Almost Free

When I first moved back to this state after being the victim of a traumatic home invasion and attack I had a lot of problems.  I had trouble sleeping.  I didn’t feel safe.  I had post traumatic stress disorder as well as the depression and anxiety that had been part of my life for many years.

I was sleeping on the couch in the flat my kids shared and I felt like such a failure.  The only place I could go when I couldn’t sleep was around the corner to the local pub which was open until 5am.  I don’t really like alcohol so the only way to “fit in” there was to play the pokie machines.  Now that I think about it – if I had liked the taste of alcohol I might have become an alcoholic at that point in my life but, instead, I developed an addiction to gambling or slot machines to be precise.

At first I only played one line but then I had a couple of wins – a hundred dollars on one machine, a 750 jackpot on another and the in-house jackpot of over nine hundred dollars on another.

It felt good to be a winner because I felt like such a massive loser the rest of the time so I started playing five lines to increase my chances of being a winner and it worked.  I started to get some minor jackpots of between 80 and 300 dollars fairly regularly and scored a couple of major jackpots as well with one being over a thousand dollars.  I also won more in-house jackpots of around the nine hundred dollar mark but then the wins stopped.

I was hooked by then so I doubled the number of lines I played and started losing twice as much.  I quickly lost what little cash I had and maxed out my credit cards and things got pretty grim.  At one point I even stooped to stealing from my kids.  Lucky for me I wasn’t 100 percent out of control so all I stole was their loose change, a total of four dollars, but I stole it and sneaked out of the house while they were sleeping.  Needless to say I wasn’t gone long.

About this point I decided I couldn’t afford to wait until I was over the PTSD and other emotional problems before getting a job so I looked for work that I thought I would be able to do easily even in my fragile emotional state.

My current job is fairly basic.  Assess risk, help the person figure out what to do next and give them numbers to call for more in-depth help.  It’s all about crisis management.  I don’t have to be in the same room with them while they express their pain or anger so I feel safe physically and I don’t have the same level of personal involvement or responsibility that an on-going treatment provider has.

I don’t have to take a history from them which means less personal involvement.  A history has to be taken in order to diagnose their problem and come up with a treatment plan but I feel so privileged when someone opens up their life to me and gives me so much of their trust that it is impossible not to feel genuine emotional involvement with them even if it is as simple as a desire to help them make things better.  The more I get to know someone the more I care about what happens to them.  I don’t get to know crisis callers anywhere near as well as I get to know clients I am treating on an ongoing basis.

There is also less responsibility in this job.  As a treatment provider I am responsible for my clients safety and welfare in a range of ways.  I would have access to supervision and help but not until after the person had left their session with me.  As a telephone crisis counsellor I share the burden of that responsibility with the counselling manager who is on shift with me.  The moment a caller seems to be at serious risk of harming themselves or someone else in the immediate future I have to summon the manager who will listen to the call and help me decide how to manage it.

I was honest with my employers.  I told them exactly why I was taking such a huge step backwards in my career path and they were satisfied that, with a counselling manager by my side at all times to check my performance, I was worth hiring.

Once I got the job I got my own apartment and thought I would be able to shake off the gambling addiction but things got worse.  I started losing more money because I had more money available and I got deeper and deeper in debt which made me feel more and more of a failure so I chased the gambling wins harder until I was losing about 300 per session and getting desperate to find a cure.

I went for counselling, I put harm minimisation strategies in place, I tried to regain control over and over again with no success so I turned to prayer as the only hope of getting help.

God tried to help.  I know He did.  I never once set off for a gambling session without hearing Him whisper to me; “Don’t go.” but there isn’t much He can do to help when the person you are fighting with is yourself!

Finally, however, I had a breakthrough when a simple, solid, undeniable truth sank home to me.  According to my bank balance I had not won one single cent gambling – quite the contrary – I had lost every cent I owned prior to taking up the habit and clocked up credit debt as well!

This helped me get on track and I gave up gambling for quite some time.  Going cold turkey helped break the hold gambling had over me and, as my life got back on track, the urge to gamble began to settle down.

I sold the house I had been living in when the attack happened and used the money to pay off some of my debts.  I got victims of crime compensation and used the money to pay off the rest of my debts which allowed me to cut up my credit cards.  I was debt free after all that and no credit card meant no temptation to get back into debt.

The victims of crime compensation included money for counselling so I got treatment for my PTSD and started to feel safe again.  Further down the track I committed myself fully to overcoming my depression and anxiety and got treatment for those too.  I saw my GP and my counsellor and faithfully took my medication until, finally, my symptoms were gone and I was feeling better.  The better I felt the less of a hold gambling had over me.

