by Lachlan McKenzie
My first job involved lots of travel to country towns with not much to do after work. But the pub was always open. So I’d have a meal, a couple of beers and a punt on the pokies or horses.
I realised early on that my relationship with gambling was different to those who could bet $5 then walk away. I was already gambling with my mates but the solitary travel was when my gambling really started to get out of control. The boredom and loneliness were definitely triggers, but then I found myself gambling even when I was at home.
A few drinks and a few bets
I couldn’t walk past a pokies venue on my way home from the train station. I’d stop, have a few bets, have a drink. The more I drank the more I’d play the pokies. It got to the point where my partner said, ‘We’re moving’.
I was mostly gambling on the pokies, but also on sport and horses. I never had that massive win that gets people hooked. It was just fun to go to a pub with a couple of mates, have a few beers and forget about whatever else was happening. Looking back, I was definitely depressed and gambling was an escape.
'The more I drank the more I’d play the pokies.
If you’re not enjoying what you’re doing in your life, you really hang on to something that gives you happiness. At first it was a relief, but after a while I felt so trapped. I was addicted and didn’t know how to stop. I wanted to go back to uni so I could change careers but didn’t have the money because of my gambling.
Trial and error
I realised how bad it had become when my mates were buying houses and looking to have kids and here I was without two cents to my name. Some people can tell you the time and the day they stopped gambling. I can’t. I had so many relapses. I’d go two weeks without gambling and then I’d relapse. I’d have to tell my partner, which was just so hard. I’d go into a depression for a week.
' …here I was without two cents to my name.'
It’s trial and error till you figure out what works for you. I tried a couple of different things but eventually I found a counsellor through Gambler’s Help.
The first conversation I had with her she said, ‘Well, what do you want to do?’ I said I still wanted to go to the pub with my mates and be able to put a bet on. I wanted it to be $50 and that’s it. And she’s like, ‘Okay, let’s work on that’. Next time she’d ask how I went and I’d say, ‘Nup’. And the next time was the same.
That was the best thing. She let me figure it out for myself. I remember saying, ‘I can’t do it. I can’t stick to a limit. I’ve got to stop’.
Calculating the odds
I really recommend counselling. It can be really intimidating to walk into a room and talk about your problems, especially for a young bloke who may see it as a sign of weakness. You’ve been avoiding reality for a long time and then you have to face it, which can be daunting.
'I can’t do it. I can’t stick to a limit. I’ve got to stop.'
It didn’t happen instantly and it took a lot of professional help and hard work but I did stop gambling. Some of the little things can be the hardest. I didn’t enjoy watching football for two years because I was always calculating the odds. If a backman kicked the first goal I’d be thinking, ‘That would be between $36 and $40 and I would’ve had $50 on it, so I could have made almost two grand’.
Helping others to help yourself
As part of my recovery, I became a volunteer at the Peer Connection program with Gambler’s Help. I helped others struggling with gambling, which also helped my own recovery. I now work there as a senior health promotion worker. I can genuinely say I love my work, which includes educating the community about the harm gambling can cause and how to seek help.
'I helped others struggling with gambling, which also helped my own recovery.'
If I was talking to my younger self, I think I’d talk about how important it is to reach out. That probably upset my family the most – that I couldn’t talk to them about what was going on. I created a lot of heartache for myself and others. Then again, if I hadn’t gone through what I did, I wouldn’t have the empathy and understanding I have for the people I work with now.