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From losing the game to winning at life- Mary's story a year on.

Click the link below to listen to March's episode of the Get Well, Stay Well Move on podcast. This month we spoke to Mary who has worked with our gambling support team and is now a year gamble-free! Continue scrolling to read the transcription for this month's podcast below:

Maria – Hello and welcome to the Get Well, Stay Well, Move On podcast brought to you by RCA Trust. You’re here this month with Maria, Bekkah and today we have the lovely Mary who has come to join us.

Mary – Hi

Maria – Mary has worked with our gambling support team for coming up for… how long now?

Mary – A year now

Maria – Essentially, we want to talk in this podcast about Mary’s gambling, how she came to came to work with us, and how she’s doing now, just to raise awareness about the area of women and gambling. Which is an area that people tend to not think about or don’t know about, so it’s fantastic to have you on here today, Mary.

Mary – Thank you, it’s nice to be here.

Bekkah – As always this is our mandatory trigger warning for today’s episode. We will be speaking about gambling and gambling-related harms so if that’s something that do not feel is right for you at this moment in time, then we would recommend that you log off at this moment or engage with our transcript version of the podcast on our website instead.

Maria – Alright Mary, so it’s onto you so if you just want to have a chat, tell us a wee bit about your story.

Mary – Okay well, my story, well my situation that I found myself in started probably during lockdown. I had some very bad news, my ex-partner who is the father of my youngest son got stage 4 lung cancer that was inoperable. A few weeks later, his sister got the same diagnosis. So, my son lived with his dad so he was basically on his own with this and I live through in the west and thought I can’t have my son, he’s too young, to deal with something as big as that. I had gambled a wee bit before that, but I felt as if I was quite in control of it, it wasn’t something that I thought about all the time. But I did go once a month to bingo halls and things, and even then, I didn’t really play much bingo, it was more the slot machines. So, I suppose at that point I thought that I seemed to be bringing myself along here a lot more. I think it was when that all shut down, I think it was then I realised – ‘well where am I going to gamble?’. So, of course the next best thing was online slot machines.  So, I started to play them, and I had some really big wins on them and thought oh my, this is fantastic. It wasn’t until we were quite far into the lockdown and then we received this news about my ex-partner, so I had to take myself out of my little zone that I was in while gambling and moved in with my ex-partner and my son for the last 6 months of his life. He got a 2-year prognosis but he only lasted 6 months. I literally just tried to do my best for my son and my ex-partner to be there for them, and I really just threw myself into that. I was absolutely terrified at the same time, you know I’d never been in a situation like that, it's not something we’re all prepared for you know. So, I found then that the only relief I was getting was at nighttime when I would go into the room in my son’s dad’s house, and that’s when it really spun out of control. I used to look forward to going in at nighttime so I could just pretend none of this was happening and so I could just sit there. And I kept winning. Considerable amounts of money at the time, and I thought oh gosh, this is great. You felt so powerful, you never felt as if you would ever lose. I remember even saying to my son’s dad about it, and he said just be careful you don’t get addicted to that you know. Don’t be going back into it, but it was too late at that stage, I think. And I think I knew myself that I was getting this feeling of I could just go, and gamble and I’ll feel a little bit better. That’s really how I got into it so deeply. And I do remember when I got banned from that bingo hall that I did go to, their online version. I still have no explanation or reason as to why they banned me, but I won quite a lot of money, and i thought I found a way to win, thought I was a smart arse. I thought I was a skilled gambler, but there’s no such thing as a skilled gambler. But you think yourself, oh look at me I done this. I had this wee routine where I would go on and win maybe 2 or 3 thousand pounds in a night, so it became really easy. I think the more I won, the higher the stakes I put on, and I felt I as well was able to win more doing it that way. The problems started when the opposite started to happen. I was losing, and I was losing, and I was losing, and at first it didn’t really bother me that much because I thought I’m going to win this all back again. It won’t be a problem. So, I tried to cut it down, and it just didn’t work. Then it started eating into all my money, and all my savings. It got the stage after Mike died, obviously I had all that to cope with – the funeral, actually two funerals and it was just a terrible loss. I went from leaving the house after the funeral was over and I went back home and at that time I was living on my own. It was back into this isolated place in the middle of lockdown again. People I knew had died as well. I felt so broken-hearted for my son, he had just turned 21 and then a couple of days later got that news about his dad. So, I felt doubly responsible for my son if you can understand that, as a mother you can’t do anything if something