Gary reached out to me to share his story. It's long and filled with consequences that continue to haunt him to this day.
‘Please don’t judge me is all I ask. It was all my fault.’
Gary and Vanessa had met briefly through his brother Jack many years before the night he actually noticed her. Home for a weekend, Gary met up with some friends at the local bar. He couldn't help notice this woman laughing at a table nearby and as he was leaving he realised his brother was sitting next to this woman. He sat himself in between them and stole her attention until it was time to go home. Outside, waiting for a taxi, he took her number.
‘I told her I would call her that weekend, but I never did.’
Why? Because he was young, free, and selfish in that youthful way. More importantly, he loved to gamble which essentially made him unavailable.
Gambling will come up a lot in this story, Gary believes it is the cause and reason for everything that transpires.
Months later, emptying his coat pockets, he found Vanessa’s number and called in his cheeky boyish tone.
‘Hi! How’s life? Better late than never, how about dinner this week?’
Gary couldn’t believe his luck when she said yes!. He booked a decent restaurant and he had a magnificent evening. Mesmerised by Vanessa, he knew she was the type of person he wanted to spend his life with. Not wanting the night to end they strolled the streets when he suggested introducing her to his family. Vanessa laughed and reminded him that she knew his family very well. He took her home and watched her interact with his mother, confirming that feeling that Vanessa was truly special.
It transpired that they had a lot in common; significantly her father being a gambling man. In no time the two of them would go to the races or casinos together, where Gary would gamble significantly less. Within six months, Gary proposed and Vanessa said yes. It was an incredible time in his life, everything was in sync and Vanessa never complained about his gambling.
Their wedding was a celebration of 250 people, mainly family, dancing, singing, and drinking till dawn. Gary's romantic speech bought the room to tears and he believed this love would never die.
Already living together in a small apartment, they bought a family home to renovate and make their own. Vanessa, an interior designer and super talented, ran the project and soon fell pregnant. Gary's career was taking off, and the long hours increased his income which gave him more money to gamble.
What could possibly go wrong?
Near the end of the pregnancy, Gary felt a blinding pain in his lower back, which at first didn’t worry him. He worked long hours at a desk, who didn't have back issues? His doctor ordered an MRI and found a herniated disc, but nothing serious. Yet a few weeks later driving home the pains was so horrendous that he could barely breathe. Gary didn’t tell Vanessa, and returned to his doctor requesting a full body scan, his gut told him this was serious. The doctor thought he was getting carried away but ordered a scan nevertheless.
The following week, with the pounding beat of the MRI machine banging away, all he could focus on was his heart beating with fear. When the scan was finished he sat up to find two technicians in the room telling him he needed a contrast dye scan. Gary recalls the sensation of the cold fluid seeping into his body as they injected him. He started to pray to god, begging to be present at the his child’s birth. The results showed a growth at the base of his spine and it needed immediate action. Numb, his only concern was Vanessa and the stress the news might cause the pregnancy. Gary organised his parents to collect Vanessa and bring her to the dr, who gently explained what was happening. He was referred to a surgeon that day and the operation was booked for the following week. Finally, Gary let the news sink in and he shook for hours.
When things started to fall apart
His prayers answered, Gary was able to witness his son being born whilst he sat in a wheelchair unable to carry his baby. He suspects they started to grow apart from the time they became parents as he was needy of attention and Vanessa could no longer be there for him now that she was a mother. His physical rehab was exhausting mentally and physically and he turned to gambling as an excuse to check out and detach. Gary stops to explain that gambling wasn’t just casinos, it was all sports, horses, dogs, everything, and it only gets worse.
Vanessa soon fell pregnant with their second child, and this is the moment Gary is 100% sure the marriage was over. He wasn’t present, physically he was, but no more than that. The attraction had died and the love he once felt for Vanessa was gone. He would suggest to Vanessa that she take the kids out on weekends whilst he would gamble at home.
They appeared to be the perfect family.
How do you feel about this memory? I ask
“I regret it to this day, I can’t take any of it back.” His voice echoes shattering pain.
The marriage lasted ten years to the day and then he asked for a divorce. Staying married was taking on a toll on him, although he thinks Vanessa was fine going through the motions of a loveless marriage. He never cheated on her, never looked at another woman even though he had long fallen out of love.
‘Gambling was my true love.’
