By REBECCA DAVIS | Social Service Counselor, South Central Louisiana Human Services Authority
(Note: Rebecca Davis is a certified addictions counselor, substance abuse professional, certified compulsive gambling counselor and certified clinical supervisor. She is sharing her recovery story in honor of Problem Gambling Awareness Month, observed every March to promote awareness of the resources available to those experiencing problems with gambling.)
Hi, my name is Rebecca Davis, and I am a problem gambler.
I first stepped foot in a casino in 1993. Although I had dabbled in gambling prior to that, it was not of any concern. I remember that first experience in 1993 like it was yesterday.
It was a problem from that day on.
I will also say that gambling was not my only addiction.
I was consumed with gambling. I thought about gambling daily — when was I going to gamble, where I was going to get the money to gamble and the time to gamble.
My gambling took me away from everything that was important to me.
My gambling became my priority.
While I managed, at first, to continue to be successful in my career, my personal life was in shambles. It did not take long for me to start to use the money meant for my utilities and living expenses on gambling. I was constantly juggling money and bills. I lived on edge daily but still continued to gamble. I borrowed money from everyone I knew, and I lied to make loans.
I became an expert at lying.
I was living a secret life.
From casino to cellblock
Around 1998, I began to steal money from my employer. I was caught within a few months. I was so ashamed and hopeless that I attempted suicide. When that was unsuccessful, I turned myself in to the police. I bonded out the next day.
I no longer had a job, nor any money. I felt worse than I ever had in my life. I was embarrassed, disgusted, angry with myself, hopeless, fearful and just wanted to disappear.
I returned to my home town and moved in with a friend. It took me about a month to find a job — but I never stopped gambling. As bad as I felt, I was still in the mindset that gambling was going to fix something in my life. I would go to court for my charges, leave the courthouse and go gamble.
For about a year, I was only spending my money to gamble. Then, when that was not enough, I began to steal money from my employer again. This time, it took me about a year to get caught, so needless to say, I had taken a large amount of money. I attempted suicide again.
I was arrested at a hotel when I was alone in a room out of town. I was broken, ashamed, hopeless, fearful and alone. I had hurt everyone who cared about me with my lies and deceit. I had let everyone down, including myself. I was at the bottom of my existence.
I was arrested again. My bond this time was $350,000 — so, needless to say, I could not bond out of jail. I stayed in jail for six months. My sentence was 10 years, but nine years were suspended. I was on probation for five years.
The path to recovery
My family brought me books about addiction while I was in jail. I read everything I could get my hands on. I was released from jail on a Friday, and that next Wednesday, I went to a local Gamblers Anonymous (GA) meeting. I also enrolled in a behavioral health clinic for outpatient treatment. I attended treatment for my problem gambling, alcohol and drugs. I did whatever was asked of me.
My first thought after entering treatment was that I was going to drink alcohol again. I realized soon after entering treatment that drinking would not work. I knew if I drank, I was also going to use drugs, and once I drank and used drugs, I was going to gamble. I accepted that I would not return to any of my addictions.
Those first months, and, actually, that first year was hard. For the first few months, every time I opened my mouth to talk at a GA meeting, I would cry. I kept going back, and the more I attended, the easier it was to discuss what had happened and things about my life.
I realized I was not alone. I realized there were others like me.
About a year into treatment, I started to think that I wanted to be a counselor. The counselors I had in treatment were great. They were the first individuals in my life who only wanted to see me succeed. They did not want sex, or for me to cook or clean for them. They did not want me to solve their problems — they wanted to help me solve mine. They did not want anything else. It was the first time I had experienced that. Everyone in my past always wanted someone in return for their “love and support.”
I immersed myself in recovery, attending numerous meetings per week. I asked someone to be my sponsor and I worked the steps, eventually sponsoring others myself. I have since worked the 12 steps several times. Two years into recovery, I obtained my GED and began college at the age of 47.
I have now been off the bet for 18 years. I work as a problem gambling counselor and a substance abuse counselor. My goal is to give to others what was given to me. All I want for our clients is for them to understand that there is another way to live.
I no longer have to allow my past choices to define who I am today.
I no longer have to be a victim.
I am a survivor.
(To learn the warning signs of problem gambling and to find help in Louisiana, click or tap here. Need help now? Call the Helpline at 1-877-770-STOP. It is toll-free and confidential.)