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The following story is true and was written to help show compulsive gamblers and their families that there is hope. A huge thank you goes to Patty for her willingness to share the intimate and many times painful times of her life. Keep strong Patty. You're doing great!

Patty's Story - Is There Life After A Gambling Addiction?
By looking at Patty, no one can tell that the pretty, 30-something woman is an addict. Her blue eyes are bright, her skin is clear and her demeanor is cheery and friendly, but none the less, Patty is an addict.

It was Patty's two children - ages 11 and 17 - who first noticed their mother had a problem.

"It seems it's always the people who depend on you the most who notice there's a problem first," Patty said. "I was going to work every day, and no one there knew there was anything wrong. I didn't even realize it. I was doing what I wanted to do."

Patty had always enjoyed taking a chance, so gambling just seemed to be the perfect recreational activity for her. But after six years and thousands of dollars of debt, Patty finally lost for the last time. It was just $40, a paltry amount compared to previous losses, but something snapped this time.

"I thought, 'what am I doing to my kids. They deserve better than this.' I had spent six years gambling, and I had missed six years of my kids' lives. I can never get that time back."

Patty is one of the 1 to 3 percent of the people who have a compulsive gambling disorder, a devastating illness that affects about 2.2 million American adults and their families. Patty is also one of the few who have sought help in overcoming her illness, and on Feb. 5, celebrated one year without a bet.

Patty is probably the first to say that the road to recovery was extremely difficult, but she said instead of spending her time gambling, she is now spending quality time with her two children and attempting to recapture their trust.

"I didn't know it at the time, but I was using gambling as an escape," she said. "I had never learned to deal with stress or problems, so gambling, playing the lottery and going to the boats, was my way to cope."
"My kids are wonderful," she said as her eyes filled with tears. "I've taken back the responsibility of being a mom. For too long, they carried too many responsibilities. I really regret what I did to them, but I can't change that now. I only have control over what happens from here on out, and it will be different - it will be better, much better."

It took a long time for Patty to forgive herself for putting her family through so much, but she has. Forgiving herself was one of the first steps toward recovery.

"I was attending several nightly recovery meetings during the week, along with seeing a certified compulsive gambling counselor, but it wasn't until I could talk about my kids and not start crying that I finally realized that I was getting better," she said. "I've forgiven myself, and I've learned how to cope with stress."

It was stress that helped lead Patty down the road to misfortune and self-destruction.

By the time she turned 12 years old, Patty was already dealing with more than most kids her age. The daughter of a traveling salesman, she and her sister were left home with their mother, who in an attempt to deal with her abusive childhood, suffered from bouts of depression and had compulsive tendencies towards food.

"I remember my mom sleeping all the time or reading a book," Patty said. "My parents were constantly separated."

By the time she was 13, she had begun using drugs and drinking heavily. She became sexually active at age 15.

"I didn't really realize any of this was wrong," she said. "When we were young, my parents would take us to bars to dance. We grew up with alcohol - it just seemed normal."

She quit high school at 16, became pregnant at age 17 and had her son when she was 18. When she was 19, she married her first husband. Soon after their wedding, they moved to Germany, where he was stationed with the Air Force. In the short time she was in Germany, she had an affair and was arrested for drunk driving. Soon after, she received word that her mom had been diagnosed with a massive brain tumor and had only a 5 percent chance of survival. She returned home to assist with the care of her mother.

Over the next several years, Patty got a divorce and later married her high school sweetheart, who had initially introduced her to hard drugs. She had a second child, a daughter. She also continued to take care of her mother, who was in and out of the hospital and had frequent doctor office visits.

When riverboat casinos opened in Missouri, Patty became a regular visitor and soon was a serious gambler. As a stay-at-home mom, Patty felt she had a lot of free time on her hands to gamble. When her husband moved out, she had to find a source of income to pay the household expenses. Patty had heard a rumor that employees of Missouri riverboat casinos weren't allowed to gamble at any of the Missouri locations. Since Patty already knew she was a problem gambler, she thought the restriction would keep her from gambling, plus she could earn a good living. Once she got the job, she found that the restriction only keeps employees from gambling on the riverboat casino on which they are employed.

"I really did like my job," Patty said. "Everything was going good at work, even after I started gambling again.

"One night after being out gambling and drinking heavily, I wrecked my car by hitting a guardrail," she said. "I bent the car in half, but that wasn't enough of an awakening."
"I worked the graveyard shift, and after work I would head to the casino next door," she said. "I was on a self-destructive pattern and didn't realize it. If I was out gambling, I didn't have to deal with anything or anybody else. I didn't think I was hurting anyone. It made life seem easier, and I dreamed of the big win that would solve all my problems."

Since she worked all night and gambled most of the day, that left her children, then ages 14 and 8, at home most of the time by themselves. Even after both of her children began experiencing problems and her son was seriously injured in an accident, Patty continued to gamble. In fact, the issues involving her children made her desire to gamble even stronger.

