Mum launches Hope Project for problem gamblers

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For 12 long, painful years, Murrumbateman mum Kate Seselja was hiding a secret she would rather die than face, let alone make public.
She was a gambling addict.
Now in full recovery, she has not only faced her worst fear, she is opening up and sharing her story in an endeavour to help others, setting up a support and advocacy service she calls The Hope Project.
It stands for Help Other People Everyday.
Here’s her story…
Why did you embark on The Hope Project?
It came out of the depths of my despair, I just couldn’t walk away from the pain I knew existed, I had to do something to try and help others in that unconscious fog.
I felt like my own recovery wasn’t enough.
How did you work up the courage to go public with your addiction?
It was a gradual process. At the time of my almost suicide, when I sought help, my counsellor asked me ‘what are ten things you like about yourself?’, and I just burst into tears. I asked, ‘can I list my children individually?’ and they said no, you have to think about what it is that you like about yourself.
It took me a week and I wrote the list, and I still have it. Because any one thing on that list was more important to me than this one weakness.
I grew up in Sydney, one of seven, and I loved being in a big family and I wanted that for myself. We got married when we were 20 and life got pretty tricky pretty quickly.
We managed as best we could. My husband had depression as a teen, and I had gambled as a teen with my first boyfriend and had quickly become intoxicated by it.
What was the drawcard? IMG_1380
For me it was the pokies, and those machines are actually built for addiction, the way they draw you in and make noises like you’re winning but you’re actually not; it reacts with your brain, at least it did mine.
I was putting note after note in without even realising how much money I was going through.
At my worst point, I was going through $5000 a day.
Over the 12 years that I gambled during our marriage, my husband knew about it when I couldn’t hide it anymore. But because of his depression, he made me financial controller of the family.
I’m not justifying my behaviour, I’m absolutely not blaming him.
We were just both in so much pain and not knowing how to deal with it or help each other through it, or access the help that we needed. And we both just coped the only way we knew how.
When was your lowest point?
That day, it was in January 2012, my gambling had escalated to the point that it did, and I didn’t realise at the time that I was trying to implode, because physically I couldn’t handle the stress any longer.
My husband was barely functioning, only to just go to work and come home, and I was consumed with regret and shame and fear, and I was just basically going through the motions.
I was pregnant with our sixth child.
(Her children were aged  12, 10, eight, three and two, she was a stay-at-home mum and they were building a new house at the time.)
The only reason I’m sitting across from you right now is because I was pregnant at the time. If I wasn’t, I wouldn’t have even paused.
 How many other people out there put that last dollar in the machine, consumed with regret, then make that final decision they can never come back from?
I think we make decisions and we decide for other people what they can and can’t handle, but now I’m free.
I don’t care what people think about me, if they choose to judge me, it’s their stuff, not mine.
How did the addiction it start?
I started gambling in our marriage when we built our first house in 2003 when we were living with my in-laws. The pressure that I was under in that circumstance caused me to resort to old habits that I’d previously given up since meeting my husband.
I started when I was 18 but during the past four years, looking back I realise the subtle influences of the gambling culture in our society has always been there – even the lucky envelopes game at the parish when I was five-years-old!  I was obsessed with spending money on the secret envelopes to see if I could win money. I thought winning money was somehow an answer to life’s problems.
How do you cope with such prominent gambling events like the Melbourne Cup?
I’m not anti gambling.
I know there are people that can walk up to a poker machine, put a dollar in and walk away. I’m not one of those people.
Just like not everyone who drinks alcohol automatically becomes an alcoholic.
But I didn’t know the dangers of gambling when I started.
The dangers are that because so much psychology and technology has gone into the machines, they are literally built for addiction. The longer a person plays them, the more susceptible they are to developing an addiction.
How do we change that?
Even having a simple conversation with your children. Explaining how it’s designed, how the House always wins, dispelling the myth that people can beat the system, explaining that wins are only very short term. Explaining that when prolonged playing occurs, the outcome is always negative.
kate seselja2
Did you ever seek help?
I did when I was hospitalised after I had a series of mild strokes brought on by stress (in 2006).
I felt I was carrying everybody and everything, and I couldn’t any more, I was so done.
I thought if anybody found out about it, I’d kill myself.
I couldn’t deal with the stigma, the only stories in the news about gambling were people who were being vilified for it.
I thought, how can I admit to this and what would people think?
I don’t think I was comfortable with the term addict. I couldn’t reconcile the two in my head and I kept thinking if people know this about me, then everything else they think about me will become null and void, and I’ll just be an “addict”.
Right through the 12 years, I was in the grip of fear and shame and only seeing my life through the lens of regret.
