When Linda’s husband was forced to confess to her that he had a gambling problem, her first reaction was anger. That feeling was quickly followed by overwhelming guilt. “How did I miss this?” she thought.
There hadn’t been any obvious signs of a problem. Yes, money was tight, but it had been for a while. Linda hadn’t seen any of the bills because Richard always looked after the finances. As far as she was concerned, it was business as usual.
In retrospect, she saw things that didn’t add up: Richard’s uncle had died and left them money. The couple bought a car and kept the rest of the money in a joint account. One day, Linda went looking for the statement book and couldn’t find it.
Their finances were in ruins. Her trust in Richard was truly shaken. “The strangest thing for me is that I’m not a gambler of any kind,” says Linda. “For me it’s: I worked hard for this and I want to keep it a bit longer. So, it kind of blew me away.”
Linda has always been a practical person, so she didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on her anger and resentment. “Survival kicked in,” says Linda.
“I had to make sure the kids were OK. I just thought, ‘This is what we have to do,’ and I came up with a plan.
I arranged with my boss to take $200 off my paycheque, after he’d loaned Richard money. I then told my husband we would simply have to make up the shortfall.”
Once they had a clear plan of action, Linda and Richard explained the situation to their children.
“Richard’s counsellor said I could come in with him or by myself if I wanted to, but I am used to dealing with things myself, rationalizing them and then get over it.”
In hindsight, Linda sees the benefits of getting help and advises it for spouses now going through what she did. “Don’t feel guilty. Don’t even let that feeling enter your mind. If you feel you can’t handle it yourself, get help and use the resources that are available to you.”
“I’m happier because my life is more balanced”.
Oliver started gambling when he was just 23 years old.
When 23-year-old Oliver first started gambling, a typical night at the casino was strictly entertainment and, in his own words, “pretty tame.” He and his girlfriend liked poker and blackjack. “We would limit ourselves to about $200 each. When we lost, whether it was two minutes or two hours later, we would leave.”
At the height of Oliver’s gambling problem, a ‘typical night out’ was anything but. “I would go to the casino by myself after work and blow whatever money I could get my hands on – usually about $2,000 to $3,000 at a time. I’d stay until morning and then struggle to stay awake at work. I’d do it all over again as soon as I had put in my eight hours. Sleep was limited to lunch and whenever I could pull over on the side of the highway. It was dangerous, and in retrospect, I’m surprised and grateful that I never caused an accident.”
Oliver realized that gambling was becoming a problem when it started to affect his day-to-day life. “I saw my friends and family less and put off doing chores and running errands to make time for the casino. On weekends, I would wake up extra early so I’d have more time to gamble. And rather than accepting losses, I would try to chase them back, or bet in larger amounts to try to win back what I had lost. Gambling was no longer a pastime. I considered it a business venture.”
Oliver reflects on what gambling first offered him and why he got in so deep.
“As ironic as it may sound, I initially chose gambling because it gave me a sense of control.”
The idea that my fate (winning or losing) was based solely on the decisions I made at the table appealed to me greatly. Eventually it became my release, my escape. When I was stressed out from work, family life, or from friction in relationships, I turned to gambling to clear my mind.”
One Saturday morning, Oliver came home from a night of gambling and couldn’t sleep. “My mind was racing, thinking about everything that I had once been proud of, everything that made me who I was: a good brother, a good son, a good friend; someone who is dependable, responsible, and who others could turn to for reassurance or insight. It was then I realized I had lost things money couldn’t replace, things that had defined me. I had lost my sense of self. It was the saddest day of my life and one that I will always remember. A few hours later I called my sister and could only manage to blurt out four words, ‘I need to stop.’”
Oliver says that admitting, and then facing, his gambling problem was one of the hardest things he had to do. “I won’t lie to you – it’s not easy, but there is hope. Chances are, if you’re in the position I was in, you feel a loneliness so heavy and dark that you fear you’ll never come out of it. The truth is, you are not alone. The first step is yours and yours alone to take, but after that, you’ll be surprised at how many people will help you. No matter how deep you’re in, no matter how much of your life gambling has eaten away at, none of these things are irreversible. Money can be made and lives and relationships can be rebuilt over time.”
At first, Chen thought gambling was boring.
“I was ashamed of gambling because it was no good for my wife and children,” Chen says, but rather than stop, admits he was getting worse and worse. Chen believed he could make money by gambling.
“I had a good business, looked after my family and my in-laws but, then, when business slowed down, I thought I could make up the difference by gambling.”
The first time Chen visited a casino, more than 20 years ago, he was bored. “My wife thought I was working too hard so she suggested I go on an excursion to Atlantic City. I had never gambled before because it was illegal in Hong Kong.”
The plane left Toronto at 6 a.m. “Everybody was smiling because they hoped they were going to make money. But when I got to the casino, it didn’t seem very exciting. I didn’t know how I was going to spend a whole day there. “I used my money, $250, slowly to make sure it would last until I could leave.” Then, at the end of the day, with his last bet, he won $500. “I was so happy. When you win the first time you play, you think it’s easy to get money by gambling.” Chen says his wife warned him that it wasn’t that easy and that he shouldn’t count on winning again. But when business slowed down a few weeks later, he went back to Atlantic City.
“I thought maybe I’d be lucky again. The second time, I took $500 and lost all of it.”
In the early years, he was gambling only three or four times a year, but eventually began going more and more frequently and, little by little, losing more money every time. “I was out of control for the last four or five years,” Chen says. “I supported my family but I spent all the extra money we had.” His wife complained because he wasted so much money and complained because he went out so often. She wanted him to invest extra money in his business and spend his spare time with his family. “I was ashamed of gambling because it was no good for my wife and children,” Chen says, but rather than stop, admits he was getting worse and worse. “Then I got lucky and saw a little newspaper ad that asked a few questions about gambling. When I looked at my answers, I thought ‘Oh my God, I’ve got a problem.’” I called the number in the ad and was referred to Chinese Family Services. With their help, little by little I began to understand that it was me making my life worse and only I could make it better.
That was five years ago. It was tough but with the help of counsellors and the support of my family, I got better day by day. Now, I am happy.”
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