I woke up on Christmas Eve 2017 and honestly wished I hadn’t.
This was my ‘rock bottom’ and I’m here speaking to you today in the hopes I can prevent others from having to reach that point.
My name is Enrique, I’m 47 years old and from the Illawarra. Today I’m going to tell you about my gambling journey. How it started and then became a full-blown addiction and the impact it’s had on my life and on those around me.
I’ll also talk about my recovery, the lessons I’ve learnt and where I’m at today.
My story relates to online gambling – specifically horses, greyhounds and sports betting. It’s not an ‘anti-gambling rant’, more a lesson about some of the dangers and pitfalls of online gambling.
Through the normalisation and acceptance of gambling in Australia I had my first bet at around 20 years of age for the next 10 years would bet occasionally at the pub whilst having a drink with my mates.
In my 30s I got seriously into horseracing and spent about 2 years on track every Saturday getting better odds from the bookies than I would through the TAB. This was before the introduction of online wagering and back then, win lose or draw there was always an endpoint to a day of betting. Generally after the last race on Melbourne and Sydney.
Also having to access and handover cash definitely minimised my risk of heavy losses and gambling harm.
In 2012 I opened my first online betting account with Tom Waterhouse. It just seemed like the logical thing to do. Why we would I waste an entire Saturday travelling to Sydney and back, carrying around cash when I could literally bet on anything at anytime from the comfort of my own loungeroom. All on my laptop, iPad or phone.
It became way too easy and far too easily accessible to bet and numbers on a screen somehow did not hold the same fear of consequence that handing over cash did.
Now back then I didn’t classify what I did as gambling because I spent a lot of time doing form and I had a pretty good strike rate. The thing is they make it very easy to deposit money and incentivise it with free bets, but I never really withdrew my winnings from my betting account back into my bank account because I just assumed I would keep winning and building what was in there.
At this point a had a lot of disposable income, but I started to chase losses, make really impulsive and poor decisions (especially when I was drinking) and there were times where I started to lose more than I should of. It was starting to impact me mentally, and I began lying to my partner about how much I was betting and losing at times.
In 2014 I received a redundancy payout meaning all of a sudden I had a lot of disposable income.
One weekend while down the coast with my mates I found myself alone in the dark standing at the kitchen bench of a house we were renting at 11.30pm, placing bets on my phone on greyhounds in Western Australia and hurdlers in England that I had never heard of, while my mates all slept around me.
We had spent the day gambling and despite promising myself I’d stick to the cash I had in my wallet, I reverted to online betting once I had withdrawn my $1000 limit from the ATM earlier that afternoon.
Despite eventually being up around $2,500 when we returned home late that night and everyone else calling it a night, I was compelled to start betting again. Drunk and uninformed I was betting on whatever race was next and once I began losing my bets would increase and often I doubled up on the next when I lost.
In just 1 hour I lost $16K that night. Standing at the kitchen bench, by myself, in the dark while all my friends slept. It’s difficult to explain the overwhelming feeling of loneliness, guilt, desperation and shame at times like that.
But despite feeling so sick I barely slept that night and for the next few nights, it still wasn’t enough for me to learn any lessons or make any changes. And unfortunately, I would go onto lose much more money over the next few years. Mostly by myself, drunk and usually in the early hours of the morning.
So, over the next few years things continued to get increasingly worse and really spiral out of control for me. The more I lost, the more desperate I became and the worse I felt about myself. It’s a vicious cycle which you can’t see you’re stuck in that time, where the more depressed you get the more you want to escape – the only problem was my escape was drinking and gambling, so the issue just escalated.
I was continuously lying to my wife and to everyone around me. Once the redundancy money was gone, I began using our credit cards to bet. For some stupid reason I had access to $22K credit across 2 cards and at any time I could deposit that entire amount into my betting account and use it.
I was betting with money I didn’t even have, and it was this point I started redrawing money from our home mortgage account to cover my tracks. By this stage I was married and I had a little boy and I was also taking tax returns from our investment property and using the money to gamble or pay off my losses.
I began betting every day. At work, in the car, at home. Often in front of colleagues, friends and family who had no idea I was placing bets and even watching and listening to races on my phone, right in front of their faces.
2014 was the first time I called my mother in tears, almost suicidal because I’d lost another $15K and had no way of repaying it. I felt I couldn’t tell my wife because I knew she would leave me as we had been down this road before and had separations and I promised her I wasn’t gambling anymore.