I couldn’t see all the good things I was doing, all the love I was bringing to people.
What’s been your turning point?
Having the realisation that if I destroy it, I’m free.
When I got help that last time and I recouped, I joined a group called Smart Recovery (self management and recovery training). For the first time in my adult life I breathed a sigh of relief because people in that group knew how I felt and I was understood on a completely different level.
It helped me to realise that I needed to put strategies in place in order to cope with my life.
(The group met at Mission Australia in the ACT, and in 2014 Relationships Australia took over gambling care.)
During that transition, an opportunity became available for me to go to Sydney and train to be a facilitator of the meeting.
That was the next step of restoring me.
That was the start of me realising that I could use my experience and knowledge to help others in pain.
At the end of last year I started training to be a consumer voice speaker for the Gambling Impact Society, going to functions and speaking about my experience of gambling.
What’s next for you now?
Earlier this year I decided that I needed to do more and that’s when the idea of The Hope Project came to me.
The aim is Help Other People Everyday (HOPE). With a focus on others you’re not focussing on yourself and that is the best way to move forward, whilst understanding the importance of self care and self esteem as vital for functioning at your peak.
Today I was speaking at the Youth Coalition, helping to launch a youth gambling initiative which they consulted with me about.
I’m passionate about education, prevention, and the “Awake” workshop that I have developed, and I’m looking to have it more widely available online.
I desperately want to get it into schools so that young kids will know what to do when one of their peers is spiralling out of control. They can say to them, “mate you’re not awake”.
I believe what happens in today’s society is because nobody wants to acknowledge that weaknesses aren’t flaws, and one is only ever praised in success, when struggles like this occur and people don’t have a positive self esteem and are not practicing self care, they are not getting that vital oxygen they need, and therefore slip unconscious and start on a course of destruction with gambling , drinking, or drugs.
How have people responded?
It’s been phenomenal, the response and the overwhelming embrace that I’ve received from people.
The biggest fear of my life has dissolved into nothing but love and respect.
The way in which my vulnerability disarms people and allows them to access what they are perhaps not even aware of in their own journey, has been a by-product that I wasn’t even expecting.
But the way people come up to me after I speak and share intimate stories with me of their own struggles, has made it more rewarding than I could ever have imagined.
The way my audiences leave is completely different to who they are as they enter.
How does your family feel about it?
I remember after that night I almost killed myself, was the first time I had to talk to my eldest child about what was going on with me. It was the hardest conversation of my life, because I’d tried to keep it all from them.
I used to get them babysat in the house, so they never had an association between me and the clubs.
I said to him, ‘hey, I’ve made so many mistakes and I’m really sorry’. He said ‘mum everybody makes mistakes’.
The older three know and are very proud of what I’m doing. The younger ones know that I’m working obviously, and I’ve said I’m helping people that don’t have anybody that they can talk to or to help them. And that’s enough for them.
I never expected this as an outcome. But it makes it all worth while. How could I fight so hard in this space where nobody else is fighting if I didn’t know the pain that existed?
Moving on
 Look at the strength and capacity I have now. I was in total overwhelm all of the time, now  I am free and awake and gambling only represents a life I don’t want any part of any more, it’s not alluring to me at all.
It’s a great space to be in.
What have been the financial costs of gambling?
Over my life time I’ve gambled between $500,00 to $700,000.
I have to believe I’ve had every other kind of recovery, and that the financial recovery will come eventually too.
Read a related story here.
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Katharyn Brine

Editor / Publisher

4 Comments

  1. Cecilia

    November 24, 2015 at 10:34 am

    Kate you are a true warrior woman. Its a blessing to call you friend. You are a role model for all. And indeed our weaknesses are not our failings <3

  2. Tracy

    November 24, 2015 at 11:49 am

    All I can think of to say comes off as schmaltzy, but I don’t care. Brave, inspirational and an absolutely lovely person to boot. When I was a kid gambling was ubiquitous in my immediate and extended family – the TAB, the pokies, etc and I have seen the impact it has on people and families. i hope the project takes off – it is sorely needed.

  3. Tracy

    November 24, 2015 at 11:50 am

    All I can think of to say comes off as schmaltzy, but I don’t care. Brave, inspirational and an absolutely lovely person to boot. When I was a kid gambling was ubiquitous in my immediate and extended family – the TAB and pokies especially, and I have seen the impact it has on people and families. i hope your project takes off – it is sorely needed.

  4. Sue Owen

    November 24, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    Onwards and upwards Kate. Wishing you all the best in getting such a brilliant project off the ground and the empowerment it brings you and so many others in the future. Warm hugs, Sue

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