Listen up. I’m only going to say this once.
I’ve been writing this blog for about eighteen months now, writing about poker machines and problem gambling and all that. Long time readers will know that my original intention was to make this blog extremely personal; to bleed the words onto the screen and map out my own story in bloody, excruciating detail. You know, the “teach the world through your own pain” approach.
That was stupid.
As time went by, I started looking more and more closely at the industry, and the politics, and the mechanics of poker machine addiction. The blog became more investigative, more analytical, more informative. I found my groove, found a way of telling the stories I felt needed to be heard without the constant focus on me.
That was better.
Still, every now and then something personal comes up that I feel I need to share. I’ve written about my past, about the shame that persists for years after walking away from the machines. I’ve written about my depression, about my motivations for doing what I do. I don’t write a lot about me any more, but sometimes I feel it’s something I have to do.
This is not one of those times. But I’m doing it anyway.
It’s no secret that I suffer from depression. I’m one of the lucky ones, the black dog only wanders through my door every once in a while and generally doesn’t stay for more than a few days. It’s also no secret that my pokie addiction and my depression were inextricably linked… feeding each other for years.
There are an awful lot of people out there who take the higher ground when it comes to poker machines. They say that poker machine addiction is nothing more than a symptom of deeper problems, like depression and other mental health issues. Loneliness, guilt, financial hardship… these too are seen as the real targets, the things we should be taking action on instead of trying to “fix” problem gambling. If it isn’t the pokies, they say, it would be something else.
I won’t deny there is some merit to this. There are so many things that make people vulnerable to poker machine addiction; this I know all too well. But to suggest that this is a reason that poker machines should be left alone? That the industry should not have to change the way it operates?
These past few days, the black dog came back with a vengeance. Most areas of my life are going through a pretty massive upheaval right now, and after juggling everything for so long, it all came crashing down. I’ll spare you the details; you don’t need to know, and I don’t want your sympathy nor your understanding.
But yesterday, at my lowest point, I found myself sitting on the floor, head in hands… and all I could think about was taking the handful of dollars that I had left in my bank account and heading down the road to The Cove Hotel. Never been there, but I drive past it most days and the Tabaret sign is like a beacon. All I wanted to do was play.
And I haven’t played a poker machine in over eleven years.
Have no doubt, this thing is an addiction. It’s real, and it sinks into your soul so deeply that no matter how far you come, it’s always there. Waiting. I guess some people are lucky and can shake it off altogether; I’m not one of those.
That I didn’t give in has nothing to do with any kind of inner strength, or personal resolve, or any of that happy bullshit. It was fear that kept me in line, nothing more and nothing less. Fear of what I would do, of what I would become. Fear of sliding down that road again. I was scared shitless.
So I have something to say, and I need to say it now before I climb all the way back. Before I regain my equilibrium, my sense of humour; before I start thinking clearly again.
It’s a message for all those who point at the addicted and tell them to take responsibility. Tell them to harden up, to use some self control and grow a spine. It’s for all those who stand upon their principles and preach that we need to treat the causes of addiction, and forget about the machines that they turn to when the pain gets to be too much. It’s for all those who defend the industry, who talk about the benefits of poker machines outweighing the harms, the good they bring to the community.
Fuck your small-minded ignorance, your selfish bullshit, your self-serving lies.
Fuck your blindness to the pain that you cause, support, encourage.
Fuck your short-sighted justifications, the lies you cling to that let you sleep at night.
People are being broken beyond repair, and you look away. Lives are being destroyed, families torn apart, and you look away. Every word you say in the defence of this industry is an abomination.
The pain is real. The addiction is real. Poker machines aren’t the goddamned social fabric of this country; they’re tearing it apart. Of course we should be doing more to fight depression and help those who need it before they fall… but to say that that’s all we should be doing is so, so wrong.
And if you can’t see that… then you can go to hell.