“Mary” was a poster child for the warning signs of compulsive gambling. It would have been obvious to anyone that she had a serious problem. But not to Mary. At least not until one day in 2009, as she sat in her car outside a Minnesota casino.
A decade before, Mary had discovered gambling could be a “wonderful way to totally escape.” In the years since, she had also found it be a path to mental and financial ruin. But on this day, as she stared through her car window at the casino, she could think of only one thing: “I’m sick and tired and of being sick and tired.”
“Emotionally, gambling had become a chore,” Mary says. “I was so scared that I was going to end up doing this for another 20 or 30 years. I was scared that I was going to get fired from my job. I was scared that I was going to end up in jail.”
She wanted to stop. But what scared Mary most was that she couldn’t — or that she didn’t know how. “I was on auto-pilot,” she says. “I had no ability to stop. I couldn’t limit the time or the money I was spending on gambling.”
It hadn’t always been that way. At first, Mary had a lot of fun playing the slots. “But I quickly discovered I had no control,” she says.
Once she started gambling in the late 1990s, it wasn’t long before Mary was visiting the casino three or four times a week, burning through several hundred dollars each trip. She took cash advances from her credit cards, then couldn’t make the payments.
“I went for eight or nine months without gambling, but that was because I didn’t have access to any money,” she says. “Finally, things were better, and I wondered what would happen if I went back to the casino. I found out. Within four days, I had overdrawn my bank account and they closed it out. I was out of control again.”
Mary began “borrowing” funds from the company where she was president and chief executive, and because of her position there, she was able to take the money and pay it back without anyone knowing.
That worked until she realized she had taken more than she could repay.
Even at that point, with the walls closing in on her, Mary says “I didn’t want to admit I was a compulsive gambler. I didn’t want to say it out loud. It’s hard to admit you’re a liar and a cheat and a thief.”
But she did. Instead of getting out of her car and going into the casino, she went to work. And she told her business partner everything that was going on.
With the support of her company, she went to a meeting of Gamblers Anonymous and found a sponsor. But she also realized she needed more help than GA would provide. She checked into the Keystone Treatment Center in Canton, S.D., and spent a month there.
“The people at GA took me under their wing, and they didn’t treat me like a ‘bad person,’” she says. “And the people at Keystone saved my life.”
“I kept thinking I was something special, that my situation was unique,” Mary says. “But I wasn’t, and it wasn’t.”
After leaving Keystone, Mary returned to Minnesota to embark on her aftercare program. One of the first things she did was meet with her company’s board of directors. “I was terrified,” she says. “But they gave me a second chance. These were people I had lied to, and had manipulated. They wanted me to prove I was committed — but they gave me a second chance.”
After 18 months in recovery, Mary remains committed. “I’m paying back what I owe, and I go to GA meetings a couple of times a week,” she says. “It’s so important; it’s essential to me to have recovering people in my life.”
She’s where she is today, Mary says, because of two reasons. “It’s my higher power, and because of some very kind people who saw good things in me, but knew I needed help.”
“When I first went to GA,” she explains, “I couldn’t believe these people had been compulsive gamblers. I couldn’t understand it, because they were happy. Now I know.”