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Michaela's story

A bigger and bolder life after gambling harm


Photo by Josh

I’m the mother of two beautiful teenage boys. We were living on the family farm when, sadly, my now-ex-husband got engaged in some gambling problems that resulted in the end of our marriage.

I discovered much later on that he had had a big gambling loss the week before we met and so he vowed off gambling. I knew that it was an issue for him, but I thought that we could control it if we worked together. He rang Gambler’s Help line and for a little while there we had some counselling support. I guess I thought in a naïve way that it had all been solved.

People in the grip of a gambling addiction really are the most extraordinary storytellers. I look back on some of the things he told me he was doing when in fact he was off betting. My parents were really concerned. I reacted really negatively to them and felt they were just interfering in my relationship and had it in for him. I’m very close to my parents, but I could deny straight to their faces that anything was going on.

Keeping secrets

I look back on that period and I know that he wasn’t right; he was a bit more distant; a lot more secretive. I often ask myself why I didn’t react then or push harder. Your own denial is a sort of survival instinct. Really, I just packed it away and naively thought that my undying love was going to be enough to cure it and, of course, it’s not enough.

Your own denial is a sort of survival instinct.

I spoke to a counsellor after it all and I remember [asking her], ‘Why was I ignoring signs that were clearly there?’ She said that to acknowledge them was to explode your whole life and so there’s a big part of you that just wants to look away. In all honesty, I think I looked away.

The damage seemed to increase exponentially with every incident. You’ve got two little kids with two very distressed parents. I remember saying to him, ‘Does someone have to die before this stops,’ because it felt like it was getting more and more severe.

Waking up to gambling harm

In 2011, it really became too big to ignore. There was a single moment when I knew something was very, very wrong. At midnight I woke up and my brain said, ‘You can’t deny this anymore’. I had to move very quickly to remove my husband’s ability to access cash through the farm.

The money was the least of the losses.

[The harm caused by gambling] was indescribable. We lost our family unit. We had to leave the town we lived in. It destroyed a 20-year-long relationship. The money was the least of the losses. I can put that behind me.

I wanted the boys to have a new life, but it was a pretty rough couple of years. My parents absolutely were my rock. They stood by me and the boys all the way through. I had some really good friends and you’ve got to reach out. There was no judgement. They just wanted to be there and support me.

Transformation through support

I was pretty full of anger and grief for the first couple of years. As time went on, I sort of found a reckoning with it; a balance with it. Don’t be absorbed with guilt. Never feel trapped or overwhelmed by it. There’s a lot of support out there.

My mother always says, ‘Just put one foot in front of the other’.

I think I’ve retained my faith in humankind.

It took me a long time to understand that this is a mental health issue. I think about how I’d get really angry with him and say, ‘Weren’t you thinking about me? Weren’t you thinking about the kids?’ Of course he wasn’t. He was in the middle of a mental health episode.

I’m a very positive person. I don’t think anyone who has a gambling problem is a bad person. I’ve repaired my friendship with my boys’ father. I think I’ve retained my faith in humankind.

In 2001, I rang my older brother and was crying and saying, ‘I’m trapped’. And my brother said, ‘You’re never, ever trapped’. As I go along in my daily life, I hear him often telling me, ‘You’re never trapped’.

When I look back, I give myself a little pat on the back. I found a whole new career in politics. I went on to do a Masters. I look at the two boys and they’re both really solid and caring young men. The last six years have been full of life, love and joy. Life has gone on to be bigger and bolder, so keep fighting on.