I remember a relatively happy early childhood. Holidays, my mum always being proud of me and an education that made me love words and learning. High school was harder, with my parents’ divorce and the advent of anxiety and depression which were a constant feature of my teenage years. Nevertheless, I persisted against my black dog and was successful in obtaining entry to Law at Adelaide University.
My family regularly went to lunches on the weekend at the local pub where I remember hearing pokie machines in the background of our conversation. My grandfather, who I loved dearly, took great delight in taking me behind the glass screen that bordered the machines from the restaurant on my 18th birthday... Smiling, he handed me a cup full of coins "enjoy it *Jessica" he said, "this is what we do together". And for the next seven years, that's exactly what we did. Nobody knew that these insidious, predatory machines were consuming my thoughts. I'd actively try and find an excuse to see my grandfather. Then they started to seep into my life as something I did alone. I deserved it, I told myself. I worked hard, and was allowed to enjoy myself. My grandfather died in 2005, and after that time, my addiction skyrocketed. I kept telling myself that I'd find the peace I was looking for. In the arms of a poker machine. Reflecting on it now, it seems so irrational... but I kept chasing it. I still chase it.
It was somewhere I always felt safe. Nobody would bother me, or ask me about how I was feeling. Money slipped through my fingers like it was water. It didn't even seem like real cash. If I couldn't pay my bills, I'd just borrow money from my ever-loving mother... who is still none the wiser about the consuming nature that these machines have on my life. I tried so many times to stop - and I'm still trying. Levels of debt in my life fluctuate depending on how well my addiction is being managed. Right now, it's alright. The debt is low and I'm managing to pay all my bills on time. Sometimes, it creeps up. I have to actively stop myself from accruing more. Seek my safety and peace within the arms of those who love me, rather than a machine who will never give me the solace that I am craving.
In the words of the immortal song "I'm not a perfect person... there's many things I wish I didn't do"... and there still are. I fight this urge daily, hourly, sometimes minute to minute. Sometimes it still wins. But sometimes I do. And those wins are undoubtedly one of the greatest personal victories I've ever had. One day, I hope I won't have to live day by day fighting this demon. One day, I'll smile at the world again and know that if I eat a meal in a pub and hear those noises, I won't spend the entire time I'm there wondering about whether I can get around to the area where the machines are without my dining companions asking me what I'm doing. I've lied to everyone I love. I can't take that back or fix it now. I can spend my life surrounded by people who care, people who inspire and people who recognise that I am still me. There's just part of me that was lost. And I hope to find it again.
*Name changed for anonymity