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Thursday 8 January 2015

NSW Gambling Help: It Takes Guts

Gambling is SUCH a difficult topic to share thoughts on - that's because the shame associated with it is so private, the pain in the grief caused by those affected so deep, the guilt felt by those in its grip so raw and kinda scary. That whole feeling of helplessness can be overwhelming.

I know this because Josie's Juice readers have told me so.

In a series of re-posts of this particular post written for NSW Gambling Help, many private messages straight to the Josie's Juice inbox ensued, each story more heartbreaking and honest than the next.

I gave readers the opportunity to speak their mind, anonymously if they preferred. Many took that opportunity, with some sharing the post with loves ones, so they could anonymously give their own, firsthand feedback. And it was as honest as it gets.

Says Jim* (all names changed):

"I knew I was in deep when I became such an expert in lying to the partner, I started to not know where the truth stopped and the lies begun. I started to weave such elaborate tales, I was ashamed of my lying expertise. It simultaneously broke my heart; how could I have sunk so low? How could I betray the people (my wife and kids) who I loved the most? And yet, here I was doing it daily, saying I was doing overtime when I was at my local, spending hours there in a pokie daze. One night, I broke down to my wife when she questioned what has happened to our 'emergency' money. I could not lie. I confessed it all. We hugged, we cried (but that was well after she got exceptionally angry with me, and I cannot blame her). And then, I promised I'd seek help. And I did. Well, I took the first step, which I know is often the biggest - and most difficult - step of all. But I know I am now on the right path."

The stories got more honest with each message. This one, from Harry* had me actually feeling grateful we live in a country that cares so much for those how want to see help.

Says Harry*: "Our second child was just born, and I was feeling the pressure. Not only was I sleep deprived in trying to help settle our older child - who is only a baby himself, he just turned 1 - but I was feeling the pressure of a one-income home. I decided on one particularly down afternoon that I would try my luck at increasing my week's wages, doubling them even. How hard could it be? A few buck on the pokies - done, easy, then I'd go home.

Nope. How wrong I was. A 'few bucks' here and there turned into my entire week's pay packet. Before I knew it, when my partner asked me why her EFTPOS card was declined when buying nappies, I had to fess up. It was so very hard. I was mortified, embarrassed, angry (at myself) and ashamed, all rolled into one. I could barely look my partner in the face. But… I had to man up. I had to tell her the truth. After telling me how disappointed she was, she marched me straight to the phone and to a gambling helpline. It was the best and most significant phone call I ever made. The journey is slow, but the help is immediate. I am so grateful something like this even exists. I am so grateful there is help to help myself. I am getting there, and we all are, as family, together."

Gambling does not discriminate amongst the genders, either. Sue* shared her story also.

"Gambling for me went hand in hand with depression. I was feeling SO low, at such a horrible point in my life, so sad and lonely and hating my life and job. My relationship had just broken up so I felt more alone than ever. And so, I'd head to my local club after work for a meal and to be around people, even though I hated being around people and conversing. And so, heading over to the poker machines felt ideal. I’d escape my solo-ness at the dinner, to go to more 'socially acceptable' part of the club to be solo, the pokie area. It was here I became entrenched in the whole gambling setting: I’d just sit there with a blank stare and not interact much at all, just to get that little buzz (which then became a bigger thrill) when the pokies clicked over to a win. I knew I was in trouble when I barely had money for groceries. I am yet to seek help, but I will. I know it's kind of urgent."

And this one, from Peter.*

"Although I am not a gambler, the best advice I ever heard was this: 'If you win big the first time, it's the worst thing that can happen. Because when you do, you get the taste. And once you get the taste, you will want to keep satisfying that itch to win. I am so glad that when I had a 'casual flutter' on the horses I lost. Best win ever, actually."

With Australians spending nearly $12 billion a year on poker machines and three quarters of people who have a serious problem with gambling play the pokies, the occasional punt can be seen as part of the cultural fabric of Australia – you have a go and try your luck at your local. But, as we can see from the real-life stories above, this is a huge concern Australia-wide and it's not a matter to be treated flippantly.

Statistics show that between 8-17% of people with a gambling problem seek professional help (of any kind), and this subset of people tends to be those who have hit rock bottom and are in crisis. And this group is far more likely to have a problem with gaming machines than any other form of gambling.

Almost half of people seeking help suffer from anxiety and depression, and around one third of help seekers have a problem with alcohol.

While it's evident from discussions we want to break down the stigma, we still have a long way to go. Feel free to use this blog post as a way to start the gambling acknowledgement process, and share your own stories. You can email or comment anonymously. You will be surprised at just how good this first step feels. Help is at hand, and it’s not far away at all.

It’s also free. You can learn more at www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au 

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