‘That horrible, dark place’
A close friend of mine looks back on a time in his life, just a few years ago, and it terrifies him.
Gambling took him to a place where he was down and out. But courageously, he’s fought his way back.
‘I saw a strong man crumble’
We met through a friend when I first moved to Melbourne in 2014 to start my career in sports media, and we soon became best mates.
He was killing it at life and had everything you could want: a great job, a beautiful wife, two young kids.
His addiction was at a very early stage back then. It started with him placing a few bets on the horses, before he moved onto the dogs and then a multitude of other betting markets as well.
He’d seen the highs of winning and like so many others, he fell into the trap of thinking that the next rush was always just around the corner. Whenever we hung out as a group, it became ‘normal’ that he would be placing a couple of bets.
At about the three-year mark, we saw the cracks starting to appear.
We’d be at the pub having a few drinks – or in my case, soda waters – and I started paying attention to how much money he was gambling.
He’d bet thousands of dollars on a single race. I’d never seen anything like it.
At first, I assumed that he must have been making a lot of money. That’s a mistake I’ll never make again, because in reality he definitely couldn’t afford to be gambling that much.
He was out of control.
After a couple of big losses one night, I could see in his eyes that something was wrong. It was written all over his face that he was in a bit of strife.
I asked him how he could be OK with losing that much money. And that’s when he opened up to me, and some other friends, about what was really going on.
He told us that he’d lost a lot of money. He’d lost a lot of other people’s money as well, and some of them were his mates. He was missing out on work opportunities because of it and he knew that if he didn’t sort it out, he was going to be in a lot of trouble.
I’d never seen anyone in such a dark place before. It broke my heart. But even then, he still wasn’t at the point of acknowledging that he needed to get help.
It was only the start of him making that realisation.
In the months following that conversation, it went from him saying he was an ‘idiot’ for losing a bit of cash, to telling us that he was going to lose the family home and that his wife would leave him if she found out.
And that’s when he hit rock bottom. I saw a strong man absolutely crumble and break down in tears.
He went from being a larrikin we all loved and adored, to someone who was very vulnerable. It was a scary time for all his friends and family, as we were worried about his mental health and what he might do.
His wife eventually did find out what was going on, and that was heart-wrenching for her. She’d thought they were in a great financial position, and then suddenly she was finding out that her family was in a hole, with two young children to take care of.
She more or less had to say, ‘If you can’t put in the work to stop what you’re doing and get us out of this situation, I’m going to have no choice except to leave you and take the kids’.
He’d always wanted to be the one to provide for his family, so realising that he was actually putting their futures at risk was a massive blow to his self-esteem.
That was the catalyst for him turning around and saying, ‘I need help and I need to talk about my problems so I can get back on track’.
Fortunately, he also had plenty of mates waiting, ready to help him find his feet again.