Over 20 years ago, I was introduced to the computer poker machines and well, that was the start of a horrific journey. I did not know at the time that these machines (that aren’t even real) would ruin part of my life. I remember having a go on the machines a couple of times and it had no effect on me what so ever. I just thought how silly it was putting my precious money into a machine and it being so expensive too. I just didn’t want a part of it at all. I remember seeing a friend of a friend sitting at one of these machines just transfixed and his friend describing to me how much this guy puts into those machines and loses heaps. I remember just wanting to leave and thinking ‘how can he do that?’ and how silly it was.
Fast forward a bit and I went to a dinner at a pub and the person I was with wanted to play the pokies. I did not want to but said ‘ah oh well, I’ll put a couple of dollars in’. I ended up winning $15. I said ‘that’s great, that pays for our dinner, let’s go!’. My friend didn’t want to leave but ended up agreeing to. Another time I was invited to go and I remember I played Black Rhino. I played with a friend and I remember a lady next to us who said ‘wow’ and smiled when I won something. My friend pointed out I had won $50 and he said to keep going because I was in luck! I thought, no way and pulled out my $50. I think these two moments were when I started to form a relationship with these machines.
I kind of thought ‘hmm, this isn’t bad when I need a bit of money! I just put in a couple of dollars and get money out, wow!’. A time that stands out for me is going to the venue and putting in a small amount, losing it, risking driving home when I was just on my learner’s licence, taking $2 from my daughter’s money box, going back and losing that too. I felt really awful because I had taken from my daughter’s money box. I suppose that’s when you can say I realised I was hooked.
I remember starting to hear the tunes from the machines in my head playing over and over when I wasn’t even near the pokies. I would be at home or even in bed and remember feeling the urge to gamble and it being almost unbearable. I remember going to the machines and losing all my money trying to win some just putting more and more in and losing more and more. What a vicious cycle. I’d always walk out broke. It’s funny because you’d think any normal person would say ‘damn, I’m not doing that again’ realising that it’s a very dangerous thing and to keep away from now on. That feeling fades though and the urge to play them again comes back in full force. It starts all over again. It’s that rush I was hooked on, that rush from winning, I used to forget about the sadness of losing, the feeling and hope of winning overtook that.
I do remember seeing all those lights and hearing the tunes as I walked into a venue. Oh my gosh, even when I was in the car on the way with money knowing I was about to play was so powerful and intense, overriding anything else. I loved it. I remember stealing money sometimes to replace the money I had lost that day. I’d try to juggle things around in my head like bills and food or trying to get food vouchers to replace money I had lost. Even with all this happening, I’d still go back and play those damn things. It did get to the stage at times when I really wanted to get help and stop but a short time after I would play them again. It was a cycle that I was so caught up in. I remember at times while playing a machine I would talk to it and say ‘please, c’mon!’ and think, the free games should come around soon. I used to hear a clicking noise in the machine and think that it was changing games somehow and it was time for a payout. I would almost feel the machine was human. I loved and hated it at the same time. I could never handle going with someone else because it would distract me from getting right up close to the machine and getting absorbed in. I kept going like this for years, sometimes I would be doing other things and enjoying myself, then all of a sudden that urge would come upon me. The urge was a feeling that would start up from my feet and work its way up my body then I’d feel shaky with heavy breathing and a racing heartbeat.
After a while it really hit home what was going on. These machines were taking over my life and controlling me. I started to feel that this evil thing had cut into my life and I couldn’t get rid of it. I reached a point where I wanted out. I did wonder what could replace this same feeling of excitement in my life though. I was so confused and frustrated and was so angry for ever starting to play these machines.
I stayed away for a while and told myself it would get easier, but the urge would come so strong. I remember an instance when I walked straight past a venue and fought so hard not to go in, I managed to do it but before too long I was back playing again. I had a taste of happy things in my life, the gym, Zumba and starting to really enjoy some things. I noticed that when I was playing pokies it was almost like a separate life, I was 2 different people leading 2 different lives. I was seeing that the pokies were taking my life, my happy life. I wanted to be happy all the time and enjoy everything that life had to offer.
I asked for help at a venue one day. I was so upset and the staff were great. It just so happened that there was a gaming help person in the area and they could come and see me straight away at the hotel. I went through the process of getting help. I was barred from some of the hotels in my area and they put me on to a counsellor at Uniting Care Wesley. I saw this counsellor weekly and we would talk about a wide variety of things and he did help me move on in my life tremendously. I did have a couple of downfalls along the way but they were getting less and less. After about 2 years of seeing this counsellor I felt it was time to move on. I thought I was okay and really wanted to try things on my own now. I remember he asked me to do a public speech and go to a conference but I never did it. I think inside I knew I wasn’t fully there yet.
I went along with everything on my own for a while then I remember thinking I have control now and can play these machines again. I talked myself around and told myself I wouldn’t get attracted to playing again. I did start playing again, not as much, but it still had a hold on me. I was so angry at myself for letting it happen again, and also surprised because I had counselling for so long. I ended up in a mess again. I was put on to help again, this time a counsellor from Relationships Australia. I thought I was going to be trapped into this counselling cycle and would always need them. I wanted my own strength and control. The counsellor I was seeing told me about Statewide Gambling Therapy Service when I kept on asking ‘what is this thing inside of me, I want to get it out for me forever’.
I had my first session with Sharon from Statewide Gambling. She made a lot of sense and spent 2 hours with me explaining the program. It felt really good talking to her and I trusted her. When she spoke to me about urges, I really felt like I found an answer and at last something that could help me long term. I really feel like I tried to fight this thing by myself (and did find ways to get by) but now I feel blessed that I had found something that could help me end this battle.
I was given a therapy program that went for around 7 weeks. Wow I couldn’t believe the outcome. I don’t have any urge to gamble at all, I feel like I’m healed of this long addiction. I could not understand why in the past I was able to keep away from them for so long but then out of the blue want to go play again. This helped me understand why and the tasks I did were like proving to myself I can go near the machines without touching the button and over time my confidence really grew. This program teaches you so much and at the end it’s like, you have an answer. It really did put closure on the addiction for me. I’ll never forget the last task I had, I changed my note into coins, then sat at a machine with money in a cup and I felt so in control and relaxed. Never in the entire time I had played the pokies had I ever had control. Then I sat in front of the machine, my old favourite machine, and put $50 worth of coins in and I did not have the urge to push that button. Amazing. I walked out of the pub after finishing the last task so strong and proud and on top of it all. Thank god for the program. I recommend it for anyone that wants help to get over this horrible addiction.
Thank you, Anne.