MNAPG Northern Light Spring 2022

At a very young age, I remember people telling me, “You’re lucky. You’re just like your grandma.”

Well, my grandmother was a compulsive gambler. But gambling didn’t have devastating consequences to her life because she could only gamble the set amount of money my grandfather gave her. Her gambling never caused her to go without food or to miss rent.

I was raised in a very dysfunctional family. My mother used drugs and would let drug dealers and users sexually abuse her for drugs. As a result, I grew up with no boundaries and would do everything I could to not feel anything.

Until my mid 30s, I went to casinos every now and then, maybe once a year. It was fun. But then two things happened. First, I got divorced, and I started going to the casino more. And second, I got a big win.

When I first won big, I remember thinking this should be my job, that I could never make money this fast. My bets got higher to get the same dopamine rush.

It didn’t take long before I knew I had a gambling problem, but I didn’t know how to label it. I called myself a “gamblaholic” because I didn’t know of any other term. Nobody told me to get help.

I spent a six-figure court settlement in the span of three months and lived in seven places in less than a year. I dated men and essentially had sex for money so that I could continue to gamble.

It got to the point where every time I was driving back to the casino, I’d think about ways I could hurt herself. The wanting to die consumed me. I thought, “If I win, I’ll live. If I don’t, then I can always commit suicide.” I tried to commit suicide three times.

I needed and wanted help, so I googled gambling help in Minnesota. I called and had an intake meeting with an outpatient counselor. She highly recommended that I go for inpatient help at Vanguard Center for Gambling Recovery. However, I had joint custody and after a tumultuous divorce my ex would not take my son beyond the schedule. I wanted so badly to get help but felt stuck.

 

A week after I tried to hang myself, my final suicide attempt, my 18-year-old son finally said to me, “Mom, please go get help.” He said he would take care of the house and his brother so that I could go. I can honestly say that he saved my life. I had no more excuses to not get help.  

My gambling often went hand-in-hand with using meth. Thankfully, Vanguard was able to help with both issues. There is no question in my mind that getting over gambling is much harder than getting over drugs, even though gambling doesn’t involve ingesting anything into your body.

Indeed, there is so much that people don’t understand about gambling addiction, even in health care. I work in nursing, and when I talk to the providers about gambling disorder, most say they never received training on the topic. I tell them about the high suicide rate, that you can’t wake up and be sober as you can from alcohol, and that when you look at your checking account, it’s still negative. These providers may see people with gambling problems but have no idea where to send them for help.

I’ve talked to my pastor often and try to share my story at church, where they most often talk about drug and alcohol addiction. I am willing to share my story to anyone if it can help somebody.

If anyone reading this wonders if they have a problem and are on the fence about what to do, here is what I would say. Go online and learn about gambling addiction. Take the 20-question screening to see how many questions you answer “Yes” to. Then, if it’s appropriate, seek help, whether it’s searching for “Minnesota gambling help,” looking into Gambler’s Anonymous or calling the state’s helpline (1-800-333-HOPE). People who are struggling should also know that there are programs to help them financially so they can get treatment.

My story is not very pretty, but I am truly grateful for my addiction because it has turned my life around. My relationships are better, I’m honest and open, and am able to share things that bother me. I’m happy and working hard to earn a paycheck. I appreciate this so much more than if I didn’t have a gambling addiction and hadn’t gotten help. I have serenity.