Gambling Addiction is NOT a Poor Person’s Addiction. Meet Melinda L., An RN…

imageedit_1_6172885164 Courtesy of InRecovery Magazine

“My name is Melinda and I saved lives for a living.”

I was an ICU nurse and a nursing supervisor at a hospital where I had been employed for 27 years. I had earned respect, accolades and a good degree of success in my career. There are people alive today because of actions I took and decisions I made, often in a split second, to save their lives. With all of this success, I could not for the life of me stop gambling or think I could stop any more than changing the tides of the ocean.

Believe me, I tried.  In the local bookstore, I found rows and rows of books on alcoholism, drug addiction, overeating, overspending, over-sexing, over this, over that. There were entire sections dedicated to the innocent enablers who unwillingly allowed the “overs” to continue their destructive behavior. There were no manuals for the hapless gambler.

I would sit in my car, slam the steering wheel, lower my head and sob. My gas gauge was on empty, and that familiar nauseating feeling of disgust and terror would return. Then, as always, I would form a momentary sense of resolution and regurgitate the lines of an old sermon filled with rallying cries: “I can’t do this anymore . . . this is not me . . . I’m not a caged animal on a treadmill . . . I am better than this!” Each time I spoke these words, I had the feeling that this time I would stop gambling.

Less than 24 hours later, my car was back in the casino parking lot. It was as if I had no control; I realize now that I didn’t. This continued for close to five years until my life came crashing down. Due to choices I’d made to feed my addiction, I lost my job of 27 years, damaged relationships with friends and family, forfeited an insane amount of money and nearly lost my life. I also lost perhaps the most precious thing of all; time. Time I can never get back wasted in front of slot machines.

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Slot machines were designed with one goal: to make an addict out of everyone. The longer a person plays, the more money they lose, until it is all gone. In the midst of my gambling addiction, my sensible way of thinking about money all but vanished. I would drive an extra four miles to save $2 on paper towels, and yet drop $500 in a slot machine. I kept 50 cents in the console of my car for enough gas to get home. It was often the only money I had left at the end of a day of gambling.

One time when I was so engrossed in my machine, I failed to hear a man’s call for help when his mother passed out. I had performed several Good Samaritan acts in public, but I had a good thing going that particular Sunday afternoon; I was winning. That should have been the time I faced reality, but it wasn’t. I had two more years of self-destruction, convoluted thinking, and unhinged behavior ahead of me.  I was just as impaired by gambling as a bar patron who has had too much to drink. After about eight drinks, a bartender would no doubt cut them off; after all, they might hurt themselves, or worse, kill someone. When a patron’s judgment is impaired, the responsible thing would be to cut them off.

No such limits exist at the casino. Every time I went gambling, it was as though I was walking into the Cheers bar. The greeters knew my name when I usually gambled and the machine I liked; I’m sure they were also aware of how often I lost. No one ever came over and suggested, “Take a break, go home, take care of your kids.” There were no safety nets in place; just a few signs with a number to call if you thought you had a gambling problem.

I hit rock bottom and stopped gambling on April 29, 2012. My hard work was just beginning. My life was in shambles. I had no job, no money and no direction. Nursing was all I had ever known and loved, and I had jeopardized my license. There is a reason why gambling addiction has the highest rate of suicide of any addiction. One in five addicts attempt suicide, and many succeed. There is only so much cocaine, heroin or alcohol you can put into your body before ending up in a morgue. Gambling has no such constraints; when it gets bad, suicide seems to be the only answer.

Fortunately, I knew I had to live. I had to be a mother to my children.

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As I slowly emerged from a cloud of profound shame and despair, I began going to Gamblers Anonymous meetings and reached out to organizations I had avoided in the past. One of those organizations was a nonprofit in Washington, DC, called Stop Predatory Gambling. Their mission is to stop the injustice and inequality created by government-sponsored gambling. I became their official National Victim’s Advocate, a voice for those who remain silent and in the shadows due to social stigma and discrimination. I began speaking all over the country and joined in the fight against gambling expansion. The underlying message was simple: Gambling addiction is a beast that destroys families and individuals; it is fundamentally wrong for our government to prey upon the vulnerable to fill their coffers. My goal was to bring advocacy, raise awareness and reform for this highly misunderstood addiction.

“I once had a one-on-one conversation with a senator from Illinois. “You don’t look like a gambler,” he said. “What do you think one looks like?” I replied. “We look like who we are: your neighbor, sister, father, spiritual leader, co-worker. The slot machine didn’t look back at me and say, ‘Gee, you are a bit too put together, I’m not going to make you an addict.”

Gambling operates on the Pareto Principle: 90% of profits come from 10% of the gamblers. These are not your casual weekend night-on-the-town gamblers, they are the most vulnerable: the elderly, poor, women and minorities. “Casino Cafes” located every few miles in strip malls with cutesy names like Stella’s and Dolly’s are blatantly predatory to women. Many states and municipalities view gambling as an economic panacea, yet they miss the hidden costs: child neglect, crime and ultimately the need for state assistance. Gambling addiction tears families apart and ruins lives.

