The Story – the beginning

 

July of 1995 changed our lives changed forever.  My 28 year old brother Bobby could no longer handle the addiction of gambling.  He chose to

take his own life after his calls for help failed. My Mom was happily married to my Dad for 54 years, they had 5 children, and 10 grandchildren.  Bob had a big circle of support around him.  We have learned now how we could have better supported him, by educating ourselves.  We thought that by making him realize what he was doing, or by helping him find a new “hobby” that he would be okay.  What we didn’t understand is that his illness did not allow him to feel or see the support we offered.  It was not as simple as, “find a new hobby.”He was a good person, with good values, morals, great strength,

and he was very intelligent.  He was also a very compulsive person.  He did everything with 110% effort.  He was a one friend person, video games captivated him, he played to win, he worked so hard at every job, he wanted to be the best. When he gambled it was no different.  He first gambled when he was 18, he won $500 on a scratch ticket.  He liked the idea of quick and easy money.  He gambled from there on a little bit here and a little bit there.  He played the megabucks and scratch tickets mostly for the next few years.  In 1991 video poker was introduced and quickly took over his life.

In the 4 short years after he began video poker, he changed from being a very conscientious person who always paid his bills, had money in his pocket, and many nice things, to someone who had to borrow money from anyone who would give it to him, he hawked his nice things, skipped bills and started writing bad checks. 

He was so ashamed and angry with himself for getting into this position, and he didn’t want to hear what we all would tell him again, that he withdrew from the family.  He stopped coming to the family gatherings, birthdays and holiday.  He felt that if he could no longer buy things for gifts then he didn’t want to be there at all.  Not that any of us cared if he brought gifts or not.

 

in 1991, video poker was introduced and quickly took over his life.

He went to our Mom on Mother’s Day 1995, he told her that he didn’t understand what was wrong.  The State was telling him that what he was doing was entertainment, but it wasn’t fun anymore.  He wasn’t eating, couldn’t sleep and was angry all the time.  He knew that he needed help, but didn’t know where to turn.  Our Mom made some phone calls and got him started in counseling in June. It unfortunately was unsuccessful. Our State had pulled all the gambling treatment at that time saying that it was contradicting to call it entertainment yet you may get addicted.  The counselor that he was able to see treated him as depressed, not knowing yet how to council a gambling addict.   She prescribed Prozac, told him to get back into the things he used to enjoy and released him after just a few visits.  His meds were not monitored, and we found out later that he quit taking them early on.

The last family gathering he participated in was a 4th of July camping trip. It was my Dad’s birthday and we all thought it would be fun to get together, hoping that it would be encouraging for Bobby.  We decided that we would each bring our own things and enjoy some peaceful time together.  Bob loved the outdoors and had all the good stuff to use.  He brought so much stuff, even though he only had to supply for himself, that we all could have lived off him for the week-end.  He set his tent off by himself, and cooked by himself, but otherwise enjoyed the ball games, walks and visits by the campfire with the rest of us.  It was such a special time together, who knew that 16 days later he would feel so alone he would want to die!

The phone call

On July 22nd we got the call that my Dad and 2 nephews had found our Bobby dead.  It is a day of so much emotion for me.  I started my morning so excited to go to Portland to surprise Bob at his company picnic.  The excitement turned to sheer terror when the phone rang.  Our brother EJ asked to talk to my husband, I knew right then that Bobby was gone.  I am not sure why I knew that because I had no idea he had thought about ending his life.   I do not remember the getting ready to go or the ride to Milwaukie, what I do remember is seeing my parents waiting for us in their driveway.  The looks on their faces will be with me forever.