Gary backtracks to how and when he started to self-destruct. Early on in their marriage he opened his own law firm, making more money and therefore able to gamble more. His father had passed away soon after Gary's operation and he emotionally broke. His father had been his best friend and mentor and Gary grieved by gambling even more and to pay for it, falsified billable hours. He catches his breath, the shame resounds in his silence. He was stealing from clients and he never got caught. The divorce, not yet finalised, his mother recently diagnosed with heart issues, Gary knew his life was going to catch up with him. He contacted his lawyer and told him everything and then contacted Gamblers Anonymous.
Gary had to tell Vanessa what he had done, and in no time their social circle found out. Vanessa was shamed and humiliated with nobody believing she was innocent. It was the start of her hate campaign toward Gary.
He had no idea how much he would pay emotionally for his gambling.
Gary meanwhile worked to pay for everything, debts, child support, and the mortgage. He knew that with the fraud he had committed it would be 'bloody hard' to find anyone to employ him.
His lawyers worked out a program for him to work off his debts and luckily the clients he had stolen from were wealthy and compassionate. He knew that he would have to do some kind of jail time, and he prepared for the worst. Meanwhile, Vanessa, knowing everything he was going through decided to attack him in court hearing after court hearing demanding more and more. She was relentless. She told the children that Daddy was a criminal and that he didn’t care about them or for them. She told them that he wasn’t paying a penny towards their care. He was so immersed in his hell that at the time he couldn’t understand why she was so angry with him.
‘I was numb.’
The family home was sold to pay his debts and provide a much smaller home for Vanessa and the kids. He witnessed his sons sitting on the steps of the home with the removal men loading boxes and it broke his heart. It inspired Gary to keep working as hard as possible to make things right, taking any job he could and working non-stop to pay off his debts. He moved in with his mother to care for her whilst his world kept crumbling. never resorting to gambling.
To this day Gary hasn't gambled once, although he craves it constantly. It's a need in him.
He did his best to see his kids and to provide some stability, although he knows he became the Disney dad. Never wanting to upset them or parent them, he spoilt them as much as he could.
Gary was eventually sentenced and by the time he was released his relationship with the kids was in tatters. Vanessa had refused to let them visit him. On the day he was released, he drove to see them and Vanessa refused to let him have more than a few minutes claiming they were busy. The kids were distraught and his heart shattered. He watched them sobbing in the back of the car as they drove away.
'I wanted to die, I wanted to get in the car and drive as fast as I could and hit a wall.'
He couldn’t take the pain he had caused them and everyone else in his life. For a brief moment in time, he thought killing himself was the best option for everyone. Gary called his sponsor who managed to talk him out of it.
A few years later, Vanessa met Jon and re-married. When she called to tell Gary, his first thought was relief at not having to pay her maintenance.
'I am ashamed for thinking this.'
He did the maths in his head, and it’s not an insignificant number. Initially, he thought Jon was a decent man but he later found out that both Jon and Vanessa consistently bad-mouthed him. Meanwhile, Vanessa insisted Gary foot the bill for significant events which he was not allowed to attend. Gary's conceded, not wanting to cause more pain or suffering. He wished Vanessa could have eased off with her war strategy. His tone changed, pleading in pain. Sadly, she hasn’t stopped to this day even though their kids are now adults.
Vanessa’s anger and behaviour towards him destroyed any chance of a father-son relationship. His first-born reached out recently, but his second has remained loyal to hating him. He paid for their university, trips, whatever, but he missed out and continues to miss out on a relationship with them that isn’t tarred by lies and anger.
‘You would think once she married she would have eased up, but she didn’t.’
Gary knew that his kids were hurt, confused, and loyal to their mother. He lived locally, patiently waiting for the day they would reach out to him, but it never happened. Eventually, he took a job offer abroad, he had put his life on hold long enough. A year later he met Jessica on a dating app, who is still with today. The boys were fuming when they found out, Gary doesn't understand why.
‘It hurts all the time and it's all my fault.’
Jessica knows everything, she knew everything before they physically met. After living an atrocious lie Gary states that he couldn’t, ‘wouldn’t’ walk into a serious relationship without being whole and honest.
Gary hasn’t forgiven himself, and his voice quivers at times, you can hear the shards of pain piercing his heart. He knows he is guilty and he can’t change a thing but aches for the boys to let him be a part of their lives.
‘I am a gambler, I have an addiction, I have hurt the people I love, I have stolen and I have paid for all of it financially and today I am still paying emotionally for my actions. Vanessa had a right to be hurt and angry, but the kids did not deserve the pain and anger she pushed upon them.’
If you need help, please reach out to one of the many gambling organisations available globally. I assure you that you are not alone.
If you want to share your story or you are a professional who wants to share some insights please email me at email@example.com