Over the next 3 years I would drain my mother’s Superannuation account of $85K.
I was a shell of a man, vey depressed and at times suicidal. I wasn’t present as a husband or a father because every waking hour I was racked with shame, guilt, fear and desperation and all I could really think about was how I could get out of the mess I had created and what my next bet was going to be.
It reached the point my wife knew something was wrong and used to constantly ask me, but I would just put it down to work or stress. She actually thought I was having an affair.
So this continued until on Christmas Eve 2017 I woke up having lost $25K earlier that morning and knowing I had nowhere else to turn. I couldn’t ask my mother for any more money and I had truly hit rock bottom. I was on my phone looking for those high interest short-term loans on a day when I should have been full of joy and looking forward to spending Xmas with my family.
I couldn’t hide my pain any longer and within a week I broke down and told my wife the truth. It was obviously a very difficult conversation. She was devastated – more than the money it was the lying and the deceit.
Unfortunately for me and for too many others it wasn’t until I had reached this point that took I some accountability, admitted I had a problem and sought help.
I started seeing a gambling councillor and my wife eventually believed I was honestly trying to change and supported me financially giving me $30K to cover the credit card debts I had incurred.
I was seeing my counsellor regularly and was paying my mother back in weekly instalments. I decreased both of our credit card limits and began regularly showing my wife our bank account statements in order to discourage me to lapse.
I did well for the best part of 7 months, but it was an extremely difficult time and despite my wife’s support, what I had done placed an enormous strain on our marriage and we were fighting often. Every time we did, everything I had done just resurfaced and I didn’t know how to cope. I lapsed a couple of times and on the second of these occasions I went to borrow money of an old gambling friend who to my surprise refused to give me any money and instead took me outside and told me he had recently been to rehab for the same problem.
On that same night he became my sponsor and went online and booked an appointment for me to see my GP so he could refer me to the rehab centre.
Throughout this 3 week in-patient rehabilitation program I learnt about the psychology of addiction and its effects on the brain, my triggers and I became a lot more self-aware, learning different strategies to control urges and minimise risks and harms.
I understood the risks around access to gambling and betting with credit. To combat this, I installed blocking software on my phone and self-excluded from a number of venues. I also slashed my credit card limits dramatically.
Nowadays every single betting platform allows you to set your own bet limits and I urge everyone who does gamble to do this.
I understood the correlation between drinking and heavy losses. Not being able to assess risk and consequence and acting impulsively when you’re in this state.
I had the time to think about the typical situations and circumstances around my gambling. Where was I, who was I with, had I been drinking, did I have access to more funds. To this very day I avoid going to certain places with certain people and depending on where I’m going and with who, I will take a set amount of cash and leave credit and debit cards at home.
I learnt about Cognitive Behavioural Thinking and realised that throughout this entire period of my life, I blame-shifted and allowed external situations and other people to dictate my thoughts, behaviours and actions. I know now that there is always a choice you as the individual makes and it is within you’re control.
I also now have the ability to ‘play it forward’ and consider the potential consequences of my actions before I take them.
Mostly however, I considered for the first time that money and material possessions did not guarantee happiness and quite often the opposite was true. I understood the value and importance of sleep, diet and exercise and feeling good within yourself.
It wasn’t until then that I could look back and truly see how unhappy I was at that time and how this directly relates to wanting to escape to another world and chase quick, superficial thrills. For the most part my drinking and gambling was my attempt to fill a void in my life, but that void was my own doing.
So my message to all of you is be sure fund your true happiness in life, whatever that may be.
Recovery is very rarely a straight line. I’ve learnt that most people including myself will face tough times and even lapse. The trick is not turning a lapse into a re-lapse. Nowadays rather than sinking deeper into guilt, shame and continued betting to try and ‘get-out’ after a lapse, I think about how far I’ve come and what learning I can take away from the lapse to avoid making the same mistakes again. Where was I, who was I with, was I drinking etc etc.
So right now I still consider myself to be ‘in recovery’, I’m in debt and my marriage is unfortunately over.
But I’m a much healthier, happier and self-aware person who appreciates what he has and lives for each day without looking back or too far forward.
I wish I knew years ago what I know now and that I had spoken out at the first sign of harm rather than suffering in silence until I had done irreparable damage.