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Carol's story

This is the story of my long, secret affair with the pokies.

This was not a happy affair, but I want to share my story to provide hope for others who have had similar experiences – with support, recovery is possible.

I had a shaky start in life. Every kid needs love but I was adopted by a family who weren’t very kind. I never felt good enough. I never felt safe. Then I ended up in an abusive marriage and had a breakdown that left me in a psychiatric hospital unable to express my deepest fear – that I was unlovable.

Motherhood changed everything for me. I knew what it was to feel love and I loved my son so much. I knew that I must make a good life for both of us. I met an amazing psychiatrist and began to work on the bad experiences of the past. For a while I had hope for a better future.

I first started playing the pokies while my son was in school. They seemed like a good place to relax and forget about my loneliness. I had never gambled before, but from the very first time I played the pokies, I was totally hooked. As time passed, I spent more and more time at the machines.

Although I didn’t see it at the time, I was slowly changing into someone who had little or no contact with others. I thought pokies were the answer, the escape I needed. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

This was a truly horrible time. I was neglecting my physical and mental wellbeing. I wasn’t sleeping or eating properly, and it was a constant battle to find enough money to provide for my son – to keep a roof over his head.

I was unwilling to see how much I was changing. My life started to really spiral out of control. I did not recognise or like the person I was becoming.

I was so ashamed. I had to ask for food vouchers and sometimes I lied to get money. I kept telling myself not to go back to the pokies but the addiction was too strong. The venues kept pulling me in. Nothing mattered except the screen and noise of those machines that numbed the pain of my lonely life.

Then, one morning, I made a decision that I could no longer continue this life. By this stage my son was all grown up, so I sat him down and told him the truth. I expected the worst, but he didn’t turn away. Instead, he hugged me. I knew that he loved me, no matter what. Telling my son the truth was one of the best things I have done.

Recovery wasn’t easy. I had a few false starts – backing out of counselling appointments at the last moment and heading back to the pokies. It’s hard to admit your issues to a stranger, especially with my mental health history. Because of my deep shame, I felt judged and discriminated against. I felt unable to disclose to anyone how I felt, as my old habit of covering up my fear and pain was still very strong.

I started regular counselling and self-excluded myself from pokies venues. I did not really feel that this would be helpful at first, but I was wrong as it gave me the space to live my daily life without ending up in another pokies venue.

I then started to deal with some of the pain I had tried to hide from in pokies venues. I started to get back to being the strong, capable Carol. This was a slow process and I made many mistakes, but I was determined to be free of gambling and to start to live a happy and worthwhile life again.

It wasn’t easy. I had to address the hurts of the past, find new activities to help manage my urges and learn to be kind to myself. I met some wonderful people who’d had similar experiences with gambling, but we did not dwell on the negatives, just started to look forward and change the way we thought about ourselves. This is when I started to laugh again.

I’m now doing my Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology, which shows me that I am capable of succeeding. I have many good friends, a dog called Missy, and paint in my spare time.

I know now that I have the strength to deal with hard times, whatever happens. I am strong enough to cope and have regained my sense of humour and hope. I now intend to live my life to the fullest.