I come from a family of criminals and addicts, so it’s fair to say that growing up, my moral compass was off. I started drinking and drugging around the age of 14, but ultimately, it would be gambling that would eventually lead me to despair.
The tendency toward gambling started early. Back in primary school my friends and I played a game where we used to throw coins against a wall. Whoever owned the coin that landed closest to the wall, collected everybody else’s. Those coins were given to me by my mum to buy my lunch each day, but I would lose them all trying to win everybody else’s. Some days I would win, and I would eat like a king. But other times I would have nothing, and go without lunch the entire day. I think that’s where it all started. As I got older there were times of the year of course, such as the Melbourne Cup, where everybody placed a bet or two. At school we all thought we were so clever talking about who was placed to win the cup, but really, none of us had any idea.
It wasn’t until I graduated at the age of 18 that things began to shift into dangerous territory with my gambling. I went to the local pub and put something small in the card machine, maybe only five dollars. But straight away I got a royal flush. I remember collecting my winnings, ringing my friend, and telling him to ‘get down here’. I had just won a heap of money and we were going to party. That was it, the beginning of the end. From that day onward, I never stopped chasing that feeling, until I got into my forties and into recovery.
As I said earlier, I started with a relatively low moral compass. But over the years I became worse. I was already a liar, but I became an even worse liar. I became a thief. One of my favourite quotes from a guy I know in the rooms now is ‘stealing with consent’. What that means is that I borrowed money off people without any intention of ever paying it back. Sure, I never really stole in the typical sense of the word — I just borrowed money. But when this man questioned whether I’d ever had any intention of paying it back, I realised that I hadn’t. I’d stolen, it was as simple as that. I’m terrified to think about what the losses would amount to if I were to calculate them — I don’t want to think about it. When I first started gambling, I was on Centrelink, so I would gamble the small amounts I was receiving every fortnight. But by the time the obsession to gamble was finally removed from me, I was on a six-figure salary working in finance.
I’ve said this in meetings many times before: I remember those times when I was gambling and feeling a desperate desire to lose. Because I knew that the more I won, the longer I was going to be there. I remember one time going to work on a Thursday morning, and not getting home until Sunday. I’ve got a wife and three children, and they just didn’t see me for the entire weekend because I was too busy drinking, drugging and gambling.
My main platform of choice was poker machines, but I would bet on two flies crawling up the wall. It made no difference to me. I would arrive at my favourite venue and put the largest note that I had into a machine. If I went up to the bar and there was a queue, I would place a bet on the automatic TAB terminal next to it because I couldn’t physically stand in that venue and not be in action. It was almost like I was vibrating and I couldn’t physically stay still. Even standing in the line waiting for a beer at the bar I had to be actively gambling. So many times I would get home with that ticket from when I was in the queue still in my pocket — I never even checked to see if it won or lost, because it was irrelevant, I just needed to be gambling.
I ended up in a well-paid job in finance as a statistical data analyst, so I had a good grasp of statistics and odds. Yet, I’d still play knowing that statistically, I had almost zero chance of winning. I remember ringing the gambling helpline at one point and having a conversation with the person on the other end who tried to explain the odds and percentages of winning versus losing. But I knew it already, as I was well aware. What I wanted to know was how do I stop? Unfortunately they didn’t have the answers, and suggested self-exclusion as something that might help. I actually did self exclude once, but I still walked into the same venues and played the same machines at the same rate and no one ever said anything to me. At the time I thought it was the venue’s fault, but today I know it was me. I can’t rely on anybody else to stop me from gambling except myself.
On the 23rd of December 2016, I was supposed to meet my wife and kids at home. We were going out with another couple and their son for a Christmas dinner. I was working that day, and was adamant that I wasn’t going anywhere other than home once the day was over. But, one of the guys came up and told me that given it was the last working day of the year, we were all doing a half day and heading down for a beer before we went home for Christmas. I thought that was a sensational idea. I had one beer, which turned into a lot of beers, and I finally caught the train home, arriving at exactly the right time for my family to be already gone.