I reduced the number of lines I play and, with it, the amount of money I could lose.  I lost faith in being able to win and, with it, interest in trying to win.  I haven’t overcome the habit completely.  I still gamble for lack of anything more “fun” to do but it’s only once or twice a fortnight now not every day or several times a day like it used to be.  I still lose more money than I would prefer to lose – I would prefer to lose zero dollars – but I don’t lose more than I can afford to lose.  I don’t get money from a credit card to gamble with any more because I got rid of all my credit cards and have resisted any and all temptations to get new ones.

I’m doing OK but it’s an evil industry!  It thrives on misery, poverty and despair.

Research has shown the highest number of problem gamblers is found in the poorest areas and that fits with my personal experiences.  The poorer I was the more desperate I was for an instant cure to my financial problems and it doesn’t come faster than a gambling win.

The more of a loser I felt the more desperate I was for the temporary elation of being a winner on the slot machines.

The more miserable, poor and unhappy with myself and my life I was the more hooked I got on the promise of a big change through a major gambling win.

After I sold my house and was able to pay off my credit cards and get out of debt I was better able to control my gambling.  Once I got a job and I felt more in control of my life financially I gained more control over my gambling losses.  After I got treatment for my anxiety, PTSD and depression I felt better about myself and wasn’t so desperate to feel like a winner through gambling.

They are trying to reduce the damage gambling does to people by attacking the industry itself here.  They have forced the venues to reduce the number of machines they have and they have insisted they have more one cent machines.  They have put a limit on how much people can withdraw from the ATM’s at venues and made them pay big wins by cheque so people can’t lose the money back the same day.  It all helps I suppose but I’ve noticed the industry has taken steps to reduce how much money they miss out on because of these measures.

They have countered the reduction in the number of machines they have by adding more 10 cent, 20 cent and 1 dollar machines and reducing the number of five cent machines.  It means desperate gamblers are forced to play more expensive machines because they are not able to get onto the cheaper ones as there are more gamblers than there are machines in the venues.

They have overcome the regulation forcing them to have more one cent machines by the simple method of getting rid of machines that have 20 lines and adding machines that have more lines or “bonus” features so now it costs 30 cents to a dollar to play all the lines and get all the features on a one cent machine instead of 20 cents.

There is no way of proving it but I am also convinced they have altered the settings on the machines so they pay out less often and give free spins less often particularly to those who are not playing all the lines.

I remain convinced the only way to really reduce the number of people who fall prey to problem gambling is to take the machines out of the local pubs and clubs and confine them to casino’s.  I would not have developed a problem with gambling if the only place to play them had been at the casino.  I would not have been willing to get dressed up and go into the city to play every day.  I was depressed.  I didn’t want to shower let alone dress up or drive into town and mingle with a crowd.  Throwing on my tracksuit and slippers to go out was different.  I could manage that along with a short walk around the corner to my local pub.  The informality of the dress code and the closeness of the venue is what made it so easy to develop the gambling habit for me at least.

It’s terribly easy to point the finger at people who have problems with addiction and say the problem is theirs and the cure is within them because it is so true.  It’s hard for God to help them because of that but when the thing that is destroying you and making your life worse is also the only thing that can make you feel good it isn’t as easy as you may think to give it up.

My goal is to quit gambling completely.  I am close to achieving it.  I don’t buy lotto tickets or bet on the races.  Not even the Melbourne Cup and EVERYONE bets on that!  I just have to overcome the urge to splurge once or twice a fortnight by going out to the pub for dinner and a few dollars in the slot machines.  I don’t want to give the gambling industry so much as one dollar of my money to support it and I will achieve that goal some day if I just keep trying.

I’m one of the lucky ones though.  I have so much.  I have a career and a good job, loving family to support me, good health and God.  It was always only a matter of time before I would beat the addiction.  My spiritual, emotional, physical and psychological pain was a temporary thing brought on by a traumatic experience and my need for the gambling “high” has faded along with the pain it was helping me numb.

Others are not so fortunate.  Their physical pain might be untreatable, they may not own a house they can sell to cure their financial problems, they might not know they are suffering from depression or other psychological illnesses so they may never get treatment and find a way out of their misery.  They may stay trapped in their addiction until, as many do, they hit rock bottom and kill themselves to escape.

Since I am already on my soapbox right now I may as well finish up with a swipe at the insufferable self-righteousness of the major supermarket chain – Safeway.  Safeway, aka Woolworths, is a major share holder of the pokies industry.

The government has made another grab for cash from addicts by imposing a massive price rise on cigarettes.  Coles countered that by introducing a new, massively cheaper, brand of cigarettes from Germany.  Hundreds of smokers switched to that brand causing a lot of criticism from the anti-smoking mob.  Safeway has condemned Coles for doing this but I noticed nobody mentioned the fact that Safeway has income from gambling which Coles is not getting.  Safeway can afford to lose income from nicotine addicts since they are getting nice and fat on the income from gambling addicts!  How dare they claim superiority when they are profiting from alcohol, nicotine AND gambling as opposed to Coles who are only profiting from two of those three addictions.

Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!

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