The trauma of living with a compulsive gambler

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GAM-ANON, the fellowship group for family, partners and friends affected by the actions of a gambler, is separate but close, very close to Gamblers Anonymous.

“When listening to Gam-Anon members speak, we (gamblers attending Gamblers Anonymous) have found that their mood swings depended often on the outcome of the gambler’s day and in many cases, their personality became so suppressed that they became similar to the gambler”.

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Do you recognise yourself or that of your spouse or parent in the definition?

Gam-Anon Limerick has a welcome handshake for you if your life is being destroyed by someone else’s addiction to gambling.

Bob* has been a stalwart of local Gam-Anon since 1985, and knows how the roulette of wheel of life can turn full circle.

His first inkling that his wife Jean* had a rampant gambling problem was nine years into his marriage when he returned home from work to find no wife, nor sign of his boy or girl and no electricity. After a sleepless night, Bob went to work the next day with his heart in his boots, wishing and hoping and dreading.

“I ran home from work that evening to the house and there was an anonymous note waiting for me. It read: ‘Your wife has a serious gambling problem’.

To this day, I don’t know who left it for me but things began to make sense. Although I was working in Shannon for years and on great money, we didn’t have anything. Every week, I’d give the cash pay packet over to the wife to run the house and keep maybe just 10pound for myself. That was it, all I ever took, and now we had nothing”.

The past few years began to make sense, the realisation that his wife’s family had outcast him for being a ‘demon’ in-law who, allegedly, had spent his money on drink. Why Jean had used family income constantly on bogus hospital treatments for her parent family.

The truth was colder and more devastating. She had an addiction to poker machines at the casino; she’d collect the children after school and keep them with her while she fed the flashing lights with coined dreams of a big win.

Bob found his wife and children at a relative’s home, in tears and fearful.

“I love my wife. She’s a lovely person, not a monster at all – gamblers aren’t. She’s a brilliant person and I wasn’t going to throw her out and give up on her. She told me everything.

“The next Monday, we went to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting in Social Services Centre, Henry Street, and I was met by Joe* who told me about another meeting, Gam-Anon, in a separate room that he said might help me.

“I got identification with the people who were in the room, people who had suffered as I did. I’d never had that before. You are a victim as much as the gambler is.

“Myself and Jean vowed we would never fight over what had happened. To my knowledge, she has never gambled since. It’s part of what you learn at Gam-Anon, not to give the gamblers access to money, credit or cash cards, valuables in the house and since then I’ve managed everything.

“It took me six years to pay everyone off and I remember the scramble it was to get the 96 pound together to reconnect to the ESB in time for Christmas ‘84 for the kids. Ninety-six Irish pounds was a lot of money then but thank God, I got it together. I remember we had a 14” black and white TV and that’s all we had in the house but we had the happiest Christmas ever as a family together”.

Gam-Anon was immensely helpful to Bob in its lifeline and recommendations.

As with Gamblers Anonymous, there is a 12-step programme that advocates courage, humility and action in its tiers to happiness.

“Through the group we learn to admit that we are powerless over what has happened. That we are not responsible for the gambler’s problem. We learn to hope and come to believe in a power greater than ourselves and finally, that in turning your life over the that power, the healing begins.

“ At Gam-Anon I get all the support and the solutions, the listening to each other and realising the problems are not about money but about the illness of compulsive gambling. When people first join a meeting, their lives are in a mess, their minds are a mess, they are so hurt. The pain and hurt you feel can turn you and be destructive but there is a day- to- day programme of help and the benefits of Gam-Anon are absolutely fantastic.

“ The programme should be taught in every school, how to respect our fellow pupil whatever their colour and creed, whether they have one hand or two, whether they are deaf or dumb. It is so important, to have respect for our fellow human being”.

Bob’s huge consolation is the lesson to Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, its simple realism: Any person can fight the battles of just one day. Add the burden of Yesterday or Tomorrow and perhaps you’ll buckle but living one day at a time is the sure walk to serenity. That, and a little help from your friends in Gam-Anon

* Names have been changed to protect the family

* Gam-Anon Limerick meets Monday nights at Social Services Centre, Henry Street at 8.30pm.

* You can telephone Bob* on 087-2641294 to meet on a one-to-one basis if that is helpful.