I never gambled — or really knew much about it — until a friend suggested we go out and gamble for fun. We were both looking for a way to escape our hurts. I had just gotten divorced from an alcoholic husband and my friend had recently become a widower. I also suffered depression associated with MS, and a gambling outing helped me escape that.

Gambling allowed us to forget about everything. I didn’t have to talk to anyone. I started with maybe $60 per outing but
it escalated. Eventually, I couldn’t stop. I would always need another $100 bill. My friend (who later became my second husband) could sometimes go home making a few hundred dollars, but I never could.

I would gamble for any reason — to celebrate a good day or to help raise my spirits from a bad day. Eventually, after 11 years of gambling, I started thinking I had a gambling problem. I told my husband that I thought I had a problem, but he didn’t believe me. Neither did my in-laws, whose vacations frequently included considerable amounts of gambling.

Once I determined I needed help to keep me from gambling, I explored options. I was hesitant to join a group because I had a poor experience with Al-Anon back when I sought ways to cope with my then- husband’s alcoholism.

I ultimately found a program online that I ordered for $99. I figured I could do the program in the privacy of my own home and figured it had to have value given its cost.

Unfortunately, not being particularly savvy with computers, I needed help setting up the program. I didn’t expect that the person I would call for computer help would be a therapist, but that’s what happened. The person I ended up talking to, Dawn, would become the therapist who would lead me out of the darkness of gambling addiction.

After helping get the program set up, Dawn gently asked some additional questions. Why did I want the program? How serious was I? Had I looked into alternatives? Dawn then said she would check on me in a few weeks to see how I was doing. That started us down the path of telephone counseling, something she was able to get covered by insurance.

I really connected with Dawn, and found myself wanting to follow the program because I didn’t want to disappoint her. She was also the first therapist I had who knew anything about gambling and could explore the connection between gambling and depression.

One thing that I’ve learned about gambling addiction that’s different from other addictions is the randomness of the reward. Someone who drinks or uses drugs knows the impact it will have on them — they will get drunk or high. But gambling is so unpredictable. You could do five spins and win hundreds or lose hundreds. That unpredictability is something gambling addicts love.

I am doing well in my recovery. I lost my second husband to cancer but have not gone back to gambling. I have worked too hard to throw away my freedom from gambling.

COVID, and the related restrictions, has also actually helped me. Even when things reopened, my husband and I were too afraid to go back to the casinos.

As part of my recovery, I told my adult children about my gambling problem. That was a big deal to me. It feels so good to spend the money that I previously spent on gambling on my children and grandchildren instead. I take them out for dinner, get them birthday gifts and spend more time with them. That, not gambling, now means the world to me.

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