“It takes time for a problem gambler to reach the stage where the world comes crashing down...eventually we lose everything, lose respect for ourselves, fall into depressed states, many of which end in disastrous results....”
Carl, 49 wrote those words only days before he drove his car into the family garage just after lunch March 22, 2000, closed the door, and waited for death. His wife of nearly 30 years spoke to him at noon, then found his lifeless body when she came home from work about 3:30 p.m. Frantic, she called 911 and began CPR. But it was too late.
Louise, now 52, is still devastated by the untimely death of the man she loved and admired. Sadly, for the rest of her life, Louise will live with the anger of knowing she lost her husband not to the ravages of cancer or the scourge of heart disease, but to the demons of his compulsive gambling addiction.
Today, more than two years since Carl’s death, Louise fights back tears when she talks about the horror of a husband consumed with a need to gamble, and the emptiness of being left alone.
“It shouldn’t have happened, but it is such an awful, insidious disease, you try to do everything you can to help them, but for some people, like Carl, nothing seems to be able to help,” said Louise. “It breaks your heart, and you question yourself, always thinking there must have been something more you could have done. But in your heart you know you did everything possible.”
Louise’s story is one that is played out in hundreds of homes every day across North America, where the little understood, and stigmatized addiction that is gambling, is taking a toll on its victims and on their families.
Carl’s gambling began early in their marriage, wheeling and dealing in the stock market, where he took risks with the family’s savings and took out a large second mortgage on a mortgage-free home.
“He was knowledgeable but he often lost money and most people don’t realize that it’s still gambling,” said Louise. “When we went on vacation we had to
Both of them earned a substantial amount of money, Louise working for a major manufacturing company and Carl as a sales representative. With no children, and not living the high life, the couple should have been on easy street. But hundreds of thousands of their hard earned salaries and savings were squandered on various forms of card games, mostly in the high roller room at Casino Windsor.
By the time Carl recognized he had a serious problem and had himself banned from Casino Windsor, Detroit’s three casinos were open and crossing the border to gamble became a regular occurrence for Carl. That happened even after he told Louise about his problem and she agreed to take out a line of credit to cover his debts - under the mistaken impression she was doing the right thing and that he could put it behind him and start over. Unfortunately, starting over takes a tremendous amount of work and self discipline. The summer before he committed suicide, Carl spent two months at Homewood, a well respected facility for dealing with the addicted. But his treatment didn’t take. Carl relapsed and was soon running up credit cards, cashing in the family RRSPs and sinking in quick sand. He found credit cards Louise had hidden away, and ran up a $42,000 debt. “I knew he had a terrible illness, but I didn’t know how hopeless it was becoming for him”, Louise said sadly. “In some of the letters he would write to me he said the more help he got the more he realized how bad he was”.
Carl had attempted suicide several days earlier but that time Louise was fortunately able to revive him. His second attempt was planned to make sure she didn’t find him in time. While his death ended Carl’s own misery, Louise was left to pick up the pieces of her life. Everything they hoped to use for retirement was gone. She is left to deal with the guilt and sadness, and the shame of not having kept a better eye on their financial affairs. Nick Rupcich, manager of the Windsor Regional Problem Gambling Services, reassures Louise that she did everything humanly possible to help her husband.
“Addicted people go against their own values and their sense of right and wrong,” said Rupcich. “Perhaps he could have been working at his treatment a little harder. It’s hard to say. There is always hope, but you really have to want to succeed and be willing to work hard at it.” Louise is sharing her story in the hope that it will prevent even one person from suffering the hell she and her husband endured. In his last hours of hurt and humiliation, Carl also wrote about the illness, hoping to save someone else when he couldn’t save himself; “I can personally attest to the devastating effect gambling has had on my life - mentally, physically, spiritually and of course materially...Problem gamblers will destroy their lives and those close to them just as much as those who abuse alcohol or drugs.”
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