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Gary's Freedom Story

28 February 2011

At one point during the height of his addiction, Gary sat at a poker machine for 14 hours straight.

“I didn’t go to the toilet and I didn’t eat,” he remembers. “I was so fixated on what I was doing. I was ‘in the zone’ – nothing else mattered. Someone close to me could have died and I wouldn’t have cared until my money ran out.

“I’m 47, I’m single, I have no kids, I have nothing material … I had opportunities but my relationship with the pokies always came first."

A compulsive gambler from the age of 21, Gary says his descent into addiction started with a series of small wins he had with friends.

“We would put five bucks in each and have a good laugh and that was all fun, but for some reason after work I would go back and I would secretly start to put money in,” he says.

“Then I found myself waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning and going there [to play the pokies] before work.”

With his habit always funded by employment, Gary was able to keep his addiction a secret from most of his friends and family. However, the toll it was taking on his life was becoming harder for him to ignore.

Gary tried to quit numerous times. He banned himself from casinos, attended group counselling and even tried hypnotherapy. In one effort to escape his addiction he accepted a job as an English teacher in a remote rural village in Korea, but the lure of the pokies always called him back.

“I could abstain for a pretty decent period - I’m talking months and months  - but once I got that first $10 in [the poker machine], it was like the first drink to an alcoholic, I just couldn’t stop myself.”

“Every time I would press the button it was like a fix of heroin going through my body. That natural hit of adrenalin, that anticipation of the win. One time I won  $11,000, but considering that I probably put half a million dollars through the pokies, winning $11,000 is not much, is it?”

At his lowest point, after a poker-machine binge where he gambled away all of his savings, Gary became suicidal.

“I was on the highway at Dandenong in Melbourne and I was pretty close to walking out in front of a truck.”

Instead, he walked to the nearest hospital and asked to be assessed. The medical staff suggested long-term rehabilitation and Gary found himself at The Salvation Army’s Canberra Recovery Services Centre for the next seven months.

“If I hadn’t have done that, I’d be dead,” he says of The Salvation Army’s Bridge Program. “I cannot thank The Salvation Army, Canberra Recovery Services, and Gamblers Anonymous enough for my continued recovery.”

Gary is now recovering from his addiction, has banned himself from all clubs in and around Canberra, and is passionate about helping other compulsive gamblers. He has recently started a Gamblers Anonymous group in his local area.

“It’s just giving people who are suffering a place to go and a connection, they’re not alone and they can work through this [their addiction],” Gary says.

“So many of the stories in GA [Gamblers Anonymous], so many of the people are that close to committing suicide because it’s the ‘easy’ way out, but when they come to GA they know that it’s not the only way out.”

By Lauren Martin

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