My story as an affected other - Julie
Updated: Apr 14
I know that my story as an affected other is one of the more severe ones, but it is a true story and an example of how gambling addiction, an illness, and an impulse control disorder can devastate lives.
And what is the root cause of this? In my view, it is an industry where making money is seen as more important than people's and families lives. Will that change? Well, not likely unless those responsible for causing gambling harm are personally held accountable. However, if more people start to share their stories as affected others, and more data is collected, we might help bring the needed changes.
This first part of my story details my life as an affected other until November 2021. In the following two parts which I will post over the coming months, I will share what I have learned about gambling harm, things I wish I had known and could have looked out for, and what I would do today if faced with the same situation. Then in the final part, I will talk about starting the journey to rebuild my life and the work I do as the Project Officer for Gambling Harm UK.
As I said, I hope that by sharing my story, others will feel able to share theirs. I hope it will start to remove the stigma around this illness that leads many not to seek the help they need. The gambling industry has normalised gambling. I hope together we can normaIise talking about gambling harm. If we don't, others will suffer from gambling harm, behind closed doors at home, in their workplace, and at school. Their mental and physical health will be harmed, just like mine.
I believe where I am now was my destiny, not a destiny I would have chosen, but one where now I can and must try to make a difference.
I need to start my story by saying this is a never-ending story. What I went through has changed my life forever. That's not saying things can't or won't get better, but being an affected other will always be there. For most of my married life, I have suffered gambling harm due to my then husbands gambling disorder (an impulse control disorder as I know it now). My harm manifested from medium to severe over the last 15 years, and I can probably describe them best in three stages.
I came from a family who never gambled, so my husband's enjoyment of the lottery and football bets did not flag any alarms initially.
During a period of financial difficulty, when the children were six and ten, he worked two jobs, but money still wasn't coming in. He worked day and night, so he was out of the house most of the time. I was proud of his efforts. It was only when a bank payment of a loan of 10,000 pounds for a car went missing and wasn't paid to the bank as promised that my life started to crumble. I was left answering the bank manager's questions and so confused and scared, apologising for the missing payment.
At this point, I found out he had been spending nights gambling away all his earnings in casinos. He became angry when he had to start to admit his actions. If I could use five words to explain my feelings, I would use shame, shock, fear, panic, and anger. How could my husband be irresponsible, stupid, and selfish to do this to us?
Over the coming months, our debts grew higher, as did my stress and anxiety. My husband became less willing to talk. I had to juggle five credit cards to live, sometimes having hardly any food left in the cupboards with two children. I hid it all from my friends and family as his gambling intensified.
Despite everything, including living with his anger, my love for him and my lack of understanding of his addiction made me feel I could save him.
However, he threatened me and wouldn't let me go anywhere or do anything alone. He told me he would kill me if I tried to take the kids and leave. My fear grew, and after a particularly nasty evening and my daughter's fear, she contacted a family friend. The call resulted in his arrest for harassment for leaving threatening messages on my phone. We separated, and a restraining order was placed, so he couldn't contact us. I told the police about his gambling issues, but they did nothing to help him. I got domestic abuse support, and my family then had to be told what had happened. It drove a heart-breaking wedge between us all. Everyone was so confused as to whom he had become. It was so easy for all of them to say he was gone. You're free of this horrible life, be happy now. But what about me? What about my love, relationship, loss of a man I married, or feelings?
We were separated for six months. I contacted Gamcare after researching on the internet, looking for help. I got some telephone counselling to help me. Also, a visit to the GP got me antidepressants and six more counselling sessions. That was all the support I got back in 2012. Things have improved today, but I was left alone and vulnerable with two young children. My family and friends were disjointed from me. Nobody understood.
I began to allow him back into my life. I thought I was doing the best for the children. I loved him so much and believed he had changed. He came home, and after a few months, my family did accept it. I felt torn and guilty between my husband's and my parent's feelings, pulled every which way. We had a good five years, he stayed coercive and controlling, but I had become stronger too. My research and my group work with GamFam taught me about the disease that is gambling. I understood why he couldn't stop and the impact of dopamine running through his brain that had developed a craving which he couldn't control. I tried to learn to look after myself a bit more as well. But the stress was always in the background, the fear of his relapse in the pit of my stomach.
Five years on, I started seeing signs again, too much time on his laptop or phone, irritability, and being secretive. I was damned if I accused him, and I was damned if I didn't. Only when a vast amount of savings went missing did my heart sink, and the fear came back with force.
The shame intensified the second time around. I felt like an idiot, and I was angry and hurt. Why did he not love us enough to stop?
Lockdown came, and his gambling became a 12-hour-a-day problem. His anger and threats returned; sadly, he physically assaulted me this time. My mental health was at rock bottom. I had days I didn't want to be alive anymore, but I kept going for the children. He was finally arrested and did time on remand. His mental health was a mess. He wouldn't get help. His coercive behaviour still got to me through our daughter. Although young adults now, both children have struggled with their father's behaviour and required professional support.
Then the night of the 10th of November 2021, he came to our family home, demanding to be let in, shouting for me. I wouldn't answer, so in front of myself and our 16-year-old son, he poured petrol over his head and set himself on fire. He died on the operating table in the early hours of the next day.
That night will never leave us. The guilt I felt for a long time was awful—the pain of losing my husband and the father of my children. Even in a crowded room, the loneliness still gets to me today.
Life moves on, good days and bad, but I try to be positive both in my life and my work with Gambling Harm UK. Every day is new, and I'm working hard to make them better for all the people who have suffered from any degree of gambling harm, Affected Others, or are in Recovery, and of course myself.
If you are suffering from gambling harm yourself, or know of someone else who is, and you or they require any help or support, please use the organisation links below.
If you want to hear more of my story and where I was as a person back in 2020, you can listen to a Podcast interview I gave back then, to "All Bets Are Off". The link to this is available below.
https://www.gamcare.org.uk/get-support/talk-to-us-now/ GamCare: National Helpline
https://gamfam.org.uk/ GamFam: Recovery and Affected Other Support
https://www.gamblersanonymous.org.uk/ Gambling Anonymous: Support for Gambling
https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/addiction-support/gambling-addiction/ NHS Treatment services