For a lot of us this time of year is a bit of fun. We get to slip into a frock or suit, pop on an obnoxious fascinator or horse themed tie and head to the races. Often the biggest concern is how many champagnes or beers we can have and still look relatively classy.
For others though, this time of year is far from a social festival.
A friend of mine, Mel, 34, has been with her husband Daniel, 37, for 14 years. They have two young daughters Rylee and Autumn. For eleven years Daniel played in the AFL for the Melbourne Football Club.
From the age of 16 Daniel would pop a bet on with his mates after school and in his spare time. Over the years the casual punt became less fun and more of a problem.
Daniel started living a double life and hiding a terrible and uncontrollable problem. He was addicted to gambling.
I asked Mel some questions about Daniel’s addiction and the effect it had on him and their family.
How did you find out about his problem?
I was notified by the Football Manager of his Club at the time (early 1997) that there were some concerns surrounding his gambling just prior to an article being published in The Age Newspaper about Daniel being caught gambling on AFL games which is prohibited.
How bad did the situation get for Daniel, when did he hit rock bottom?
The situation became diabolical in 2008 after Daniel retired from AFL, we had a young child and had moved interstate. Cracks began to appear, we had no money and I could never understand why that was, I trusted Daniel with the management of our finances. The colossal debt we were in and the severity of his addiction suddenly became very confronting and crippling one evening in Adelaide, early 2008 when some close friends of ours came to me, revealing just how bad things had gotten unbeknownst to me. I knew Daniel needed help far beyond my capabilities and that’s exactly the action plan we took, we got help. After a short time in a rehabilitation centre as an out-patient, we moved back home to Melbourne for family support. Twelve months after our move home, believing that the future was bright, for some reason, my gut was telling me things weren’t right. The same behaviours I had witnessed in the past, were beginning to become all too familiar and I had the overwhelming sick feeling that Daniel was gambling again. I was right, I discovered Daniel had relapsed after a raw and very shocking confrontation. My heart was ripped apart and I could barely breath, was physically sick, but I went into damage control immediately. I arranged an intervention involving close friends and family and Daniel realised then, that he in fact was not in control and agreed that it was time to get real and face his addiction head on as an in-patient in a treatment facility for 30 days that would turn his life around.
How hard was this situation for you, watching someone you love struggling with this addiction?
Seeing the man you love, trust and admire come undone, tell so many lies with such a vacant and lost expression in his eyes, was devastating. But I knew that this was not going to define my husband. I knew that he would be able to manage his addiction and that the addiction was a symptom of a traumatic history (Daniel’s father was an abusive alcoholic who left when Daniel was five). My heart empathised and I wanted to help.
There is a stigma attached to gambling, how did this affect Daniel and your family?
There is, there still is and it is very hard for people who have never experienced or have been close to someone who has been affected by addiction to understand the why’s. I was that person too until I became educated and understood that addiction does not discriminate and stems from trauma. Daniel is most likely more affected by the stigma than I am. I am really open about it as I feel it helps me to talk about it, however the work he does as an Ambassador for the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation and the AFL Players’ Association enables him to continue to be accountable. He has never hidden from his problem since he completed 30 days in rehab and he is working hard to contribute to the community to help others. We have lived by an expression we took from a Dr Seuss quote, ‘Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind’.
When and how did he seek help?
Daniel sought help in 2008 and 2009, this was via the assistance of the AFL Players’ Association, GATS a facility in South Australia that specialized in addiction (which sadly closed it’s doors in 2013) and Gamblers Help. He still attends Gamblers Anonymous meetings. But help is available in every state and a lot of it is free, so it’s not hard for people to find something near them.
What does your life look now?
We live a very honest, humble and happy life, we have since had another child! We are by no means naïve enough to think that Daniel is not in danger of becoming vulnerable and relapsing again but we have the tools in place to ensure that the chances are slim. Financially, we are still getting back on our feet but we can always earn money and are working hard to feeling that freedom again.
What would you say are the signs of a problem gambler?
Money vanishing, consistent lies as to it’s whereabouts, not knowing when to stop whether it’s at the pokies, at the races, on the phone account, anti-social behaviour, irritability, temper tantrum’s when questioned about money, depression, extreme high’s when they win, extreme low’s when they lose.
What is your advice for other people going through this right now?
Trust your gut, phone 1800 858 858 and understand you can’t do it alone, there are people who are trained to help people with a gambling addiction. Talk to family, the more support the better and know that you are only enabling if you don’t seek professional help.
How do you suggest to approach someone who is worried a friend or partner may have a gambling addiction?
My best advice is to approach with empathy and compassion, we must all remember that a gambling addiction is an illness just as depression or anxiety is. Your friend or partner may lie, cheat and steal to support the addiction but this is not about you so stay strong!
Gambling is so much more accessible now with betting apps on phones, how much harder does this make it for someone with a gambling problem?
Daniel feels for the current young generation, some of the commercials running on TV at the moment target young men & promise that if you gamble & win, you will become sexier to the opposite sex, you will be able to afford the luxuries in life you ordinarily wouldn’t be able to & you’ll have lots of friends as a result! The uglier side of gambling of course is never revealed. The free app’s & start up money being offered through certain betting agencies, we are fighting an up-hill battle unfortunately which is why education is that important for the youth of today.
Like Mel mentioned, Gambling addictions do not discriminate. Daniel sought help and is living a better life for it. He is way stronger than he thought to seek help and face his addiction head on.
If you or anyone you know has a problem with gambling there is free and confidential help available face to face, online or by phone. Learn more by calling 1800 858 858 or checking out www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au.
This is a sponsored post.