A guest blog from Chris Gillam:
It was the summer of 2016 and from memory about a year since I had attended the National Problem Gambling Clinic (NPGC) in Soho, London.
There I was standing in one of the school fields with my 2-year-old daughter, when I heard my number called out over the loudspeakers. I had won the first prize an, Amazon Fire and an Echo Dot. I was bringing Alexa home!
I had not felt this kind of rush since a long time before I referred myself to the NPGC in April 2015. There it was though, the explosion of warmth in my stomach, followed by erratic movements that I liken to tics that I am so aware of due to my son having Tourette’s. The immediate worry that if I did not run, I would lose out. I needed this prize, but the immediate thought was that if I were not quick enough, they would pull out another winner. Thinking rationally now that would not have happened, because as in all raffles they had taken my phone number in case I had gone home before the draw.
So, there I was alone with my 2-year-old-daughter in the field next to the playground. My son was with his grandparents and my wife was helping on the face painting stall. Looking back one of the only stalls at the school summer fete that did not involve gambling. It amazes me now that the school fate is based around the chance of winning. Give us a pound and if you guess whether the next three cards are higher or lower, whether you pull out the right colour or number ticket, or if you guess the correct outcome we will give you a prize. Something I never thought of until after the dreaded raffle win!
Then I just ran, the tingling in my arms and legs, the sweat on my brow, I had to get my prize. I did not feel in control and just ran. I picked up my winnings, waved to all the parents applauding and then it hit me, oh shit, I left her in the other field! Not wanting to look like a bad parent I decided not to run back to the other field and arouse any suspicion, but instead strolled briskly to collect my daughter. Of course, she was not there. My heart sunk, where was she, had someone taken her? Of course, the initial loss of all control when I heard my number had now returned. I was back in Dad mode and I love my children more than anything. I wandered around quickly looking for her and fortunately found her a couple of minutes later at the playground, next to where I had collected my prize.
Then not making a fuss I headed over to my family, showed them what I had won and got on with the day. I thought no more about the incident that day. It was in the past. I had my prize and my daughter was safe.
However, as the days passed there was this little niggle. I realised that from the time I spent taking part in group cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) at the NPGC a year earlier, I should not have taken part in a raffle. Taking part in a raffle is gambling. I paid my money and there was a small chance I was going to win but win I did. It is like putting £10 on a 66-1 horse and it coming in. It is not going to win, until it does of course and then happy days a pocketful of money to lose all over again!
I had not planned to buy a raffle ticket that day, but I was lured in. I had not taken part in the tombola or any other games at the fete for that reason. The only things available at the school fete for a compulsive gambler and alcoholic was the burger stall and the ice cream van. The beer tent and Prosecco tent were a no go, the games that the kids play are not appropriate so all I could do was get my face painted! Cool hey!
As the day’s passed I realised that I should not have brought that ticket but because I had not gambled for a year at this point, I thought I would be ok. I decided not to mention to anyone that I should not have bought the ticket and that I was starting to feel uneasy. I have not gambled for over a year I thought, this was just a blip, I would forget about it and move on.
This was a huge mistake; I should have spoken to somebody. I should have explained that taking part in a raffle is gambling. I should have asked my family and friends to regularly check on me because I was feeling agitated. I should have made those close to me aware that it was even more important that they kept regularly checking my bank account. I should have started going to the monthly NPGC meeting for those who had been through the CBT programme to continue to receive on-going support. I did none of this. Instead I pretended to myself and everyone else that everything was ok.
In truth winning that raffle was the start of a terrible year and a half. A year and a half of anxiety, depression, panic attacks and finally very nearly death.
Please be careful. If you have an issue with gambling do not take part in raffles or lotteries. It is easy to justify that they are ok because by buying a ticket we are giving money to a good cause; so, they are not really gambling! Let me be clear, raffles and lotteries are gambling. If you give money and may then win a prize, you are gambling. I now donate the money but do not accept the raffle ticket and life is so much better that way.