Like many compulsive gamblers my first bet was a big winner.
When I was 15, I was asked by one of my friends if I would like to go to the Port Pirie Races with him. I told him that you had to be 21 to bet on horses (my father used to enjoy a harmless two bob punt on a Saturday). He said the bookies wouldn't care they'll take your money. So I chose to go. BIG MISTAKE. My big win was ten shillings each way on a horse called Future in the Futurity stakes at the huge odds of 33/1. The horse won easily and I picked up over twenty pounds or six weeks wages. The money though was only a small thing; suddenly I was the centre of attention with other punters.
The winning was only a small part but the adrenalin feeling, and suddenly having new friends, triggered something in me and I made the choice that I wanted more of this adrenalin rush and sudden recognition. This was the start of an ever increasing urge that soon consumed my life, as I started playing two-up, cards and whatever where I could get that feeling and hide the demons inside me.
It was after a football game that I was following a mate of mine back into Pirie when he flipped his car, I was first there and he died on my lap. I was devastated and dropped into Telstra where both my sisters worked, however neither was there but a girl called Jeanette was and made me coffee and consoled me till I felt a little better, something clicked between us that night and not too much later we became an item. When I left that night I did the usual thing that I had done since that first big win when I was under pressure or stressed I went and gambled. My growing feelings for Jeanette did help me slow my gambling down until I would have an upset and then it would flare up even worse.
I thought my life had taken a turn for the better when my only son Scott was born. We were over the moon but quickly brought back to earth when within a few hours we were told that because of complications he had to be sent to Adelaide. We were told that there was a strong chance he may end up with a mental disability. We were shattered but once again my solution was to go on the punt, to lose myself in the adrenalin rush, although I now realise that a lot of these times I was actually punishing myself for things in my early years and quite often felt more justified when I lost. Thankfully and with the love of god Scott grew up completely normal and a great son and father.
But I still could not control these urges and would use any excuse to get away to have a punt and my bills just kept rising.
After suffering health issues (mine and my wife, Jeanette), contemplating suicide and suffering fianncial set backs including stealing $60,000 from my mother in law to fund my gambling addiction, I rang the Gambling Helpline and began attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings. I was eventually sentenced to 3 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 14 months and home detention an option after 7 months.
Arriving at Port Augusta gaol after dark and being stripped, given some cold food and taken to a cell with a stranger is something you cannot imagine.
Being in gaol, it was 20 months since my last bet and I was not going to let all that hard work slip. I started to go to Adelaide for ongoing counselling and my beloved Gamblers Anonymous meetings. I resumed my work as a speaker with Relationships Australia in their Consumer Voice programme. I did talks all around South Australia and some prisons. I had realised some time ago that my worst times were when I was under pressure or stressed and I decided I would try not to get in that position if possible.
What's amazing is that I now work for Uniting Care Wesley in Port Pirie as a peer support worker. Every day that I am there and every new thing I learn just thrills me with excitement and I think perhaps my God has given me these extra years to perhaps help make a difference.
People ask me when I do my talks why I say I am lucky I usually reply something like this. I lost a small fortune while gambling. I lost my freedom for a while. I lost my pride. I lost a lot of material possessions. I was only given 5 years to live 25 years ago. I have had cancer. I suffer from two lots of arthritis. Throw into that my bad heart, Jeanette's cancer and my daughter in law, Tarina's cancer and you may think I am unlucky.
However I have not lost the most important things in life. The love of my wife and family, my life or my sanity. I am also lucky because right now I am in the best place of my life. I have employment where I may be able to make a difference, my faith has returned, I now enjoy going to bed without feeling sick and plotting inside where I can get the stake for my next punt from. I have an amazing wife, beautiful son and daughter-in-law and two of Gods angels in our beautiful granddaughters. Add to these my great mum, two sisters, and their families and yes, I am very lucky.
I must add that one of the things that Gamblers Anonymous talk about is being able to look at the man in the mirror, for a long time I found it hard to look and in actual fact hated what I saw. My ego must have returned because I am liking the person I see more every day.