How a gambler took control of her life
From "Problem Gambling and Video Gaming" issue of Visions Journal, 2018, 14 (2), p. 20
My name is Lynda, and I am a compulsive gambler. I have not placed a bet since August 3, 2000. I am also an alcoholic. I have not had a drink since January 18, 1986.
I agreed to contribute as an author to this issue of Visions so that people will realize that gambling is an insidious disease that can be hidden from everyone—including family—for many years before the gambler hits rock bottom. For me, it was a slow and subtle descent to the bottom—over probably 40 years.
The longer I am clean, the further back I realize my gambling started. Gambling was not a serious issue in my life until I was in my 30s, but I did have a lot of the traits early on.
It certainly started innocently enough. Going to bingo once a week with girlfriends was typical.
My problem was I wanted to win so bad. I would play so many cards that it was exhausting. I never wanted it to be over. I was never happy when other people won, either, even if it was a friend.
When I got together with my second husband, he took me on my first trip to Reno in about 1978. Oh my gosh, I was in paradise. All the glitz and lights and noise—and no clocks. I couldn’t wait to sit at a slot machine. Before we left, I had filled four envelopes with $500, one envelope for each day we were going to be there. But after we’d been there about 20 hours, I had not slept, and I was already reaching into my fourth envelope. I got indignant when my husband wouldn’t loan me any money. He said it would bring him bad luck (maybe worse luck than he was already having).
We both started getting cash advances on our credit cards to keep us going, but by the end of the trip, we both had nothing. I am so grateful we had some cash left to get the car out of the parking lot at the airport. We’d left some in the glove box.
As rocky as it was, our first Reno experience certainly didn’t deter us from revisiting Sin City. We made three subsequent trips, driving down to Nevada instead of flying in order to save money. Two of the trips we made were in December and the vehicles we drove were both sketchy: a Cadillac with a leaky gas tank and our old Volkswagen van, which had minimal brakes.
Driving in those vehicles through the snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains was scary, but not scary enough to send us home. Each trip, we gambled until all our cash was gone and took cash advances on our credit cards. We lost everything. On both occasions we made the 900-mile drive home with no money. And not much talking.
The last trip we made to Reno was in the summer, in the Volkswagen van we had named Cherry. It was a beautiful weekend for a trip. We headed out and got as far as Tigurd, Oregon. We stopped for gas, and the van wouldn’t start again. The mechanic wasn’t on duty until the next morning. Thank God, Cherry had a bed.
When we woke up the next morning, my husband said, “Do you think I should try it?”
I said “For sure.”
He turned the key in the ignition and Cherry fired up. My husband turned to me and said, “North or South?”
“South,” I said. “And don’t stop until we get there!”
We made the rest of the trip filling up Cherry with gas while her engine was running, going through drive-thrus for coffee and taking our bathroom breaks in shifts at rest stops so we could always keep the engine going. When we pulled into our hotel, I was so relieved. I couldn’t have cared less how we were going to get the van fixed or what money we were going to use to pay for it, or even how we were going to make it home. I was in Reno, and I was ready to gamble!
I hardly need to tell you that this trip ended just like the last three: no money, maxed-out credit cards and not much chatting on the long trip home.
It was at about this time that we heard that casinos were going to open in Vancouver.
Oh boy, oh boy: this was our solution! No more flights, no more long drives, no more exchange rates.
We could just go to Vancouver and drive home, right?
In theory, yes, that’s what we could have done. But once we got to Vancouver, we would stay until our last dollar was gone. We were not the unluckiest couple. In fact, we had some pretty substantial wins. But instead of taking our winnings home, we would stay, and our bets would get bigger.
For compulsive gamblers, any win just fuels our addiction. Money has no real value. I never thought, Gee, I had to work for two hours for that $20 that I am feeding into this machine.
By this time in our lives, we were in pretty rough shape financially. My husband was going to Money Mart between every pay period and I was getting a $500 advance on every pay cheque. We had blown through all our savings and all our RRSPs, and we had combined credit card debt of about $75,000.
The insanity of the gambling disease is that we keep doing the same things over and over and expect different results. I would get my pay cheque, head to the casino, stay until everything was gone, drive home, try to grab a couple of hours of sleep, and then wake up and wonder where I could get some money to get me through the day.
The end of the road for us was August 3, 2000. Sometimes I think you just know when you’ve had enough. We were lucky we realized it while we were still able to do something about it. That day in August, we attended out first Gamblers Anonymous meeting. We both belonged to AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) already, so we knew the basic approach worked for us. In my opinion, the support of their 12-Step program is absolutely essential. Our families were also supportive. Fortunately, our financial ups and downs had never affected them very much and we were on good terms.
I have not gambled on anything since that day. I was so happy to discover that there were other people like me; I found myself relating to almost everyone in the GA program, finding hope and inspiration in everyone’s story.
Unfortunately, my husband had a few relapses before he really understood. I got upset every time it happened. I know you’re supposed to do the program for yourself, but when your partner goes off the rails, it has an impact on your relationship—and not just financially! But we got through it together, and by the time he passed away in 2009, he had been gambling-free for six years. During that time, we were able to pay off our debts, build up our credit and restore our RRSPs.
I am sharing my experience, and the story of how I found my strength and renewed my hope, with the thought that if just one person reads this and thinks to themselves, “Gee, that sounds like me—maybe I should look into getting some help with Gamblers Anonymous,” they can be assured that my friends and I will be there to welcome them with open arms and listen to their story!
For more information about Gamblers Anonymous, call 1-855-222-5542 (toll-free) or visit www.gabc.ca.
About the author
Lynda lived in Langley until three years ago and now lives in Lake Cowichan, BC