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    An Addiction That Requires No Substances – This Is My Story

    By Catherine Townsend-Lyon, Author and Advocate

    My name is Catherine, and I’m a recovering gambling addict. 
    “How does did a good girl go bad? By crossing a fine line from a “once in awhile gambler into a full-blown addiction.” 
    As I began gambling with money, I then started with the money I didn’t have, to selling anything I had, pawning valuables to then committing a crime as the money ran out. Toward the end and before treatment, I was gambling with my life! It became a cunning and sick cycle. I was broke, broken, lost, and hopeless. 
    Today statistics show that 2.9% of our population has a form of problem gambling along with 1 in 5 problem gamblers will try suicide. These numbers will continue to rise with the expansion of for-profit gambling options and venues, including some now legalized gambling like sports betting and state lottery gambling expanding as well, and it seems gambling is just about everywhere from my experiences. 
    It is no wonder I became addicted to it. I became one of the 1 in 5 who tried suicide while residing in Southern Oregon for over 26+years and where my journey to gambling addiction began. I, too, had two failed suicide attempts before I knew there was help available. I was gambling two to four times a day playing the Oregon lottery video poker/slot machines introduced in the early 90s. By 1998, the Oregon Lottery had licensed more than 9,000 video gambling machines in some 1,800 outlets, and I got hooked! Gambling on slot and poker machines has now become the second-biggest revenue raiser for Oregon government, behind income taxes. 
    My recovery journey began in 2002. And again, in April of 2006 where I woke up in a hospital for a second time as the result of another failed suicide attempt and then went back to an addiction and mental health crisis center for another 30-day stay. The problem wasn’t that I gambled again and relapsed; the problem was not taking my psych medications for a few weeks. I thought I didn’t need them; that I could be normal like everyone else around me, but as you read my story, you’ll see that didn’t work out too well. Hell, isn’t being normal a bit overrated? Lol.
    I had a few severe financial crises happen, and since I had not taken my medications and had worked through all of my savings, I panicked and chose to steal from someone. What a mess! Of course, she pressed charges. I was arrested, went through the court process, and was sentenced to many hours of community service, two years of probation and paid restitution that I am still paying today. If I don’t? I will die a felon. 
    But here is my point? 
    You have to do all the recovery work and the work in all areas that includes your finances (financial inventory). I had not done the work in this area and necessary for a steady recovery. Even though I was not gambling, my financial and legal troubles told me I still needed to work and maybe with a gambling addiction specialist. After my problems occurred, I did choose to with a specialist for a year while I went through the legal mess I created. 
    Why am I sharing this?
    Because our recovery stories and words are powerful tools to help others and give them hope after this second suicide attempt and crisis, I learned I did not have a well-rounded recovery and had a lot more work to do. I also learned that God, my higher power, had bigger plans for me, a purpose for me that involves helping those reaching out for recovery from the cunning illness of compulsive gambling addiction. 
    After I was released from the crisis center in 2006 and started working with a gambling specialist and got my mental health under control, I began to see the enormous stigma surrounding those of us who maintain recovery from any addiction who may also suffer from mental illness. And since I am a dual-diagnosed person, it can make obtaining recovery a bit more work, as I discovered. The habits, behaviors, and diseased thinking needed more correcting. 
    Working with a gambling specialist was eye-opening. He made me revisit and helped me break down the cycle of addiction, and we also worked with tools and skills for dealing with financial problems that may arise while maintaining recovery. I a relapse prevention workbook that helped and share it on my recovery blog still today as it was a game-changer for me. Although I never did relapse into gambling, this workbook has helped me develop a plan for any financial or life event that may arise during my recovery journey. It would be best if you have a plan before life events come.
    Another tool was journaling every day. I have always done this, but my specialist showed me how to relieve stress and learn more from my journaling. It was the journals later I used to help in writing my latest released book of memoirs. I didn’t start writing and journaling for a book that all came later on. Writing down my story and experiences in notebooks for a year was a very healing process for me. I shared my gambling addiction and alcohol abuse, my past childhood abuse, and sexual trauma and what it is like living with mental illness. 
    Today I never dreamed I would be a published author. That began my recovery advocacy, writing for several publications like formerly InRecovery magazine and now a columnist for “Keys To Recovery” newspaper. Just a few of my recovery blessings I have received in my path and from journaling thus far. By writing this book and sharing it with the world, I hope to help shatter the stigma around gambling addiction, those maintaining recovery, and those with mental and emotional health challenges. 
    I have begun to advocate and be a voice for those who suffered childhood sexual abuse as I did and some of my underlying pain to overcome and not use gambling to escape, cope, or hide from the painful memories. Through my book, I have chosen not to be anonymous. I want others to know how devastating compulsive gambling addiction is and how easily one can become addicted. It truly is a real disease and illness that requires no substances and is just as destructive. 
    I want others to be informed and educated as I raise awareness of the effects it has on our communities and shattering families. The expansion of casinos and state lotteries is making gambling more and more accessible, as it is now touching our youth. The best advice I can give when starting recovery? Learn about this addiction. Work with a specialist or recovery coach to learn the cycle and learn the tools and skills to interrupt it. 
    Work a steady recovery that encompasses mind, body, spirit, and finances. There are many ways and choices to recover, including in or outpatient treatment, 12-Step meetings, and more. Anything and everything you can find? Please do it. Only one option may not be enough to reach success in long-term recovery. I learned this the hard way. 
    Soon I will celebrate my 13th-year maintaining recovery and being ‘BET FREE.’ Today I pay it forward to those looking to recover and support. I continue to write and speak to raise awareness and educate the public. Gambling will never be banned, and that would not be fair to those who can gamble for the fun and entertainment value. If you do gamble? Please do it responsibly. 
    Catherine Townsend-Lyon is the best-selling author of her books “Addicted To Dimes” and “Ten The Hard Way: Stories of Recovery” both available on Amazon online. Catherine is a former columnist for InRecovery magazine and her column “The Authors Cafe'” and now a contributing writer and columnist at “Keys To Recovery” her column titled; Quit To Win.” Catherine has been a tireless advocate in combating, ‘for-profit’ gambling expansion and educating the public about gambling addiction and recovery. She continues sharing her long-term recovery and journaling through her blog “Bet Free Recovery Now.” She resides outside Phoenix, AZ via Southern Oregon. She is a lover of her three therapy cats.

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