"Show them you can be your own man again."

Changes to legislation governing use of poker machines have been proposed. Kyle*, married for twelve years to Lucy, shares his story of addiction to poker machines, then online trading. It cost him his money and his self esteem, but Lucy remained loyal and now they look forward with hope. Kyle has been ‘free’ for almost a year. He writes for others who may have been in thrall to the ‘pokies’ or worse...

"Show them you can be your own man again."

I am not a professional writer. No letters follow my name. However, it doesn't take a degree to share a set of experiences.
 

I have experienced some of what life has to offer; awesome highs and crushing lows. I feel qualified to share my story.
 

It might offer you hope, since you have been living a life that isn't real.
 

Your choices and behaviours have created and shaped this unreal world, and have blinded you to what is really happening. I call it our 'dream state'.
 

Our dream state? Until not so long ago, it was my dream state too.
 

I had been living in this 'state' for some ten years. My path of least resistance saw me gamble myself almost to oblivion. But despite my worsening circumstances, I couldn't see another path, even though one was always there.
 

Before poker machines changed the landscape of our daily lives, I was happy living in the real world.
 

I loved my wife Lucy and we lived each day, enjoying all it offered. I had a job I loved. We saved for what we wanted. We took a holiday when we felt the need. Then everything changed.
 

One of our favourite pubs was advertising a promotional night. Come along, win prizes!
 

The poker machines required no skill, emitted complex musical sounds and mesmerised with their bright colours and graphics.
 

That night Lucy and I won several prizes; a CD player, a bottle of champagne. We continued attending. She was reluctant, I was eager. Lucy was committing the same sum for the night while I wanted to gamble more.
 

We had stopped winning but I was still keen, thrusting more money at the machines in the hope of winning.
 

Then the promotional period ceased.
 

I still wanted to try to win. Lucy was not interested. There was an occasional argument.
 

This was the beginning of my dream state.
 

My previous self was slowly disappearing. All I saw were possibilities for a win here, a gain there. Reality was fading fast. If I heard concerned murmurings around me, I refused to listen.
 

I began arriving at clubs as they were about to open. I would eagerly thrust a $20 note at my favourite machine in hopes of doubling it. But when this happened, it wasn't enough. I couldn't bring myself to accept the winning and pull out. In my mind there was more to be made; much more.
 

And then came the inevitable guilt of having lost everything, again. I would trudge, defeated, from the pub or club, alone.
 

Once I withdrew $1000 from a savings account and inserted twenty $50 notes into my favourite machine, watching as they disappeared. It was at this point that I turned to Lucy and confessed.
 

She was incredibly supportive - more than I expected or felt I deserved. I was ready to address my problem.
 

We decided that I would exclude myself from entering premises with poker machines. I was restricted to certain bank accounts with limited available funds, and certainly no joint money.
 

This worked for a while. Occasionally I would make a counter withdrawal, which would then be swallowed up by the nearest machine.
 

I garnered enough trust to have access to money to buy Lucy a birthday present, but the shop was only fifty metres from a pub. That money disappeared also.
 

You'd think I would have seen what was happening but I was still very much in my dream state.
 

Lucy and I talked. I attended a meeting of Gamblers Anonymous (GA), and then another. But perhaps my denial of my troubles got the better of me and I refused to continue, saying that I didn't like the religious aspect of the organisation.
 

All this time I knew there had to be a simple solution. Perhaps I was depressed and was using gambling as a means of escape?
 

I visited a clinic, professing to be clinically depressed, and was placed on a Prozac-like drug. Within months I was feeling right. There was less fog in my head and my behaviours became more acceptable.
 

Things went along smoothly for a while, and I was starting to regain Lucy's trust.
 

Something in me had always felt a need to improve my financial position. It was never enough to be patient and take one day at a time; I needed money now and I was searching the internet for ways to make it - fast.
 

I joined online pyramid schemes. I discovered 'auto-surfing', whereby ads would rotate on your computer screen and as you clicked on them you earned points which could be converted into dollars. I joined online forums to advertise my site addresses in the hope of sponsoring people beneath me who would do the same, and I would earn a percentage of their earnings.
 

Months passed and the gap between what I was spending and earning was widening.
I was on a losing streak.
 

But then I discovered the magic bullet!
 

A radio advertisement promoted online currency trading: legitimate money making from home, analysing and trading in the currency market. Lucy agreed that this was worth investigating, we attended an information session and I signed up for the training.
 

It was simple enough - you just had to learn how to read currency charts and recognise patterns of market behaviour. Past market behaviour was a strong indicator of what might happen again, so I opened an account with $15,000.
 

What I didn't count on was the emotions I would experience as a result of being in the market'. I didn't recognise them at first; I just thought I needed to persevere until training and intellect won out.
 

But time was running out as my account was dwindling quickly. I was increasing my risk as a way of increasing my possible reward.
 

And there is the kicker…I was still firmly entrenched in my dream state. I was still utterly hooked on the gambling mentality which saw me lose thousands of dollars in poker machines.
 

But I refused to see this. In one trade I could make several thousand dollars.
 

