Posted by: breathliftlive | 08/01/2011

How to tell

There are many different ways to tell if someone has a problem with gambling. What can seem like an innocent or harmless hobby can actually be something a lot more sinister. Many reasons are given by the gambler – stress release, addictive personality, trying to get out of bad financial situations etc. It becomes a problem when the gambling starts to affect them or those around them.

Most signs are quite obvious, however, in my case they were obvious to me later. At the time I think I wanted to believe what he was saying, believe that something like this wasn’t happening to me, believe that he wasn’t this person. I think I was also a little naive. I was fortunate enough to to grow up with no direct contact with any form of addiction so perhaps I thought these things only ever happened to other people. I also couldn’t (and still don’t) understand how someone could be addicted to something like a poker machine!

The major indication I saw regarding Tim’s gambling (which is hindsight was so clearly obvious) was that he never seemed to have any money. He would get his weekly pay and within a day or two, there’d be nothing left. He gave a range of ‘reasons’ why he didn’t have any money – bills, owed a friend some money, work underpaid him, money was stolen from his wallet, his entire wallet was stolen, he bought me a present, he bought a family member a present, he must have spent more than he realised at the shop/pub/night out….. the list was endless and I was amazed at the number of stories he could come up with. They will go to extremes to cover up the problem.

The thing about a gambling addiction is there doesn’t tend to be any physical signs like there would be with drug and alcohol addiction. Whether they realise they have a problem or not, they can become distant, angry, manipulative, moody and they will lie…. a lot. Sometimes, if questioned, they will become incredibly defensive. I would ask Tim if he had a problem and he would carry on and completely fly off the handle, a total overreaction to something that I felt was a simple question. I remember thinking “if you don’t have a problem, why are you getting so upset?”.

I would find the sign in slips from RSL’s or ATM receipts from pubs and ask the questions, only to again be met with a total overreaction.

We would fight about it almost daily and a lot of the time he would somehow manage to blame me! For example, he would say I spend too much on clothes (I had a very well paying full time job of my own and didn’t rely on his money!!). When he wasn’t trying to blame me he would try the guilt trip. The amount of times I’ve been told “no, I’m not gambling. I was buying you a present and now you’ve ruined my surprise!”. Of course I would feel terrible….. and of course, there was never any present.

It started consuming my life and I wasn’t even the one with the problem! I would hide it from my friends and family. I would check up on him all the time. I would check his phone. I would hide my purse. I would repeatedly check my bank account. I would drive the long way home from work so I could pass pubs/bars etc to see if he was there. I would ring him a million times if he was even slightly late. I questioned everything he did. I would check every day that my important personal belongings were still where I’d left them. It became a 24/7 thing for me and I became angry, suspicious and totally unable to trust anything he said or did.

We had to live off my wage alone because he would spend his entire pay and he lost jobs due to stealing. We would eventually change our finances so that his pay would go into my bank account which he could not access. He stole my cards, stole money from my purse, stole money from others, borrowed money from friends and work mates until the debts were ridiculous (and yes, he’d lie to them about why he needed the money).

There’s no easy road and there’s definitely no quick fix. I always questioned why he wouldn’t stop, even for me. I judged how much he cared for and love me by his behaviour and I now know this was wrong. One thing I do know for sure is that until that penny drops, until they truly believe they have a problem (and aren’t just telling you what you want to hear), you cannot fix it or help them. That saying “you can’t help someone who won’t help themselves’ is so true.

As the partner or family member of a problem gambler you need to make some decisions. For starters, if there is ANY sort of abuse, whether it be mental, physical or emotional, you don’t deserve it, it’s not your fault and you DO NOT have to put up with it.

If you feel you are only staying with them because you think by leaving it will make things worse, don’t. Walking away is possibly one of the hardest decisions to make but if it’s the right decision for you and for your family then you need to make it. I chose to stay with Tim because deep down I knew he wasn’t a bad person, he just made some awful decisions. I knew (or hoped) he could get through it but HE had to do it. I had to stop helping him and I had to stop enabling him.

I left a couple of times and threatened to leave a million, but I always went back. Tim had lost most of his friends by this stage and he said he needed me. You can give all the ultimatums you like but it won’t work. I truly felt horrible about leaving. I felt guilty but he also made me feel guilty.

My point is, if you know your partner/family member has a gambling problem and you have decided you can’t stay, then leave. Nobody would think any less of you, it won’t make you a bad person and whilst you may feel bad it’s not your fault.  If you decide you want to stand by their side because you truly believe it can work, then you fight. You fight for you, for them, for your family. Be prepared for some pretty low lows and some hard times and hard truths. I promise you though, if you can come out the other side together it’s a great thing.

Email me your story to breathliftlive@hotmail.com or leave a comment x

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