Full steam ahead to recovery
By: Patrick McCarthy (Reclink sports coordinator)
I was in high school when the pokies first came out and I’d nick over to play. I’d go to the club with my parents on a Friday night. We’d do road trips with friends to a casino. Gambling was just there, casually, in the atmosphere, as if it was no big deal.
Except it was. I was hooked as soon as I started. It was a bit of a thrill when you had a win, but it was also not knowing what was coming next. I was consumed by it. I’d work all week then gamble my whole pay which I kept a secret. It was an invisible addiction. I was a functioning addict.
Living a reckless life
It’s embarrassing to say that this lasted 10 to 15 years on and off, betting at least half to my entire pay. By then I was in my mid-30s, living a reckless life and $35,000 in debt. You can’t keep up so you isolate yourself, break down in tears, go and see a counsellor and things come good for a while. I’d give up gambling then be back full steam ahead.
‘I got used to the gambling hangover of crushing disbelief and shame…’
Meanwhile I was able to really switch on at work and put in a good effort. I worked for the AFL in remote communities in the Northern Territory where they love their footy. I loved that job but I was also using it to run away. I remember staying up two days straight in the desert, betting first on local sports but then getting to badminton and ice hockey.
I’d gamble with my mates and see them as way worse than me. I was always looking for little scams. I got used to the gambling hangover of crushing disbelief and shame for a few days after a loss. I looked for a gambling counsellor that I really clicked with but if I found one and then gambled again I’d be too ashamed to go back. I was so caught up in my dark problems.
‘I was so caught up in my dark problems.’
I was leading a double life. It was like a tornado in my mind. Why did I do it? I’ve seen the effects of gambling on the people around me; people I love. I’ve lost girlfriends and other relationships to gambling. People get sick of it. They’d ask, ‘Are you gambling again’, but I got so good at deflecting and turning it around to me being the victim. My attitude was quite aggressive and I’d start an argument.
The drive to be better
What drove the change was that my conscience always got the better of me and I knew I could be, and was, better than the direction I was heading. My mental health was at an all-time low: living with my parents in my mid-30s with a baby boy to raise without his mother around, and struggling to find rentals with my bad credit history.
Slowly, I turned things around. I tried anti-depressants. I got re-introduced to running which I take very seriously and I’m doing half-marathons. I read books, listened to podcasts and learned to analyse and be emotionally intelligent. I had a gambling slip-up and realised it was triggered by alcohol so I quit drinking. I set up an arrangement with my dad to sign off on my spending but I’ve got a black tick against my name for five years.
I am where I am. I beat myself up for so long and put myself through hell. I burned so many bridges but came to realise that it’s only me stopping me.
‘I … came to realise that it’s only me stopping me.’
Now I’m present. I’m on the way to a youth work degree. I’m working on being a better dad and a better worker.
I’m a sports coordinator with Reclink and I love what they stand for. Reclink brings together my running and approach to sport and adventure with my enjoyment of helping people. I feel like my experience helps me engage with participants in Reclink.
They are raw and honest with their struggles and that’s what’s great. We can all learn something from each other. We come together, play sport together, and work on our lives together.
And there’s my son. We go up the bush with the dog. We might see a sunset or throw rocks in the water and have a talk. It’s really simple but it’s everything.