There's hope and help for problem gambling.

Emily’s Story

After a half century of addictions, Emily finally gets the help she needs

Emily was just five years old when the abuse began. She remembers it like it was yesterday, still a chilling nightmare. For four long years she was sexually abused by her uncle, accompanied by threats of “don’t ever tell or your family will be hurt.”

The secret that Emily held inside for more than 50 years propelled her into a series of negative choices – part of a long search, she said, to “release me from the pain.” From over-eating to alcohol abuse, through four failed marriages and eventually to gambling, Emily fell into a cycle of addictions trying to escape her past. It wasn’t until she found the Gamblers Choice program at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota that she has finally been able to find prolonged happiness.

Early signs of trouble

Emily started binge drinking in high school.

“I was addicted after my first drink,” she said. “I guess that was a good indication that I had an addictive personality, but I didn’t know the reason for it then. Drinking just made me feel good.”

At the age of 17, Emily found herself pregnant and unmarried, the likely consequence of a binge drinking episode. She placed her baby for adoption, and started life on her own as a beauty school student. From that time forward, she said, her life became a blur of ups and downs, including four marriages that produced three daughters.

Emily was able to quit drinking with the help of Alcoholics Anonymous and she completed a degree in social work, gaining her first professional job and starting her career. However, her addiction continued in the form of compulsive eating, which resulted in obesity and other health problems.

“I ballooned to more than 300 pounds from compulsive eating,” she said. In order to help avoid additional weight gain and reduce the risk of future health problems, Emily had gastric bypass surgery, helping to alleviate her eating compulsions.

However, a stressful family situation triggered more addiction issues. After receiving the devastating news that her only sister was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer, Emily spent three weeks caring for her sister. Returning to Moorhead for a break, Emily stopped at a casino en route. She gambled compulsively for more than 12 hours and lost “way too much money,” she said. When daylight came, she got in her car to continue on home.

“I started shaking all over and crying uncontrollably,” Emily recalled. “The stress of my sister’s illness and losing all that money devastated me. I had the urge to just drive off the road into the ditch.”

“I got into Gamblers Choice at that time but was unable to commit to the program,” she said. “Within two months, my resolve failed and I was gambling again.”

Following her sister’s death, Emily returned home and decided to quit drinking in order to prepare for driving truck in the sugar beet harvest as she had done each year.

“It was a very difficult harvest – wet and muddy – the worst ever. When we finished, I went to a casino to decompress,” Emily said. After playing more than 12 hours, smoking two packs of cigarettes and losing more money, she left the casino feeling physically and mentally sick, tired and demoralized.

“I almost fell asleep driving home and really scared myself, realizing what could have happened to me,” she said.

When Emily arrived home she found in her mail a survey from Gamblers Choice – a survey she had received several times since exiting the program earlier that year. She checked the box asking if she still needed help with a gambling problem, tearfully signed the bottom line and mailed the survey back on a Friday.

The next Monday, Dawn Cronin from Gamblers Choice called her and asked, “What’s up?”

“I knew at that exact moment that I was powerless over gambling and my life had become unmanageable,” Emily remembered.

Emily worked with Dawn and Lisa Vig, two of the six certified Gamblers Choice counselors at Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.

“The Gamblers Choice program and the support I receive have completely changed my life,” Emily said. She now attends Gamblers Choice meetings every Tuesday and Thursday and also attends Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

“Dawn and Lisa and the group members at Gamblers Choice do what no one else had ever done for me,” Emily said. “They listen and understand that gambling, like alcohol abuse and compulsive overeating, are pathologies. That’s why I feel that Gamblers Choice is my family now.”

A changed life

“The change in my life came about because I finally felt understood, accepted and validated,” Emily said. Emily hasn’t used gambled or used alcohol for the past four years.

“I’m feeling very comfortable and happy with my life now, for the first time.” she says.