happens to the father. So, the gambling just totally escalated. I was more secretive about it by that stage. I wasn’t really telling anybody, I was playing it down quite a lot by that point, whereas before that I had been saying to people and had bought things. I had bought a load of furniture and of course my family are asking how I was managing to pay for it all and I made it out as if it was a great positive thing. It’s when I got the stage where I was having my son’s first Christmas without his dad which to me was really important, and me and my daughter decided we would have it all at mine. And of course, that meant I had to go out and get all the food and all the different things. I was really, really struggling at that stage but rather than tell anybody I just lied about it all and just pretended. You know, I was waking up with night sweats and all sorts, because I thought what if they find out? And what if I can’t out a proper Christmas on for my son? And I remember my daughter doing out with me doing the shopping, and she bought a whole heap of things and then she said, mum it’s okay, I’ll get all this. So, I was like, oh thank god, because I had £30 in my purse and that was it at Christmas time. And I just said to them, I’m struggling a wee bit, I’ll get you both a present later on. But I felt absolutely horrendous. Because usually at Christmas time, even though my kids are all grown up, it was always my priority, and focused on what I could give to them that I couldn’t throughout the rest of the year. It became at that stage where I was getting physical affects, my heart was racing when I was gambling. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. My heart was going like 90 all the time, and I was sweating and all the time I was counting, I was checking my bank statements, counting money and seeing where I could get money to gamble. I knew then, I was really in big trouble. This was the January, it took til the March, St Patricks day last year, 17th of March. Obviously, I’m Irish, and I had organised with my new partner that was living with me and my daughter that we would go out. It became harder as well to hide it, with him living with me, hard to hide it from him. I was used to not having anybody there, I could do what I liked. So, it’s when it started to affect his life as well, and he would say things like ‘pull yourself together’ and ‘don’t be doing things like that’, he had a very old-fashioned view on it. He said that he used to gamble on the horses, but he said he lost money one day and I had to walk 8 miles back home and that was the end of that and that he’d never looked back. I felt really put down by that, I felt well brilliant for you, but this is a different thing. I think eventually I kept it to myself so much that it was starting to show in other areas of my life. People were seeing changes in me, and it was then on the St Patrick’s day which I’d organised to go out with my daughter and my partner and the night before it I had only £30 again and I thought how am I going to take my daughter and my partner tomorrow on £30. So, I took the chance with the £30, I thought if I gamble this, I’ll maybe win enough to get us out and then I won’t have to tell them. So, I did gamble it, and I lost the £30 and I literally had nothing. I forgot to mention that my brother had died suddenly in the November, cardiac arrest. I was just getting over the grief of my ex-partner, when that happened. 17th of March last year, I prayed to my brother because my brother was quite holy. I remember saying to him, how did you stop? Where did you get the strength to stop drinking? He said I just let go and I let God. I’m not that religious, but I thought that night, I did, I prayed, and I said please God, help me because I don’t know how to do this. I’m probably not going to have a partner by tomorrow and my family will probably disown me when they hear. I just felt so ashamed of myself. Not just for the money that I had squandered, but for lying. It becomes a natural thing to do, I couldn’t believe it myself and I thought that’s not me. I don’t want to be that person. So, I said my prayers and whatever, and got up the next morning to my partner getting all happy and ready to go out. He’s Irish as well. And I said look you’ll need to sit down; I’ve got something to tell you. So, he went crazy when I told him, and started shouting and I was shaking like a leaf. I thought to myself, well you knew this wasn’t going to be easy. You knew there was going to be consequences now, but I thought, I’ve put it in the hands of God. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen. Then I went down to my daughters who was obviously all waiting with her shamrocks and everything for us to go out and she knew the minute she saw my face that something was terribly wrong. I came in the house and by that stage I was highly anxious and was giving physical symptoms. Part of that was the terror of never being able to gamble again. Part of it also was what everybody was going to think about me. So, I came in there and told my daughter everything, and told her how ashamed I felt. The first thing she did was she lifted the phone and phoned my doctor. And even the doctor could hear the state I was in, so I was put on Valium or something, just for that day to try and calm me down. I was just in such a bad way, and I felt I’d lost control of my whole life. After that day, I told my two sons as well, and I couldn’t believe how supportive they all were, and they said Well at least you’ve came clean, you’ve told us the truth about what’s happening because previously