Interview with a Recovering Compulsive Gambler
My name is Marilyn Lancelot and I am a recovering compulsive gambler. I visited my first casino in 1984 at the age of 53. For seven years, my boyfriend and I made the four-hour trek from Yuma, AZ to Laughlin, NV every weekend. I learned early on how to lie to my family and friends and how to sign my employers' name to company checks. I considered suicide and planned it so it would like an accident.
Then one day the auditors discovered my embezzling. Horrified, I watched seven police cars pull into my driveway to take me away in handcuffs. I lost my job, home, life savings, my retirement, and my freedom. I had progressed from a Mrs. Cleaver type housewife to a Ma Barker type criminal. [ Marilyn is also the author of a new book, which is mentioned below. ]
GRIPPED BY GAMBLING (A book that will have you in tears and then laughter. A story told with the painful truth about the addiction of gambling and how I found recovery.)
Questions and Answers
by Trung Nguyen
Congratulations on your new book, “Gripped by Gambling.” Thank-you for doing this interview. I’m sure it will benefit many compulsive gamblers.
Under what circumstance did you first gamble?
As a young girl, I remember playing cards with family and betting twenty-five cents a hand. I thought it very boring and everyone got drunk and argued. I went to dog and horse races and thought they were too slow. I remember vividly the first time I gambled in a casino. I visited Las Vegas with my husband but only played the twenty-five cent slot machines. It wasn’t until a couple of years later, when I spent a weekend at a bowling tournament in Reno, NV and that’s when I became addicted.
Did you win the first time you gambled?
The weekend in Reno was what many refer to as beginner’s luck. I just couldn’t lose. I felt I was destined to become a professional gambler and could earn a living in the casinos.
After the first time you gambled, when did you come back again?
When I got home from the bowling tournament I told my boyfriend what an incredible weekend I had and we must drive to Laughlin the following week. We did drive the 4½ hours to the casinos and 4 ½ hours home for the next seven years.
Was it internal or external pressure that made you want to quit?
I didn’t want to quit even though the gambling was killing me, physically, emotionally, and financially. There was no external pressure because no-one, not even my family knew of my addiction. It was my money and I could do whatever I wanted to and when I wanted to.
What would you say was the lowest point in your gambling life?
Some of the lowest periods in my gambling were the times when I wanted to die; when my credit cards were maxed out, when I began embezzling money from my employer, and when I realized I couldn’t do anything about my gambling. But the very lowest was when the police came and took me away in handcuffs for a crime I committed to support my habit.
What were your game or games of choice?
My game of choice was the slot machine. No other form of gambling gave me the hypnotic feeling of escaping as the slot machines did.
Did you have rituals you went through each time you gambled?
My rituals for my weekend at the casino were to wear my lucky shirt, my lucky jewelry, and to follow the same path around the casino floor each weekend. I thought any changes would spoil my luck.
Why do you think it’s hard for compulsive gamblers to understand that money can’t be made through gambling? What is their mindset, do you think?
It was difficult for me to understand that money couldn’t be made through gambling because once in a while I did win and everyone around me won so my turn would come again. I believed I could win all my losses back if I just tried harder. I even bought books on how to gamble successfully. I had to continue to gamble until I hit the big jackpot.
Besides the money, what would you say was the worst thing you lost because of gambling?
I think the worst loss was my loss of the seven years I gambled. For those years I was a zombie and didn’t have time for my family. My mind was not on my job during the week because all I could think about was the week-end.
There is a theory that addictions run in families. Was there anyone in your immediate family who had an addiction problem?
My parents both had drinking problems so if addictive, compulsive behavior is hereditary, then I believe my poor coping skills came from my parents. I don’t blame anyone but myself for my addictions. My five children all became addicted to alcohol or drugs.
Poor coping skills has been contributed to addictions. Can you share with us what coping skills you’ve learned that have helped you? Then specifically how you cope with:
Anger: When I feel angry about something or someone, I stop and analyze my feelings (after months and years of practicing, it becomes second nature) and decide if I should really be upset by the situation or just move past the issue. Like driving down the freeway, if I slow down and allow someone to cut in front of me, I can't be angry because I allowed that person the courtesy.
Rejection: Feelings of rejection go back many years even berfore I attended my first 12-step program. If I truly love someone and they abandon me or say cruel things to me, I tell myself, that because I love that person, I will allow them to do with their lives what they want to do. And there again is my decision to allow. If I think they may be on a self-destructive path, I will share my thoughts with them and then allow them to do as they wish. I have learned that I cannot control anyone, not even myself sometimes.
Insecurity: I am not bothered by insecurities today. There was a time when I suffered deeply from an inferiority complex. Today I don't, I feel that I'm as good a person as I'm supposed to be and I hope people will accept me as I am.
The past: I have forgiven myself for the damage I caused in the past and the mistakes I've made. I will never forget them, they're part of who I am today but I don't punish myself for my past.
Frustration: If I feel frustration coming on, I do a quick analysis of my surroundings and what's bothering me. I recite the Serenity Prayer and if I can do something about the problem, I will try and if I can't, I will accept the consequences.
Or other emotions and events?
Jealousy sometimes pops it's ugly head over my shoulder but with a little thought exercise, I can usually make a decision that will show me I have nothing to fear or envy.
Prior to gambling addiction, did you have another addiction? Or did you have another addiction while you were gambling?