The next days are a blur. We were trying to figure out what happened,

The next days are a blur.  We were trying to figure out what happened, piecing things together by talking to others who were close to him.  We got a call from the local corner market, they let us know that they were fronting Bobby his paycheck each week, giving him money to gamble, then on Thursday he would sign his paycheck over to them.  They wanted to make sure we would honor that, which we did not.  My Mom filled out the death certificate, she wrote that his death was “suicide, thanks to the Oregon State Lottery.”  The paper could not print it that way but called to find out why she would say such a thing.  They asked to come talk to the family, which they did, and ran a front page article on Sunday.

The feelings of that day rip through me every time I speak. The beginning days, weeks, months and even years were beyond difficult.   I made it through each day because I have a wonderful family at home, a husband and 2 kids.  I have 2 more brothers and a sister, each with families that I love with all my heart and I had my parents that I knew needed me.  I also thank God for helping me day by day, giving me strength and courage to be able to speak and hopefully touch someone else, to help others before they feel the pain we have felt.

addicted to Gambling

The hardest thing for my family to process was the note he left saying that he felt like a ghost and all alone.  What he was feeling was the overwhelming addiction that blocked his sense of self.  He had no self-esteem, self worth, and no self-respect. He was a ghost within himself.  He could no longer fight the addiction alone; he needed help and could not find any.  Now there is help-EDUCATION!!  My family wants to do our part by educating as much as we can, sharing our story with a message of hope and help.   Bobby tried to stop, we found his credit cards cut into little pieces in his safe, but it is an overwhelming addiction.   It is a 24 hour disease, it does not let you stop thinking about it, consumes your life.  It did Bob’s.
From that article we got 2 phone calls, both from others who gambled and were thinking suicide was the only way out.  One was arrested trying to jump off a bridge in Portland area, the other was from Eugene and I called him back.  We spoke for quite awhile, and I am happy to say that he decided to face the things ahead, to work to rebuild his life, and is doing amazing still today. His parents worked with us for years, helping to spread hope and help on awareness day.

It’s a 24 hour disease, it does not let you stop thinking about it, consumes your life…..                                            

both phone calls were from others who gambled and were thinking suicide was the only way out.

They started a GA group in their Church and continue to be dear friends to us. I have met hundreds of people who struggle with gambling through the years, every single one of them are amazing people who got caught up in what our State and Country call entertainment.  It started as a way to bring money in, but in the end costs way more than I am willing to pay.

Problem Gambling Awareness Day

The hardest thing for my family to process was the note he left saying that he felt like a ghost and all alone.  What he was feeling was the overwhelming addiction that blocked his sense of self.  He had no self-esteem, self worth, and no self-respect. He was a ghost within himself.  He could no longer fight the addiction alone; he needed help and could not find any.  Now there is help-EDUCATION!!  My family wants to do our part by educating as much as we can, sharing our story with a message of hope and help.   Bobby tried to stop, we found his credit cards cut into little pieces in his safe, but it is an overwhelming addiction.   It is a 24 hour disease.

Since 1995, it has been our mission to make changes in our State and Country.  Bobby’s birthday, September 29th is now Problem Gamblers Awareness Day in Oregon with a signed proclamation from our Governor.  We have advocated for changes in advertising, age restrictions for social gambling, educated middle school, high school and college kids across the State, spoke at many conferences, spoke to our political leaders in Washington D.C and have been a part of 3 documentaries.   

We continue to speak out, and take every opportunity to make changes to make things better for Oregonians, and others across the nation.  We work with many other organizations across the Country, I am a part of a weekly call, ran by  STOP Predatory Gambling, that includes 15 to 20 different States.  We discuss what is going on in our States and find ways to help and support each other.    I have worked with them for 20 year now, as well as END Problem Gambling, another nonprofit group that I joined a year ago.   VPGR (Voices of Problem Gambling Recovery) is another group here in Oregon that is very active finding ways to work with those who struggle as well as advocating for help for them.  I also have tried to inform the Oregon Lottery of what things I have planned for Awareness Day.  My thought has always been the more we can work together the more we can accomplish.   We continue to find ways to reach those who need the support and message of help and hope.

Coming up – Take A Break Campaign….