There was my red sports car, overseas holidays, a large modern home, dining at the best restaurants and drinking the best wines…they were all within reach; I could hear the engine revving...
 

But it wasn't happening.
 

As months went by I poured more resources into trading and devoted more time to staring at the screen.
 

My wife was more and more concerned about my change in behaviour. I was not 'with her', physically or emotionally. I was at the computer, or thinking about being at the computer.
 

I started raiding our accounts for money to support my dream. Lucy didn't understand that I was doing this for us and our future. Any refusal on her part to accept what I was doing was obstinacy and lack of understanding.
 

I invited her to learn the markets with me so we could do this together, but this idea was quickly put to bed.
 

$100 here and there would evaporate from our joint accounts and arguments and discussions would follow.
 

Obviously I would have to use discretion and secrecy as a way of continuing my activities.
 

I talked to my mother about my trading prowess. She agreed to lend me $5000 - without telling Dad. I agreed to pay it back quickly. The deadline came and went.
Calls from Mum were ignored. I accessed her credit card for additional funds without her consent, which she quickly discovered.
 

Because I couldn't sleep I would sneak out at night. I raided my wife's purse for credit cards, forgetting that the next statement would reveal my deception. I would have all the money restored with dividends and she would be grateful.
 

I intended to pay everybody back, honestly. It was the single thought that dominated my waking moments. My dream of a lavish lifestyle shifted to helping everyone around me to be debt-free.
 

I found myself in a deep depression that saw me lose my job. It was the realisation that my dream, and my investments, had been flushed away. I was now condemned to working a standard week for a wage. I was crushed.
 

Lucy and I decided that I needed professional advice. I began consulting a psychotherapist .
 

A doctor prescribed a new drug, a powerful mood stabiliser that acts on brain chemistry. It has strong side effects, including severe weight gain.
 

I quickly gained almost 10 kilos, and soon I was puffing and panting just putting on shoes and socks. I was also reverting more and more to old behaviours that saw me get into all this trouble in the first place!
 

A decision was made to take me off all medication and just continue with psychotherapy.
 

Dramatic changes happened, almost immediately.
 

I started losing weight, fast. Most unexpected was a rapid clearing of my negative thoughts and emotions. These were fast being replaced with positive thoughts of a future without gambling.
 

My thoughts had been focused on wanting everything today…debts paid off, a lavish future and so on. But I was starting to achieve a level of personal understanding about an alternative approach.
 

My desperation to have everything now was eroding and leaving behind a rational understanding that these things may or may not happen at all, and if they do it will be the result of a day-by-day approach.
 

I had come full circle after having attended my first GA meeting. They don't gamble - today. There's no point thinking about tomorrow. All we have is today. When tomorrow becomes today, then we make that vow, but never before!
 

There is a riddle: how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!
 

I have adopted this approach to my daily life. It makes so much sense that I'm amazed that it has taken me until now to realise it.
 

Dreams are good…they provide hope for a better future and this propels us forward.
 

But how can we move forward when we are confronted with difficult choices and confronting challenges? How can we ensure that we choose the path that will ultimately lead us in the right direction?
 

I left my last job because I felt out of control and stressed to the eyeballs.
 

One day, I just pulled over to the side of the road, turned off the engine and started crying uncontrollably. I was angry, frustrated, and ashamed.
 

I rang Lucy and confessed that I was about to quit. Bless her, for she left her responsibilities and drove nearly an hour, just to be there.
 

Thinking back, this situation was littered with moments in which I could have chosen differently.
 

With my newfound understanding of taking things moment-to-moment, I can see this so clearly now. The art is in the breaking down of the event into its tiniest components, until you are literally in the 'now'.
 

What do I mean?
 

Think about the GA promise; not to gamble today. It's a choice not to see past today because this helps break down something insurmountable into something recognisable and achievable.
 

Take it further…
 

I can't ensure that a whole day works out as I intend; sometimes life throws a curveball. I have to adjust constantly to this.
 

We all do.
 

That's why I don't just live for today -I live for this moment.
 

I can be confronted a thousand times a day with a difficult choice but as long as I realise that all I have is this choice in this moment, it's as simple as it gets.
 

We've all heard the saying 'one step at a time'. It's impossible to take more than one step at a time, so why try? Why emphasise getting through this week when we only have this moment?
 

The trick is to string together a few good moments, an effective shift at work, a successful day, week, month, year.
 

Living like this has rekindled my relationship with Lucy, and we are well on the way to paying back my debt. It will take years, but I can't think that far ahead. I need to be able to work day by day and bring in my wage so I can continue to contribute to our future.
 

And I do this moment to moment.
 

Postscript
 

Kyle is aware of the proposed legislative changes regarding gambling. While he understands the appeal of strategies such as reducing maximum betting sums and the removal of automatic teller machines from near hotels and clubs, he believes that they don't address the heart of the problem. He agrees with Youth Off The Streets founder Fr Chris Riley, who says that counselling and education are the keys to moving forward.  "Education, education, education - and support," Kyle says unequivocally. In his case, the impact of various medications, and the ease with which credit can be obtained, are other areas of concern. 
 

*Names have been changed at the writer's request.

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