I had tried and went to a couple of GA meetings. Well, more than a couple actually, I went to quite a few and I went to different ones. At the time, I felt that it helped me, but I felt I didn’t want to do these 12 steps. I felt that what I wanted to was to just get rid of this out of my life. To get better and not have to think about it much so I thought what am I going to do? How am I going to survive this, I’ve got nobody to support me. And that’s when I phoned Gamcare (the National Gambling Support Network Helpline) and I spoke to the loveliest woman there and I must have spoke to her for about 2 full hours. I cried with her, and I couldn’t believe that there was another woman out there who was the same as me and found herself in these same circumstances. I do think it had something to do with lockdown as well and all the things that happened in that time span. I think for me it was an escape from what was really happening in my life and maybe that why it was so hard, because then when the gambling was away, I had to address the other things that were going on with me. The things I was escaping from and whatever. I found it extremely difficult for the first few weeks, because all I could think about was my next fix really through gambling. The feeling is very real you know. You would get the odd person who would say why don’t you just pull yourself together and just don’t do it, but it was all explained to me then that it’s the endorphins in the brain and that this gambling was what I thought was helping me at the time. And maybe it did get me through some difficult times, but I realised then that yeah, this is stuck in my brain. I had to get myself to a place where I could… it’s just never a thought in my mind now. I still come to my counselling, here at the RCA who have been very, very supportive and I know I’ve got that wee net there if I ever need it. But I genuinely feel that I will never, ever gamble again. I do see gambling a lot on TV but I can now sit there and watch it all where it has no effect. Whereas before, my head would start, and I’d immediately think oh I need to go and gamble. I do feel very strong now, and very resilient. I would say to anyone else out there who is the same as myself that you actually can do it. I think it’s when you accept that there is a problem here, and I knew by that stage that there was definitely a problem, and it was a big problem. It wasn’t just what it was doing to the finances, it’s what it was doing to me as a person. I was a different person; I feel like I’m back to who I used to be now. It’s a great weight off my shoulders and to not have to tell lies. I mean that was the worst part of it, hiding and juking and lying to people, you know? And letting people down as well. I did go through a wee stage as well though where I felt that some people didn’t have as much time for me because I didn’t have as much money to go out and do things and whatever. It just doesn’t bother me now. I would never become complacent either, I’ve never been put into a situation where I’m standing in the middle of the casino or that because that was the other thing, I got myself banned for 5 years. I said to them – ban me everywhere and not that I would ever go into a bookie but ban me from everywhere including all my computers and on my phone. And that’s when I knew I had reached a new kind of plateau with it, because when I had went to the GA initially, that was one of the things they said – you know there’s this software you can get and you can put it on your phone. At the time I was like no, no, I’m not ready to do that. So, I think at that stage, I wanted to stop but I couldn’t. On the second try that’s when I realised yeah, I have a problem, I want to stop and the only way I’m going to stop is to be banned and not be able to just log onto my computer. It’s so easy, you’re on there in two seconds. You could go on there and lose £1000 in two minutes if you wanted to. So easily. I think thank god and thank my brother, it was them words - let go and let god – that helped me get through the bad bits and I’m now on a good road. I’d really love to be able to help other women in my position, because I think there is a group of women out there who probably like me had a death, especially through Covid and when you’re in such a stressful high stress situations and you’re isolated on your own, gambling seems like a pretty cool thing to do. I would advise any woman, don’t be ashamed of yourself either. I was so ashamed; I’ve been a year of gamble free on St Paddy’s Day so needless to say I’ll be getting my shamrocks and shillelaghs and I will be celebrating. I’ll have hopefully the money to do it. That was the other thing I wanted to say – financially it was a trainwreck as well, and I thought I was never going to get back on my feet, but I did. Money that I was gambling I now save, and I’m better at handling my money as well, running the house, saving money and I appreciate money. At that time, I didn’t. I had no appreciation of money at all, and how lucky I was to even have any money. It gets to the point where it’s not about money. It’s an illness and it’s a fix you’re getting off the actual gambling. So that’s what happened to me, and I hope it helps someone else maybe out there that’s in similar circumstances, and I certainly don’t think that my story is unique. I’m sure there’s other people out there that are and have been in similar circumstances. I’ve worked out for me that’s what gambling was, it was my escape. My reprieve from real life and what was going on. So, get the gambling away and work on yourself.

