 and continued my descent into the pit until I hit rock bottom in July 2012. By early May I had finished my last work contract and did not have a new job lined up. I had no way to cover my debts. My credits cards were maxed out. I didn’t have access to our credit line (that had been suspended the last time I was caught). I didn’t even have the funds to gamble. I did find part-time employment, but unfortunately the pay was far short of what I needed, let alone enough to gamble. I managed to hide some money transactions and juggle some back and forth for two months, but at this point, I was sinking fast. Although I hadn’t gambled in two months, more from a lack of funds than a desire to stop, I knew that once I got a new position, I would flush with cash again and I knew beyond any certainty I would go out and gamble again despite my best intentions. The enormity of what I had been doing; the shame, the guilt, the remorse as well as the reality of the amount of money I had lost was overwhelming. I didn’t even have the guts to confess to my husband face to face. I wrote him a letter. I knew when I confessed to my husband he would leave. After all, he had threatened to do so on several occasions, but this time, I knew I had truly pushed him too far. If he left I had nothing; I would loose my son – how could he or my husband forgive me for what I had done? After all, my son’s future and our retirement dreams were affected by my gambling. He would have to take out student loans to attend school. I considered suicide as an option, quite seriously, but thankfully sanity prevailed and the thought of what the consequences of my suicide would do to my son, kept me off the ledge. At that point I feel I truly hit bottom. I was willing to live on the street, in a shelter, do anything that was necessary to get my life back on track. If I lost my husband and son, so be it, I would gain back my sanity and my soul. On July 12, 2012, I made a phone call that set me on the road to getting my life back. I reached out for help and on July 15, 2012 attended my first GA meeting. I needed to know there was a light at the end of the tunnel; that the mess I had created could be overcome and I could climb out of the fog. The meeting showed me that I wasn’t alone in my struggle, the members offers of open and honest support as well as the stories that they shared gave me strength to share my story with them. I was fortunate enough to receive three weeks intense in-patient treatment that has also provided me with tools to refocus my thoughts, change bad behaviors and strength and confidence to keep moving forward out of the darkness towards the light at the end of the tunnel. The overwhelming sense of relief, a lightening of the burden that came when I had shared my story has given me hope, strength and the desire to stop gambling and stay clean from day one – one day at a time, all the way to 473 days clean and hopefully beyond.
Thanks for listening (reading) Puddsley Oct 31, 2013