Every Story Matters: Allie

Trigger Warning: The following content contains descriptions of gambling, gambling elements, and addiction, which may be distressing for some individuals.    

Allie DeMello is the spouse of an individual in recovery from a gambling addiction. Her husband Sam DeMello spoke with NCPG about his recovery journey in a previously published profile. Allie sat down with NCPG to share her experience with problem gambling as part of Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM). This year’s theme, “Every Story Matters,” is a testament to both the power and vulnerability of sharing one’s experience with problem gambling. 

[Read Sam DeMello’s profile here.]

NCPG: Hi Allie, thank you for joining us. Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself?

Allie: Hi, my name is Allie McCarthy DeMello, and my husband Sam is in recovery from a gambling addiction. Professionally, I’ve spent my career as a writer both in academia, and more recently in the technology industry. When I’m not working, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, outdoors, and raising our two daughters.

NCPG: Can you talk about what you noticed when things were beginning to become a problem for Sam?

Allie: I would notice that Sam was distracted or that he seemed on edge. Sometimes he’d exhibit behaviors that felt a little bit out of control. I’d known he gambled socially, but had no idea of the extent. Now I know that he was actively struggling with gambling.

During that time period one of the most difficult things for me was that I never knew which guy I was going to get—my gregarious, witty, loving boyfriend or the guy who felt distant and wired.

I had to link together small things he shared and behaviors I noticed. It wasn’t one moment, it was over the course of time, where he finally started to open up and say: This is something I’m struggling with. This is something I’m trying to stay away from. I’ve gone to a GA meeting. Here’s what it’s all about. And then eventually, Here’s where I’d like your help.

NCPG: What happened after he opened up?

Allie: In order to support him becoming gamble-free, I asked him to be very, very honest with me. That openness is a cornerstone of our relationship, and I think that’s been a foundational part of his recovery.

The other thing I should mention is that after he shared the harm and struggles he was experiencing, we found tactical ways that I could help. I took control of our joint finances. I also checked in with him every week, How are you feeling? Did you gamble? We could work through any answer as long as we were having the conversation. Things like that were really helpful in putting honesty into action.

NCPG: Are there things that have surprised you during the recovery journey with Sam?

Allie: He’s able to be more authentic now that he has the weight of gambling lifted off of him.

For instance, he’s a really kind and personable guy. Connecting with others is at the center of who he is, whereas a gambling addiction has a fair bit of isolation to it. I experienced him closing off some of the parts of himself that are so wonderful to be around when he was gambling. In building Evive, he’s connecting with others in recovery in really meaningful ways.

NCPG: A lot of Americans report having very little knowledge of problem gambling resources or where to find help for a loved one. When you were entering this recovery process with Sam, was that a challenge for you?

Allie: I personally had a thin understanding of gambling when Sam and I first met. It’s not something that I’d done for fun, and I was certainly not aware that people had problems with it. In supporting him in recovery, I’ve had to really educate myself on gambling and gambling harm.

In the popular consciousness, like in news or media or community conversations, there aren’t many stories about what it feels like to have a gambling problem. I found that I had to self-educate on how it’s a different addiction than drugs or alcohol.

For instance, I found it helpful to understand how gambling interacts with brain chemistry, and can cause changes in dopamine cycles.

NCPG: Was there something in those beginning stages that you wish you would have seen to support you specifically?

Allie: A reminder that you’re not alone, no matter who you are in the ecosystem of gambling harm. There are other people who are in the same boat. Removing some of the secrecy and shame around it and finding people who are in similar situations is powerful, especially in the beginning.

NCPG: How do you position yourself in that ecosystem?

Allie: I’m someone who loves a gambling addict and wants to advocate for his success and sobriety.

Loved ones have a two-sided role in the ecosystem. Sometimes they’re negatively impacted by the gambling harm themselves. That journey is real and shouldn’t be overlooked. Second, loved ones are key stalwarts in their person’s recover. So you can be the one to check in, to keep them accountable. Once your loved one has decided they want to stop gambling, find a functional role to play in their recovery, whatever that looks like for you.

NCPG: So, just like there is no one certain path to recovery, there’s also no one certain path for loved ones to support recovery as well?

Allie: Yes, absolutely.

NCPG: How have the relationships within your family changed since Sam began his recovery journey?

Allie: The number one thing that has changed is that Sam is much more present within the relationships that matter to him, the closest family relationships. He’s proactively calling the people who live far away, putting his phone down, making the time together high quality.

NCPG: We heard from Sam that you’ve been with him throughout his recovery – is there any advice you’d give to other impacted loved ones who find themselves in a similar situation?

Allie: I would say that even though change is scary, your relationship can become stronger through the tough process of recovery. My advice is to trust that you love the person, even when it’s hard. Find tactics (barriers, stress relievers, outlets) that work for you both. Educate yourself. And take care of your needs so that you can stay strong and resilient. It’s not a quick process.

It’s something that they will always struggle with…it’s a chronic condition like diabetes. Check in often and without judgement, but also be communicative of any negative impacts on you. Your experience matters too.

NCPG: What are you optimistic about for the future? 

Allie: I’m very optimistic about what Sam’s doing with Evive, and more broadly his engagement with the problem gambling community. At a high level, I truly believe that the product and community will make a positive impact on those struggling with the consequences of gambling. On a more personal level, I’ve never seen Sam so passionate about something he’s working on, and I see how the involvement with the community is supporting his own recovery.

NCPG: Thank you so much. And thank you for sharing your story with us.   

If you or someone you know may have a gambling problem, contact the National Problem Gambling Helpline, which offers hope and help without stigma or shame. Call 1-800-GAMBLER, text 800GAM, or visit www.1800gamblerchat.org. Help is available 24/7 – it is free and confidential.
Evive is an evidence-based platform that empowers individuals to develop a more mindful and intentional relationship with gambling. Without pressure or judgment, Evive helps its members live a life free from the harmful effects of gambling by combining best in-class tools, comprehensive educational modules, and a supportive community of like-minded individuals– all in an easy-to-use smartphone app.  

Your journey is individual, but at Evive, you’re not alone. To learn more, visit www.getevive.app.