I’ve always had addictive patterns in my life. I have had eating problems, I’ve gone through a period where I was a workaholic, I’m a recovering alcoholic and now a recovering compulsive gambler. I know today that if anything feels good, tastes good, or looks good, I have to be aware of the dangers of another addiction.
What would you say is the worst addiction? And why?
I think overeating must be the tougest addiction to cope with. With all other addictions, the person gives up the drug, habit, etc. completely, but with an eating addiction, the person has to modify their habits and continue to stay in the problem but with control.
Almost half of compulsive gamblers are now women. What do you think is contributing to this increase?
I think more women are becoming compulsive gamblers because we are more independent today, we make decisions, earn money, and many of the women are single parents with more responsibilities. Gambling is around every corner, the little store on the corner sells lottery tickets and the churches have bingo. Women feel safe in casinos and the casinos in our back yards and if we can’t drive there, the casino will send a bus to your neighborhood and give you a ride.
There are many theories as to why people develop a gambling problem. They range from social, environmental, biological, cognitive, and spiritual. In your experience, what contributed most to your problem? What theory or theories do you think affect most people?
I guess I don’t look for the reasons why I gambled, I’m just grateful that I found a way to stop. It really doesn’t matter whether we’re rich or poor, young or old, college graduate or high school drop-out, the gambling addiction is not prejudiced.
If you could draw up a plan to help someone to quit gambling, what would that plan look like in detail?
If I could draw up a plan for someone to quit gambling, I would follow the 12 steps of Gamblers Anonymous. I would encourage them to attend meetings, find a sponsor, and make an appointment to see a gambling counselor.
How do you feel about the gambling industry as a whole? Do you think they have the right to operate as a business and it’s caveat emptor (buyer beware) for the consumers?
I have no opinion on the gambling industry as a whole. I know it’s not for me.
The gambling industry is expanding as a whole. Do you think more people will become addicted to gambling because of this?
Yes, I think the gambling industry is expanding and more people will become addicted. They can’t avoid it with the clever advertising the casinos provide. The casinos are beautiful and the gamblers are treated royally.
How do you feel about poker? Seeing that it’s all over the place now. Do you feel that celebrities playing in poker tournaments is setting a bad example to young people?
I’m sure the poker tournaments on television will tempt many viewers to take that trip to a casino and test their skill.
You’ve credited Gamblers Anonymous as being instrumental in your recovery. Can you share with us your experiences in the program-- the people you’ve met, your most memorable moments and low-points while in the program?
Gamblers Anonymous saved my life. When I was at the lowest point in my addiction and attended my first GA meeting, I knew this was where I belonged. I knew the other members couldn’t do it for me but I couldn’t do it without them.
Do you agree with the Gamblers Anonymous program that people are “powerless” over gambling?
I know that I was powerless over gambling because I tried so many times to stop driving to the casinos and I just couldn’t stop. Each weekend on the ride home, I’d cry to myself, “I’m never coming back, this is so stupid.” And half-way home I’d be planning my next trip.
Did any friend or family member attempt to understand your problem? Or did you try to hide it from them?
I don’t think any of my friends nor my family would have understood my gambling addiction. They weren’t aware of my problem because I kept it hidden so well. I even rented a post office box so credit card bills wouldn’t be sent to my home.
Do you remember how many bottoms you hit?
What was the worst or most memorable one? Every morning when I woke up and every weekend on my way home from the casino, was a bottom. The most frightening one was when the seven police cars came to my home and took me away in handcuffs.
Did suicide ever cross your mind in the midst of the addiction?
I thought of suicide many times. When I drove alone in my car I thought one quick turn of the wheel and I’d hit a wall or an 18-wheeler and that would be the end of my gambling.
How did gambling make you feel? What were you hoping to get out of it?
While I gambled, I always thought gambling made me feel good. Some nights I sat on the stool at the casino and didn’t care whether I won or lost, I just wanted to keep playing. The money didn’t seem real.
How many times did you try quitting before you succeeded?
I think I quit every weekend for the seven years I gambled compulsively. That only lasted for ten miles down the road when we left the casino and then I would be planning my next trip. I’d wear a different shirt and I wouldn’t wear that dumb bracelet because that’s what gave me the bad luck.
What were the reactions of your family and friends when you were gambling?
My family and friends never knew the amount of money I lost or won. A compulsive gambler becomes very clever with lies and covering up all their gambling problems. We just can’t let anyone know what we’re doing, they make try to make us quit and I wasn’t ready to quit.
Does the thought of gambling creep into your mind sometimes?
I’m happy to say that gambling doesn’t have a place in my thoughts. I’ve been told that I’m not responsible for the first thought that comes into my head but I am responsible for what I do with it after that. I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t gambled since I attended my first meeting more than 16 years ago but I know that if I made that first bet, I’d be off and running again. And this time I would probably die.
Do you have any regrets?
I have regrets. I regret the harm I did to my employer and I’m sorry for not being there for my family. I’ve forgiven myself but I’ll never forget what I’ve done.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to quit?
If someone wants to quit, they’re half-way there. The desire to stop is the biggest step a compulsive gambler can make. If we don’t have the desire, we can’t quit...
My book GRIPPED BY GAMBLING may be purchased through Amazon.com and other on-line bookstores. I have a web site describing the contents of the book along with an autobiography and other pertinent information: Gripped by Gambling
I also have an on-line newsletter where women share their experiences and strength with each other and the newsletter is in the 8th year of publication. It may be seen at: Female Gamblers
Thank-you for taking the time to do this interview.