Its been well over a decade since I struggled with the one armed bandits, and being on the wagon for that length of time I thought it was about time I shared my story with the world.
It all began in 1997, when I was struggling with depression, mounting debts and working 80 hours a week trying to get a small franchise business into the black. At the time, I was living on the Central Coast of N.S.W, with my wife and two small boys, (2 and 4).
One day I went to the local club, with a couple of guys that worked for me and put five dollars into a Poker machine. It was the first time I had ever played them, my fathers destructive habit having torn our family apart twenty years earlier.
None the less I put my money in; how dangerous could it be? Hey presto, lights, bells and whistles went off and I won one hundred dollars. Now One hundred dollars was about a fifth of what I was bringing home each week, so I celebrated by buying a round of drinks and putting another ten into a one dollar machine. First push of the button and the bells and whistles went off again, and suddenly I was three thousand dollars richer. It was at that point that the bug bit and took hold along with all the dark things that go with it.
I gave my compatriots a hundred each and proceeded to pump six hundred dollars into the rotten things over the next two hours. I was embarrassed by this and decided to guild the lily when I relaid the news to my wife. Suddenly the win was only two thousand four hundred dollars, but being able to pull out a fat wallet and give her a thousand dollars allayed the guilt somewhat. The remainder got plowed back into the business which swallowed the money whole without so much as a thank you.
A week later I was back at the machines and then again a few days after that. Before I knew it I was at the machines every night winning a little and losing a lot. Siphoning money from the business, I tried to repeat that first nights luck until, seven weeks after it began I woke up one morning and realized the gravity of what I had done.
I had embezzled $12,400 from the parent company and lost it all. I still don’t know how much of our own money I blew, but it was at least that much. I turned myself in, lost the house, was given a $1000 dollar fine, a two year good behaviour bond and had to repay the money I stole. Even after all that, I still kept going back to the machines like a pigeon in a Skinner box.
We moved to Queensland to start anew and I tried the usual treatments. Gamblers Anonymous was helpful but not a cure for me. The stories were all so different to mine. “Hi my name is, Fred and I’ve been a gambling addict for fifteen years.” or twenty five years or whatever. Their stories were always about the slow insidious slide into addiction over multiple years. Where were the people who weren’t addicts one day and were the next?
At the suggestion of my incredibly loving and forgiving wife, I changed tact and began going to Breakeven, a support service offered by Relationships Australia. For the first time I had breakthroughs. With the help of two of their psychologists I was able to see what should have been obvious. All the reasons, the scars, the things that made me so socially suicidal, everything became clear in the light that these two shone on my soul. I am forever in their debt.
What I learned is that every Addict has their own demons to face, mine was my father, and that without confronting that need, the beast is only held at bay.
Australia has about one percent of the world’s population but operates about TWENTY PERCENT of the worlds poker machines. These things are designed to stimulate the reward response in the most vulnerable people in our society. For every dollar that’s played by a non addict, no one knows how much is lost by those who can no longer stop themselves.
I am lucky beyond measure, having learned what true luck is. My wife is still with me, loves me and can even trust me again, though I choose to let her handle most of the money for both our peace of minds.
If you are one of the many who are losing everything in the chase for another win, seek help. It doesn’t matter whether you go to G.A., Breakeven or any other organization that’s out there, just go. Fight for your life. I did and got my life back. And so can you.