The House Always Wins

Warning: This post could trigger emotions or feelings that you may not expect. If you need to access support please call Lifeline on 13 11 14 to talk to someone.

If as a society we know “The House Always Wins” then why gamble?

It’s just a bit of harmless fun right? For many people it is, but for many others it is anything but harmless. I began playing the pokies at 18 and from that first win came a big rush and what I know now – is that a strong neural pathway was formed in my brain. That pathway was powerful and as it turned out misunderstood by everyone in my life, but more importantly misunderstood by me, but it kept me playing the machines or wanting to play for over 15 years.

I would shake my head at people that could walk past me at the club, drop their dollar in and just keep walking. I can still hear my internal voice saying “they have no clue what they are doing or how to play them.” If only I knew that they were the lucky ones, not me, they were ones that weren’t affected by them in the slightest – they could play them for fun, but most importantly they could walk away.

I’m not here to rant, judge or preach. I am just simply sharing my experiences of struggle and perhaps what I write might resonate with you. On some level we are all coping with different stuff and in different ways. Gambling addiction is shrouded in public stigma and misunderstandings. Shame keeps people firmly in the dark and stops them from seeking help. People are too afraid to be honest and vulnerable, to get the treatment they desperately need, for fear of judgement.

It makes sense to me now – why I did what I did, but at the time I just kept thinking, I’m a smart woman, why do I keep making the same mistake over and over? Why was I self-destructing? The fear of exposure was paralysing, my brain was exhausted from being totally overwhelmed all the time and the battle that raged between who I believed I was and who I desperately wanted to be.

In my search for information I attended a course yesterday that was put on for people in the health and community sector to educate them on understanding the complexities of a gambling addiction. Whilst I have done a lot of research during the last 4 years of my recovery, one final piece of the puzzle was answered.

The psychologist went into depth about what happens when the brain is under intense stress; the logical intelligent (Neocortex) part of the brain goes “offline” and the (Limbic) childlike reactive part of the brain takes over! I was amazed that this missing piece of understanding was finally given to me. I had spent years and years feeling like I was profoundly defective. I beat myself up constantly wondering why I kept resorting to gambling, like it was somehow an answer to my problems – when it was really the source of them!

Someone had once said to me “the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome!” So not only was I an addict but apparently also insane too! More shame.

Towards the end of my addiction everything had spiralled out of control and I became more and more desperate as I was completely, physically, mentally, emotionally and of course financially ruined. Had I not been pregnant with our last child I wouldn’t even be here now, I felt trapped, I wanted her so completely but I was so desperate for the pain I was in to be over. I wanted to have a rest.

I had tried to get help in the past and had failed. I felt like there was no hope, no future. I thank God that I gave it one last try.

I approached Mission Australia and got help through a program called Gambling Care. In the ACT – Relationships Australia delivers the Gambling Care program. They helped me to understand the full extent of what was going on inside me and all of the external pressure I was under. I participated in one on one counselling and joining a SMART (Self Management And Recovery Training) recovery group changed my life.

The clarity of understanding of myself and my life gave me the tools I needed to proceed forward in my world and be restored fully as the person I was before everything went wrong, and the fear and shame took over. They helped me to understand the why behind my gambling?

Today I am an active member of my community, raising my family and really hope that sharing my experiences of gambling addiction can let others out there come out from the shadows of shame and get the help they need too.