"I didn't know it at the time, but I was using gambling as an escape," she said. "I had never learned to deal with stress or problems, so gambling, playing the lottery and going to the boats, was my way to cope.

"One night after being out gambling and drinking heavily, I wrecked my car by hitting a guardrail," she said. "I bent the car in half, but that wasn't enough of an awakening.

"I was working 12 to 16 hours a day to make up for the money I lost at the casino, but I still continued to gamble. On March 17, 1999, after working all night and going out drinking in the morning, I either fell asleep or passed out, but either way I took out another guardrail. My phone had been cut off and there was no food at home for the kids.

"I remember going home and walking through the house looking for a gun. I thought, 'maybe if I killed myself, everything would be better,'" she said. "I never found a gun. My husband had taken all the guns when he moved out. I realized at that point I needed help."

In July, she was offered a new job in Detroit. It was, she thought, a chance to start all over. Before she had a chance to move, her husband decided to move back into the family home. Since he had a good job, Patty decided to keep the family together in the St. Louis area.

After her husband moved back, he continued to drink and gamble, which soon influenced Patty to do the same.

"I can blame my husband all I want for getting me back into drinking and gambling, but it's not going to change the fact that I was killing myself," Patty said. "I was working long hours and gambling all the time.

"I fell asleep driving again and wrecked another car," she continued. "I really thought I was dead. When I realized that I wasn't, I got out of the car and fell to my knees and said, 'Thank you Lord.' I look back at my life now and realize that it was always my faith that kept me alive.

"Right before Christmas in 1999, my son said, 'I can't stand to see you anymore. You've got dark circles under your eyes and sleep all the time.' That hurt. It hurt a lot," she said. "We took a family vacation that year after Christmas, and I promised the family I wouldn't gamble again.

"It was a lie, just like all the others," she said. "Gamblers are great liars. We can tell you anything you want to hear and we can wear any mask you want us to wear. We can appear happy or remorseful, whatever it takes to get what we want."

Patty only gambled for about one month more before she lost the $40 that changed her life.

On her last gambling spree, Patty had actually won $76 playing the nickel-slot machines and was going to walk away a winner, but the urge to win just a little bit more kept Patty sticking in nickels until she lost the $76 and the $40 she brought into the casino.

"I was so upset," she recalled. "The friend I was with couldn't understand why I was upset. I told him that was money I could've used to pay a dentist for my kids. My kids hadn't been to the dentist in three years."

"I remember going home and walking through the house looking for a gun. I thought, 'maybe if I killed myself, everything would be better,'" she said. "I never found a gun. My husband had taken all the guns when he moved out. I realized at that point I needed help."
Within a few days, Patty enrolled herself into the Missouri Gaming Commission's Voluntary Exclusion Program, which allows problem gamblers to accept personal responsibility for their condition by agreeing never to go to a Missouri riverboat casino for the rest of their lives. Once enrolled in the program, if the gambler is discovered in a Missouri casino, he or she will be arrested for trespassing. At the time Patty enrolled, the program did not have any special provision allowing the gambler access to the casino for purposes of employment. Since Patty was employed at a casino, she lost her job.

She took advantage of the state-funded counseling available for gamblers seeking help along with attending group therapy meetings throughout the week to help overcome the addiction. She learned ways to cope with stress and began going back to church. The family sold one of their two homes to pay off some of her gambling debts, and she spent that first summer getting to know her two children again.

Patty also did something else for which she will be long remembered. She took off the cloak of anonymity that recovering compulsive gamblers usually have and began attending meetings of the Missouri Gaming Commission. She pushed and fought publicly for a rule change that would allow employees of Missouri riverboat casinos to enter the nationally renowned Voluntary Exclusion Program without being fired from their jobs. A study conducted through the Harvard Medical School's Division of Addictions found casino employees have a higher rate for problem gambling than the general public. The Missouri commission adopted that rule in January 2001. The rule will be implemented in May 2001.

"Compulsive gamblers are already financially devastated, so it doesn't make sense for them to lose their jobs if they want to get help for a disease," she said.

Patty said she still has a rocky marriage and that her husband continues to drink and gamble with stock options, but she's not letting his choices influence her. She said now she's also extremely frugal with the family's funds. While she continues to be surrounded by a family who is still dealing with a lot of issues, she said her effort goes to recovery and her children.

"When I started in therapy, I never could've imagined myself like I am today, " she said. "There was a man at therapy that I thought was nuts because he was so much at peace with himself. Now, I see he wasn't nuts, and I now know that feeling of peace. It's wonderful."

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Compulsive gambling is a behavior disorder in which an individual has an uncontrollable preoccupation and urge to gamble. This results in excessive gambling, the outcome of which is loss of time and money.

The gambling reaches the point at which it compromises, disrupts or destroys the gambler's personal life, family relationships or vocational pursuits. The key signs are emotional dependence on gambling, loss of control and interference with normal functioning.