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Ann's story

Photo of middle-aged woman with short fair hair wearing glasses and a blue and white T-shirt, standing smiling in front of a body of water, trees in the foreground, boats on the water, and bushland on the coast opposite

Ann Smith, photo: Paul Jeffers

Clearing the fog of gambling addiction

by Ann Smith

In January, I went on my first cruise without gambling. I came home with $150, when I’d normally be in huge debt. I went to the ship’s gaming area and watched my husband play, but I had the strength to say no. It was a big turning point for me.

I’d booked the cruise on day four of the 100 Day Challenge, a program that helps you cut back on your gambling, or stop altogether. The 100 Day Challenge has a strong online community, and when I was leaving for the cruise, I got on the forum and said, ‘Guess what, guys, this is what I’ve rewarded myself with!’ They were rapt for me – ‘We’ll miss you!’ You bare your soul on the forum, and get to know everyone so well, even though it’s anonymous. It lifts the fog like nothing else.

I’m now on my third 100 Day Challenge – it’s part of my life. I’ve got money in the bank, many more interests and much less anxiety. I’ve also been able to share my story with some of my loved ones. This has taken considerable weight off my shoulders and they have become an important part of my support network. My hubby is my rock.

Pokies come to Victoria

My youngest was born in 1991, the same year pokies came to Victoria. I remember saying, ‘It’s about time!’ Little did I know it was the beginning of an insidious drip-feed to addiction.

Early in our marriage, we enjoyed a flutter, travelling to Corowa or Mulwala along the New South Wales border to play the pokies, or flying to Wrest Point Casino in Hobart to play the tables. But once home in Victoria, where there were no pokies or casinos, we were geographically safe.

Little did I know it was the beginning of an insidious drip-feed to addiction.

After 1991, my husband babysat the kids at night while I went out and played the pokies. I used the excuse of needing a break from being a busy, full-time mum. But my gambling was subtly transitioning from fun to harmful. I started playing whenever I could, and I’d lie about where I’d been. You feel so terrible and ashamed, then you’ve got to stand up, be a mum and cook tea. You get extremely good at living a double life.

Comfort zone from hell

I was in denial, even when we started experiencing financial stress. Hey, I didn’t have a problem – we had a roof over our heads, we were still paying the bills, the kids were fine, and I deserved to enjoy myself because I worked hard for my money. Why not?! There were ways of cutting corners so I could continue gambling. The boys got a lot of second-hand stuff – books, school uniforms. I still regret that.

I used the excuse of needing a break from being a busy, full-time mum.

To take pressure off ourselves, we sold our dream home. We’ve downsized three times now. But while it temporarily relieved the financial pressure, each sale gave me access to a lot of money. I’d hit the gambling really hard and the losses were considerable.

It’s a hideous, crippling disease. You’re sad, lonely and disconnected from friends. And you slam away at a machine because it’s all you know – it’s your comfort zone.

Reclaiming ‘me’

The first time I opened up about my addiction was when I went to Gambler’s Anonymous about 15 years ago. I had depression and anxiety. At first, I thought, ‘I wonder what’s causing this?’ You can be really naïve, which is why awareness and understanding about this addiction are so important. After nine gambling-free months, I thought, ‘I’ve got this licked’, and started playing small amounts for fun. But it came back harder and stronger than ever.

Gambler’s Anonymous works for many people, but didn’t quite work for me, which is why I love that there are so many different avenues for help. A friend of mine has a Gambler’s Help counsellor. Others self-exclude from venues, some use hypnotherapy – there are a lot of options out there.

I joined the 100 Day Challenge in June 2018, a year after moving into our retirement home. I was blowing our retirement money. The 24/7 aspect of 100 Days appealed to me – I can log on at midnight if I want. In the early days, reading what people were saying on the forum really helped with my urges: there’s a subtle shift and the urge subsides. I’ve got somewhere to go, I’ve got someone to talk to. There are so many lovely, caring, supportive people there. New people join regularly and it continues to gain momentum.

I've got money in the bank, many more interests and much less anxiety.

Gambling used to define me: ‘Ann’s out the back having a push’. For 20 years the norm was my husband having a beer at the bar, me playing the pokies. But I’ve drawn a line and it’s great to be on the other side of it. When I got back from the cruise I went straight onto 100 Days and said, ‘Hi guys, I'm happy to be back here after a week away. I ticked over Day 204 today, but still take this challenge one day at a time. So stay strong – keep busy – keep coming back guys! We can all do this together! And I came home with money!’

You can read more about my experience of the 100 Day Challenge.

Ann is a community educator with ReSPIN Gambling Awareness Speakers Bureau, which trains and supports speakers to talk to community groups and organisations about the effects of gambling harm on individuals, families, friends, employers and colleagues.