Gambling addiction is now recognized as a disease and may be covered by insurance and have benefits that cover treatment. That’s the good news. Unfortunately, the number of gambling addicts is rising at an alarming rate. In Illinois alone, there are nearly 12,000 people on the voluntary self-exclusion list – just an estimated 10% of the state’s problem gamblers.  Gambling nearly killed me, and I never saw it coming.  Things need to change. We have far to go before the problem of compulsive gambling is resolved.

Change begins when even one addicted gambler finds recovery.

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Melynda Litchfield has been a registered nurse for over 30 years, working in ICU, nursing administration and now home care. She is the National Victim’s Advocate for Stop Predatory Gambling, mans the GA hotline twice a week and speaks on the predatory effects of gambling and the nature of the gambling industry. Melynda is the proud mother of three children and is active in community organizations, including her church council.
www.stoppredatorygambling.org

**I have known and worked with Melinda and Les Bernal Founder of Stop Predatory Gambling about the expansion and impact of the growing offerings of gambling sponsored by the Oregon State Lottery and when I lived in Oregon until late 2013. Please visit there website by the link above and see how gambling has a negative impact on your State and Community today…

Catherine Lyon

*WHAT Addicted Gambling Looks Like Through The Eyes of Another*

**I happen to come across this post that was left on a website I post some of my Recovery Blog posts to, and it broke my *HEART*…….I could FEEL the Pain, Hurt, and Sadness in the writers words. I right away thought of my own Husband, of whom I hurt so badly when I was still active in my own gambling addiction!

So, I thought I’d share this so many can get a different take on this addiction, other then my own was as the Addicted Person. I did post an answer to this person, and gave them some good websites for them to take a look out for additional help and support for her father.****

“The Cruelest Lies Are Often Told In Silence” By: Robert Louis Stevenson

so my dad just admitted that he has a serious gambling problem… (self.problemgambling)

I hope it’s okay for me to post here just to see if anyone has any words of wisdom.  Maybe some other problem gamblers can help me see it from that perspective.  Anyway, my dad just admitted to this compulsion/addiction?/problem…

And now I can’t really believe how long I allowed myself to not see the truth.  My dad is 65 and I’m 36.  I haven’t lived at home since I was 18, which is about the same time gambling became legal in my home state and also the same time my dad started gambling.

He retired from a pretty good job about 10 years ago in his mid-50s.  He got a lump-sum payout at that time – hundreds of thousands of dollars. This was supposed to be my parents’ retirement fund.   Five years later, it was all gone.  But he said that he lost it when the stock market crashed about that time, and I believed him. 

So he went back to work.  Long story short, he stole money from his employer and eventually was convicted of a felony.  He did not serve any jail time and was put on probation.  He told me this was all a big misunderstanding and I BELIEVED HIM. 

My parents were out of money and their house (which should have been paid off by this time) was mortgaged to the tune of 350,00 dollars.  They were able to sell it for just over this amount.  Meanwhile, my husband and I had a home in the neighboring state that we could not sell (though I had gotten a job in a faraway state).   My parents moved into my house about a year ago.  They told me they “couldn’t” sign a lease or set up a direct deposit of their rent into my checking account because they wanted to maintain residency in their home state for the purposes of bankruptcy AND I BELIEVED THEM. 

About a week ago I got a call from my mother.  She had given my dad a huge check (thousands of dollars) to mail to me to pre-pay their rent, so that when they file for bankruptcy it would look like they had less money than they actually do.  (I did not know to expect this check).  Instead, he took it and spent it at one of the casinos (there are about 5 pretty near to my house/where they live now). 

When I type this all out I feel very, very foolish for not having recognized earlier that my dad had a problem with gambling.  I knew he went to the slot machines a lot back when my parents had money, but I thought they had stopped years ago.  Now I learn that he’s been going recently – and, what seems even crazier to me, my mother actually took him a few times! 

My dad seems pretty committed to recovery right now – he’s going to as many Gamblers Anonymous meetings as are available in his area (a lot, since there are so many casinos around).  I feel very relieved to know he is at least being honest. 

I am (and I understand this is irrational) right now more upset with my mom than my dad.  I feel like my dad has at least admitted he has a problem and is seeking help.  On the other hand, my mom seems to be unwilling to be honest with herself or me.  She went gambling with my dad  A LOT, and she played along with a series of lies they told me for years and years, including about financial matters that directly impact me (since they are renting my house from me and my husband).  Now she says that she feels my father has “abused” her.  But she played a role too! 

On the other hand I recognize that my perception of all this is a bit skewed right now.  It really doesn’t make any more sense for me to react with blame to my mom than toward my dad.  Maybe I actually blame myself for a lot, even though that also doesn’t make any sense.  Looking back I see that I wanted so BADLY to have the happy family that I thought I was visiting every few months, that I kept bailing my parents out and also refusing to see the truth. 

Thank you for allowing me to post this and I am sorry it is so long. I would like to go to a Gam Anon meeting but the nearest one is almost two hours away.  Still, maybe I can go pretty soon.  For now it’s just a relief to post this so some random internet people can read it! 

TLDR: My dad is addicted to gambling.  He squandered my parents’ life savings, stole from his employer and family members, and has put my finances at risk.  This went on for years but he just admitted it and now I am simultaneously relieved to hear the truth but frustrated with myself and my mom for not admitting it to ourselves earlier.