We had an electronic safe in the wardrobe with a large amount of cash in it. Being a compulsive gambler, I had already worked out how to access the master code, which only my wife supposedly knew. If you want to get something done, find a compulsive gambler, put money behind them and they’ll get it done. I accessed the money and went to the local pub. After a while I decided I wanted to change venues. I was nervous my wife would catch me, obviously, but at that point I was almost done caring. On top of that, whilst I was out, a friend of mine’s wife rang me and told me that he had been diagnosed with cancer that day. So immediately, in my mind I had an excuse — I had to take him out! It wasn’t my fault anymore, I had a good reason. So, I rang a few of our other mates, picked my friend up and took him to the local club. I dropped him off at home, drunk, at 2:30 in the morning. Driving intoxicated, I went to another venue to continue to gamble.
When I got home at around five in the morning on the 24th of December my wife said, ‘I’m done. I’ve had enough of you and your shit’. I’d taken it too far, too many times and she told me to get out. My wife runs a business, and the unit we had above it was empty at the time, so I went and stayed there for a few days.
I had enough money to stay drunk, and went to the local pub on Christmas Eve. If you want to see true desperation, go into a VIP room on Christmas Eve — it’s not a pleasant place. My wife let me come around on Christmas Day to see the kids, but I didn’t arrive until 10am, so I missed them opening their presents that year. I stayed for a few hours and went back to the unit and continued to drink very, very heavily all Christmas Day. When I woke up on Boxing Day I was broke, and broken. I made a decision right at that moment that it would be better off for everyone if I was no longer alive, because I couldn’t stop — I’d tried everything.
My wife took care of all my money to try and keep me from gambling it all. I never got paid into my own account, but every time I got a pay increase or a bonus I would divert it into a secret account. I would get payday loans or credit cards or borrow money. It was never ending the way I would access money. So, I decided that I was done.
For background, I’m not the type of person who listens to music or the radio whilst driving — I just don’t, never have. But that day I got in my car and somehow the radio had been left on. Literally, as I started the car and the radio came on, it was playing an ad for South Pacific Private. It was the ad that goes, ‘I’ve lost all the rent money, but I don’t have a problem. I can’t afford to eat this week, but I don’t have a problem’, or words to that effect. I remember thinking ok, I will ring this place and if by some freak of nature, whatever it is that they’re selling works, great.
When I got to SPP, it was my belief that I had a gambling problem but I needed help to do it ‘properly’. I didn’t want to stop gambling, I just wanted to know how I could regulate myself. Of course, at SPP I was forced to address the alcohol and drug issues along with gambling. When I said I wanted to learn how to drink, drug and gamble like everybody else, it was quite a good joke, but I ended up learning that the only way that I can regulate any of my addictions is to not partake. At that point I was broken, and whatever my therapists said to me to do, I would just do it.
Before SPP, I had no experience with recovery of any kind. I’d never seen a therapist, never spoken to a psychologist and I’d never been to a recovery meeting of any sort. And yet here I was, in what I believe is the best treatment centre in Australia, with whom I believe to be the best therapist in the history of therapists, running my Changes group. I didn’t know how special that was at the time, but I know and I appreciate it so much today.
When I talk about my recovery, I often say that I don’t resent or have any problem with publicans, pubs, clubs, or casinos. They’re exactly the same now as they were six years ago. The only thing that has changed is me. I say it regularly at meetings: I don’t have a problem with gambling, I don’t have a problem with alcohol and I don’t have a problem with drugs. I have a problem with me and the symptoms of that problem for me are compulsive gambling, drug use and alcoholism. If I treat ‘me’, the rest is not a problem.
Today, after chucking in a 26-year-long career in finance, I’m now a counsellor. South Pacific Private saves lives. There’s no ifs, buts or maybes. If I hadn’t walked through those doors, I would be underground today.