Maria – Well thank you so much for sharing that, Mary, and you’re absolutely right there will be so many parts of what you were going through that a lot of women will relate to. Especially with the lockdown. I think that a lot of women became very isolated and the way that things like bingo were suddenly advertised as becoming part of a community.

Mary – Yeah it made you feel like you were part of something. I think that’s the other thing, I became much more self-aware than I had been then. And I did some of that mindfulness stuff as well, did all that. And then I talk to someone here at RCA, every 2 weeks and that just keeps me going. I think people forget as well, my attempt the first time around that nobody really understood what I was going through there. The second time around, yes, I had my family but we don’t really talk about it or anything, but I know if I wanted to talk about it to them or if I ever had any temptations to do it again, I can lift the phone and say – look here’s where I’m going next week, I’m a wee bit worried.

Bekkah – So obviously we’re beelining right for that year anniversary and I really hope that you’re proud of yourself because you’ve put a lot of hard work in and now, you’re reaping the benefits of what you’ve sowed now. You’ve just reflected on all of your experiences and the pathways it took you to get there, if there’s people out there listening today, and they are contemplating if their gambling is problematic or looking for somewhere to reach out what is the words of wisdom you would impart on them?

Mary – I would just say, sit down and look at your gambling and why are you gambling? What are you getting from it? Are you able to stop? Are you able to go on there and say I’ll just put £5 on once a month and that’s fine. And there are people out there that can do that, I wish I was one of them, but I’m not. And I’m not saying that I want to rush down to a casino or whatever and gamble, I don’t even hardly think about it anymore. And that’s what I love. My counselling with Christina, we very seldom mention gambling.

Maria – Yeah, just talk the world to rights.

Mary – Yup, put the world to rights. And I think there is a time where you have to take the focus off it so much like these words in front of me – get well and stay well and then you have to move on.

Maria – I think that is something that we do focus on as much as possible, because it is that moving on aspect that is so important. Like you said, you didn’t want to have any inclines or thoughts about gambling whatsoever and that’s where that moving on part comes in, it’s such a change from what you’re previously experiencing isn’t it?

Mary – Big, big change. But I still would never be complacent about it, unfortunately with our thoughts we can get into the wrong way of thinking, can’t we? I became very aware, and touch wood, I can honestly say I haven’t had any urge to gamble. No urge at all. I’ve got money saved and you know I’m not rich or anything but I’m getting by and I’m so grateful. 9 days and it’ll be a year.

Maria – That’s amazing! We are so proud.

Bekkah – So proud

Mary – Thank you, I’m proud of you both for the work you’re doing. It’s wonderful.

Bekkah – A common theme that we see crop up is that the first step is often the hardest and admitting that we have an issue, because once we make that admittance, we have to do something about it. So, when you approached your family, the reception you received, did you expect that? Because it sounds like you have some supportive kids there.

Mary – No I didn’t and yes, I do! I didn’t expect that at all I thought that they would be angry at me and I thought that they would probably even distance themselves from me and more so because I actually lied to them, you know. But it was the total opposite, my kids are so proud of me. From time to time, they’ll ask how I’m getting on but I know they’re not wanting to ask me directly ‘have you gambled’ so I just tell them I’m fine, I’m gamble free, I’m not even thinking about gambling anymore so they don’t have to worry. I wasn’t kidding either about the heart racing, pains in my chest while I was actually gambling.

Maria – I think a lot of people don’t actually consider the fact that gambling can have an impact physically, but it definitely can because as you say, when you look into the brain and look at the high you were getting when you won and wanting to go back and do it, I think that people do disregard that because its not something that your physically putting something in your body. But it does, it has a huge impact on your physical health. Even when you gamble, like you’re saying you’re having to lie and tell secrets, that impacts your physical health as well in terms of stress and your heart racing.

Mary – And I used to feel my heart going like 90, and it wasn’t a pleasant heart racing, whereas I think sometimes when I was getting big wins at the beginning, it was a great feeling. That was the high. And I think it’s identifying that after you sit down and realise that there’s a problem going on here.

Maria – I think they will from you Mary.

Mary – I really, really hope they do. Even if it helps another 1 woman, that’s good for me.

Maria – Are there any final statements you would like to give to anybody? Any Mary messages?

Mary – My message is that you are capable of a lot more than you actually think. Just have faith that you can conquer this. And you can get over it. Just have faith in yourself, is the first thing. And I treat it as an addiction, but something you will be able to beat. That’s all I have to say on that. Don’t beat yourself up and don’t be ashamed of yourself, because you have nothing to be ashamed of. It is so easy to get into and I think women of my age probably feel embarrassed to come forward, but you really shouldn’t. don’t be embarrassed. It’s a good thing to come forward and meet other people. That’s been a big help, meeting people who understand what you’re actually going through.

Maria – Thank you so so much Mary for coming on, it’s been fantastic to have you.

Mary – It’s been fantastic speaking to you two.

Bekkah – So if you are looking for some gambling support for your own or a loved one’s gambling, we are the RCA Trust. You can get contact with us on 0141 887 0880.

M - Please contact us on our various social media channels. You’ll find us as RCA Trust on Facebook and Linked in, as @RcaTrust on X (formerly known as twitter) and @rcatrust_ on Instagram. You can get us there using the hashtag #GetWellStayWellMoveOnPodcast or you can dm us, our dm’s are always open. And there is a contact form on our website for certain things that you want us to speak about, certain things that you want us to cover. If there's any of your own experiences that you want to pop on, please do not hesitate to follow that form. It can be anonymous.

Maria – This has been the get well

Bekkah – Stay well

Mary – Move on Podcast

Bekkah – and we’ll speak to you all again next month. Bye bye!

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