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Ian Brett's story

Rising up from rock bottom


By Ian Brett

I had my first drink at four years old. When I was nine, I found a job sweeping a panel shop floor. I’d get Dad to put 50 cent bets on for me. A win gave me a bit of a high. By the time I was 14, I had three part-time jobs and people in the TAB would put bets on for me.

I left school at 15 and was earning as much as men, then losing it all every weekend. Then I was introduced to the casino in Queensland, moved north and got hooked on blackjack. I’d stash $200 under my seat covers to keep me going through the week.

Feeling like a winner

I was gambling to feel like I was a winner. The more money I had, the more I gambled. It was like a see-saw with highs and lows while moving between Brisbane, where I was self-employed and Melbourne, where the pay was better.

I had a drug-induced breakdown in Melbourne while I was in a circle of friends who were smoking and dealing. Six months after the breakdown, I got done for aggravated burglary and ended up in a rehab unit where we shopped and cooked for ourselves. It was the best thing that could’ve happened because it got me off drugs and alcohol and integrated back into society with a full-time job.

By the time I was out on parole the casino in Melbourne was open, but I was seeing a psychologist and going well for a time.

‘I was back into gambling and in a downwards spiral.’

I was buying a house and land package deal but, by the day I had to sign the papers, I had no job, no severance pay and no unemployment benefits. I was back into gambling and in a downwards spiral. I wasn’t in my right mind and did a runner from a petrol station. I then tried to hold up another petrol station with a club lock under my jacket and the armed robbery squad pulled up next to me.

My house and car were repossessed and I did two weeks on remand. My dad and sister wrote me off but my mum visited me. I got bail and moved home although my mum was frightened I was going to take off. I lost my licence, got a four-year good behaviour bond and a 12-month community corrections order that involved horticulture work for the council, which I enjoyed: both the work and the camaraderie.

A condition of bail was to not go to the casino, but it was the first thing I did.

Ready to change

I went to Gambler’s Help in the 1990s but I wasn’t ready. Around 2000, I gave up marijuana cold turkey as my New Year’s resolution. In 2008, I gave up smoking cold turkey. In 2013, I self-excluded from the casino, but I kept going in when I had money.

In 2015, I approached Gambler’s Help for the second time while also trying some controlled poker playing which – surprise – didn’t work.

I suffered a lot of anxiety and the counsellor helped me with mindfulness strategies. She showed me how to budget by putting money in envelopes marked with the days of the week. From there I got involved with Peer Connection. My contact would ring me, we could talk about gambling and he understood. Then I joined a social group where there were more people to connect with and things to do.

‘I’ve had 35 years of bad habits to change.’

A doctor and nurse did a talk about neuroplasticity and how we’re always learning and that’s me now. I’ve had 35 years of bad habits to change, but now I’m doing positive things to help others so they don’t have to hit rock bottom like I did. It’s been a hard way to learn.

As a speaker with ReSPIN, I talk about gambling but also the mental health side. I can speak in front of a group. I’ve overcome phobias and addictions.

Gambling wasn’t about the money, but about winning enough to keep the gambling addiction fed.

‘I now feel a sense of purpose.’

I stopped gambling in 2017. I had a win at the races, knew it was a fluke and put the money in the bank.

That’s me done.

I now feel a sense of purpose. I support charities. I’m involved with the local footy club, the Wilderness Society and Clean-up Australia Day. I got to know my neighbours during lockdown from walking my dog Bindi.

I’m part of the community. That’s what it’s all about.