When I was growing up, I thought that addiction only applied to smoking, drugs, and alcohol. I never knew such a thing a gambling addiction even existed, until my father was diagnosed with it and turned my family upside down.
Ever since I could remember, at family events, all the adults would sit around the table and play cards for money. I often wonder if those habits would be what led my father down the path of dangerous events that would later occur. I don’t believe that anyone knew how much money my father was squandering away at the local off track betting center or even that he was there.
One day my father came home and informed my mother that he had wrongfully obtained money and hoped to double it, but instead lost it all. I can’t really remember what happened next, all I was focusing on was making sure my younger brother couldn’t hear the screaming going on at the other end of the house. Later that night, my father left our home thinking his marriage was over and that he was unable to pay his debt.
This was a tragic blow to my mother, her and my father had been in a relationship since she was sixteen years old. She wondered how she could turn her back on him. The next day, she took an advance on her retirement fund and paid off his gambling debt. My father returned home and promised never to gamble again. This is where many addicted gamblers and their families go wrong. An addiction is a disease. Many alcoholics say that they will stop drinking; however, many cannot do it without professional help and the support of loved ones.
Honestly believing this was a one time event, my family continued on and began to move past the gambling episode. Almost one year later, my mother showed up at my part-time job, unable to contain her emotions. While trying to withdrawal money from her checking account, she was informed that her accounts had insufficient funds. When she confronted my father, he confessed that he took the money and once again had hopes of doubling it, just like before he failed.
Faced with no money and the realization that her marriage was about to end, my mother tried to make the best of a terrible situation. A few days had passed and no one had heard from my father, that was until he showed up at our new apartment. He informed my mother that he intended to commit suicide and that she would have to wake up each morning remembering it was her fault because she abandoned him when he needed her most. A classic sign of an addict is when they begin blaming everyone else for their troubles. My father was taken into police custody and entered into the Psychiatric Unit at the local hospital.
Looking back, my family lost a lot of material things like our house, our money, our pets, and our security. The most important item that I lost was the relationship with my father and his family. No one in my father’s family believed that he had a problem, but remember these are the same people who played each other for money. My father separated himself from me and often insulted me for choosing to live with my mother. I tried to spend time with him; however, I often felt overcome with anger and couldn’t even enjoy a simple conversation.
A year and half later, I entered college. I attended college in the same town that we lived in; however, I decided to live on campus. During that time, my mother allowed my father to return home, as long as he promised to get help. Her decision caused our relationship to have many problems. I couldn’t believe that she didn’t see the pattern of events that were occurring; however, she assured me that this time would be different. She instructed my father to see an addiction counselor and carefully monitored his money. She attended the first few counseling sessions with my father and then decided he was able go on his own.
A couple of months later, my mother intercepted a phone call from the counselor asking how come my father hadn’t rescheduled his appointment from over a month ago. At that time, my father was still claiming to take the weekly hour long trips to counseling. I will never forget the day when my mother and I followed him, curious to see where he was going. Imagine our surprise when my father pulled into a casino. The whole time that my father was supposed to be getting help for his addiction, he was actually feeding it. We returned home and never mentioned anything to my father, my mother stated that she needed time to decide what to do. That time never came, because a few weeks later a police officer knocked on our door.
If you take drugs, cigarettes, or alcohol away from someone who is addicted, often times they will use any means necessary to obtain a fix. The last time that my father returned home, my mother begin monitoring his money and only allowed him to have a certain amount at a time. Faced with no money to gamble with, my father began borrowing money from friends and family. When those resources were no longer available, my father began stealing merchandise from a local business and was selling it in return for cash. It is estimated that over one years time, my father stole over $2,000 worth of merchandise.
My father was ordered to pay restitution and complete one years worth of community service. I hate to say it, but I wish that my father was sent to jail. To this day, I still don’t think that he understands he has a problem. Almost five years later, he still takes weekly trips up the casino, goes to the off track betting center almost daily, and lives with his mother because he cannot afford his own rent. I still talk to my father about once a month; however, I am disappointed that our relationship will never be the same.
I often lay awake at night wondering if there was something different that I could of done to help my father get through his addiction. If you or anyone you know has an addition to gambling, please get help. Most addicts cannot recover on their own, they need your help. This addiction, like any other, can rip a family apart and cause unbearable pain for everyone involved. Please contact Gamblers Anonymous at (315) 458-0085 for more information.