Every year at this time, with the spring racing season upon us, I feel duty bound to talk about gambling. Or more specifically, problem gambling. So let me tell you a story about a family I once knew.
Once upon a time in a small country hamlet, there lived a young man and his young family. The man was an office worker and he commuted into the nearby city to work, where he earned a sub-standard wage which he would bolster with earnings from the Army Reserve.
Sadly, this man didnt play any sports and didnt have any hobbies, except for gambling. Slowly but surely, as the pressures of parenting his young family grew, so did his pre-occupation with gambling. Poker machines were his weakness and he would spend many hours at the club, returning home late with a face as pale as ash and his lips, usually full and ruddy, as thin a pencil line. No house keeping money came home with him on these days and he would sit sullenly in front of the television and fly into a brutal rage if anyone interrupted the focus of his depression.
No-one, outside the family, recognised that he had a problem. After all, he was a scrupulous and accurate accountant, and no-one would have imagined in their wildest dreams that he would gamble away his own familys grocery money. But he did, regularly, because he was a slave to his addiction. His face would glaze over in front of the hypnotic spinning of the whirling barrels as he desperately tried to right the ledger on a machine programmed to rob him.
As the addiction deepened he developed arguments to justify his irresponsibility. It was his money, he had worked for it, and if he wanted to gamble it away then that was his choice.
I dont lose that much, was another he used, or I could have a drinking problem or heroine addiction. At least its not that bad.
He moved to the 5c machines so it took him longer to lose everything. Often he would bring home the presents that the club offered its successful gamblers but his partner resented them and they lay unopened on the empty kitchen table for days on end. She sank into a protracted and virtually catatonic depression, but still he went on turning his earnings into dust.
The only thing that seemed to halt his psychosis was the Army Reserve weekends away. These demanding workouts instilled a sense of discipline and for a few weeks he was cleared of the habit. His partner brightened, food was no longer scarce, and he began playing and interacting with his children. But inevitably he would weaken, the stress of his work would get the better of him, and there he would be again, sitting in front of the spinning wheels of misfortune.
Time went by, and the woman decided there was nothing for it but to take charge. She rented out a room of the house to students and developed her bargain hunting skills to profound levels. But most importantly, she booked the man in for a session with Gamblers Anonymous and together they turned a corner.
It was a long, harrowing and deranging experience for the man, his wife and their children and none of them ever fully recovered from the neglect and brutality of the addiction.
Make no mistake, gambling is just as profound and evil as any heroine or alcohol addiction. It is harder to see, and the warning signs are less obvious, but it is just as destructive.
There is plenty of help out there for problem gamblers. Do yourself and your loved ones a favour and seek it out. And do it now, before the damage is irreversible.
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