Sliding the door shut on gambling harm
by Jan Brunswick
At 18, I fell in love with a man who was quiet, kind, funny and a bit of a rascal. Everyone liked him. He also liked drinking and gambling.
Sure, we had plenty of good times, but gambling was like the third person in our marriage. There were some temporary splits but the happily-ever-after dream I was chasing and promises of change kept pulling me back.
Managing a double life
I thought I could manage our double life because we got on well until I asked too many questions or a crisis exploded. Gambling confrontations were ugly. My reactions were fuelled by fear, anger and desperation with tears and pleading. Then came the grief, loneliness, indifference or shutting down.
I looked to the gambler to make me feel better.
I would drive around gambling venues looking for him instead of sleeping. I would check his pockets looking for clues I hoped I’d never find. I was apprehensive going to the mailbox. I panicked when the phone rang and I didn’t recognise the voice, or I made nervous phone calls to check on him if he wasn’t home from work on time.
Gambling was the glue that kept us together and the demon that tore us apart.
‘I would drive around gambling venues looking for him instead of sleeping.’
As a mum, there was guilt. Were my kids’ physical needs being met? Yes. Was I emotionally available? No, not enough.
A sporting injury landed me in hospital but still my focus was entirely on my partner. Him being home alone rang huge alarm bells. I realised that I was also out of control, my life was unmanageable and I had to take responsibility for my own contribution to our problem.
I sought the help of counsellors but, while I was soaking up their words like a sponge, he was gambling more.
No more chances left
After 30 years together, I had no more chances left in my heart. I couldn’t fix him. I was living my life in the hope of what it could become, not what it was. I had to stop waiting for the future to deliver my happiness. I had to live in the present.
The sliding door clicked shut. No fairytale ending; my marriage was over. It hurt but I let him go with a gut feeling that this was right for me.
Now I can see my role in the gambling addiction cycle. My dream to stay together kept me totally focused on him. He created the crisis, I cleaned up the mess. I absorbed and hid the problem. I kept the skeleton in the cupboard.
The shame and stigma turned me into the person who rescued him. I paid debts, covered for him, contacted banks or pawnbrokers, always with the hope that this would be the last time.
‘He created the crisis, I cleaned up the mess.’
My naïve thinking was that if the debt was gone then so would the need to gamble, but actually this enabled him to keep gambling.
The pattern was gambling → anger and conflict → remorse → promises → rescuing → more gambling. It was cyclical.
Moving on meant confronting my denial and changing my behaviour. If nothing changes, nothing changes. A friend said to me, ‘If you want to stop being the doormat, you’ll need to get up off the floor’.
Reality was a hard life lesson. I had relapses that included wrestling with my past instinct that cried out, ‘Help him’. I wrote down my emotions and worries, the positives and negatives.
‘ … the only person I could change was myself.’
I had to accept that I couldn’t change the gambling behaviour; the only person I could change was myself. I had to stop accepting unacceptable behaviour. I had to stop minimising the harm. I had to not assume responsibility for issues that weren’t mine to fix. I had to learn to focus on being kind to myself.
The feeling of home
My life was never all good nor all bad. I did the best I could with the tools and knowledge I had at the time. I was affected by gambling but learned to separate the person from the behaviour and recognise my own role in it.
I found support. I attended counselling and 12-step programs to work on myself and continued to learn about gambling harm. I did a Centacare divorce and separation course and a South Australian Relationships Australia gambling harm program.
I drew great strength listening to people in recovery and affected others. The feelings expressed were raw and without judgement and so like my own. I felt I could be honest. It was okay to feel the way I did. I felt like I was ‘home’.