Gabriela’s Story in her own words
Free Yourself Program by GABRIELA BYRNE
For four years I fought the battle of a severe gambling addiction. I spent hours/months/years in intense conversations (counselling, psychotherapy, and hypnotherapy) to find out “why” I did what I did. I re-lived childhood experiences, analysed feelings towards my parents and discovered hidden self-esteem problems. You name it and we discussed it. Did I stop gambling? No, but I was able to collect a few excuses as to why I couldn’t.
I also went to a few “Gambling Anonymous” meetings. I’ve met a lot of people who, on a sliding scale of misery, surpassed me by miles. In the end I personally just could not accept the philosophy “Once a gambler – Always a gambler” and continued to look for a way to change my addiction to poker machines. I was certain that I was dealing with a behavioural problem and not a genetic identity mix-up. While I was desperate to find a solution I still managed to push our family savings through a slot, I almost lost my marriage, two jobs and more than once I contemplated suicide.
I noticed that gambling had a noticeable effect on my physical, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. So eventually I took steps to improve my physical well being by diet and exercise. I implemented some drastic re-thinking strategies (that I had learnt by studying Neuro-Linguistic-Programming). Gradually my addiction to poker machines reduced.
The final step in my freedom from my gambling addiction was when I found the missing puzzle piece in my jigsaw puzzle of life – I filled the spiritual void that had made me feel incomplete. This last step will vary from person to person – other missing pieces of the puzzle could be unresolved grief, childhood trauma, loneliness and/or boredom.
This holistic approach enabled me to free myself from my own gambling addiction and led to the development of the Free Yourself Program.
I put all my strategies into a program called the Free Yourself Program and the Reverend Tim Costello launched it in 1997. I published a book and tape (now a CD) and a family video (now a DVD) titled “my passionate affair with the poker machine”. I am extremely proud of the DVD because on it is my family sharing their experience of the journey through my affair with the poker machine and so far it has helped many people whose loved one is having a problem with Pokies to understand a little bit more and to have hope that it is possible to get through this as a family.
Since then I have worked with the Free Yourself Program to help people fight the gambling beast. I have also been raising awareness in the general public about the problems associated with poker machine gambling through weekly public speaking engagements and many media appearances.
I am reaching people that otherwise would still believe that poker machines are a harmless form of entertainment – and I give hope to many who are addicted and don’t believe that there is a way out of the gambling trap.
I have been politically involved, became a consulting member of the Interchurch Taskforce on Gambling, joined “Community Action on Pokie Problems”, “Know The Odds” and I even stood (unsuccessfully) in 2 Victorian state elections on a “No Pokies” platform.
Over the years FYP has helped many people but I felt that more had to be done to tackle the problem from other angles as well. Not enough importance has been put on the fact that people often go to gaming venues initially to socialise, have fun, be entertained and to escape from the real world. It becomes their “Home away from Home” or what I am referring to now as their “3rd place”. The first place is home, the second place is work/school etc. and the third place is the home away from home or “3rd place”.
In 2001 we founded the not-for-profit organisation Chrysalis Insight Inc and we opened and ran “The Chapel Restaurant” in Lilydale near Melbourne , Australia to create a “3rd Place”, a recreational alternative to poker machine venues in the community and a recovery model for problem gamblers. The restaurant was staffed mainly by volunteers, many of whom were themselves recovering from their own poker machine gambling addictions.
The focus of the restaurant was to provide real entertainment to the community and an alternative to the poker machine venues. In late 2004 the restaurant was sold and we had to close. The model we pioneered in the Chapel Restaurant was very successful and we are now embarking on various projects that utilise our learnings but will reach more people and develop many more 3rd places all over Australia.