Every Story Matters: Gwen

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

Gwen Day is a shift supervisor for the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling, which operates a contact center within the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network. She is also in recovery from a gambling addiction. Gwen sat down with NCPG to share her experience with problem gambling as part of the “Every Story Matters” series.
NCPG: Hi Gwen, thank you for joining us. Can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about yourself?  

Gwen: My name is Gwen Day and I have a couple of different ways I’m involved with problem gambling. The first is that I am in recovery from gambling and the second is that I work at the helpline run by the Louisiana Association on Compulsive Gambling.  

I originally came into recovery through alcohol and substances. I was sober, [but] gambling was here, and we had video poker and stuff. That was just a thing I did when I was waiting on my pizza at the pizza place. Then, at four or five years sober, I started realizing I was gambling more. If I got below 800 points on the machine, I would start feeling this anxiety. And so, I stopped for a minute and was like, oh, that didn’t feel right. 

I didn’t think anything of it and then it started happening again with other things. Silent auctions, raffles, anything that I would put into. I was working with the helpline before I realized that I had become addicted to gambling.  

I didn’t see myself going down a path of gambling addiction. I was listening to these awful stories…hearing those calls helped me in the long run, looking back. I was able to start recognizing my own behaviors and what I would hear other gamblers talking about on the helpline calls. I understood it. I got the feelings. I got the desperation, feeling the hopelessness. 

Photo courtesy of Gwen Day

NCPG: It sounds like both your recovery from prior addictions and your work with LACG helped inform your realization that there might be a problem. 

Gwen: Yeah, that’s I’ve always been grateful that I was in recovery from alcohol and substances before I started practicing my gambling addiction. I do think both of those things helped.  

NCPG: What was the most challenging part of recovery for you? 

Gwen: I learned that I could be a workaholic. It became my life. All of it. My life was recovery and work. It was just all entangled. That posed problems because I didn’t have my separate recovery. I could tell that it was encompassing my whole life. 

Now, I make sure that I keep my work in my recovery separate. Does it overflow? Sometimes. Am I able to talk to people about my recovery experience? Yes, and that’s fine with me, because that’s who I am. 

NCPG: How do you decide when to bring up your own recovery during a helpline call? 

Gwen: I’ll bring it up mostly when I can tell when somebody’s hurting and they really want help. It’s usually when people say my family just keeps telling me to stop and I don’t know why I can’t stop, that usually gets at my heartstrings. I’ll usually say, hey, look, I’ve been there. I’ve done it. 

If I’m having a bad day, I don’t bring it up on helpline calls. I have people in my life that I can talk to. I try to take care of that stuff before I come in to work.  

I think I can tell the people who are genuine and really scared.  I’ve never had anybody upset that I shared that I am in recovery. They’ve always been glad that there’s somebody else to be able to explain what was going on.  

NCPG: Are callers ever surprised when you reveal your background to them?   

Gwen: Most people aren’t. They’re like, oh, really?  

Some people will say you don’t get it. You’re just answering the phone. You don’t understand. When they say that, that also sometimes gets me to say, you know what? I really do. Because they’re thinking that nobody out there gets it. When you’re in that spot, it’s hard to accept help when you feel like you have absolutely no one in the world who knows what you’re going through. 

NCPG: What’s something that you wish more people knew about calling the helpline?  

Gwen: I would want people to know that that there really is a person on the other end. It’s a live person. We answer each call and we genuinely want to help.  

A lot of people get nervous about talking to us if they’ve done something, if they’ve broken the law for their gambling, or they’re about to lose their house. [They ask] if we’re going to tell their family.  

I want them to know that when it comes through the phone, that’s where it stops. We want them to have a safe place to call and get help. I want people to know that they don’t have to be scared to call.  

What I always want people to know is, we are taught — and I don’t know if this is everywhere, or if this is a southern thing — but we are taught that we don’t need help and just to suck it up and move on. And that’s with anything — with emotions, physical, whatever.  

And that’s simply not true. Once that stuff gets out, and you’re able to maneuver through all that, is when you can really feel joy, or you don’t feel so heavy. So, I tell that to callers. It’s okay, like the shirts say. It’s okay not to be okay. 

NCPG: Are there any changes you’ve noticed about the people contacting the helpline in recent years? 

Gwen: I have noticed high school and college [students] calling in [after] spending the money that their parents gave them for books or their college fund.  

Now that [gambling is] on the phone, it’s just so easy. And then they get involved in it, and some of them are surprised, some of them are scared. Some of them recognize it kind of early because they lost their part time job paycheck, and it freaked them out enough to where they ask how do I stop this?  

I know a lot of things have been geared towards younger people lately. I hope they get help before it gets bad. 

NCPG: How do you keep yourself grounded while doing this kind of challenging work?  

Gwen: I have a nephew who is in high school, and that’s [the age] where all of my stuff started. Trying to navigate life at 14, 15 years old.  

I want him to be able to have people to call and have resources out there. I want that whole generation to be able to have access to help with whatever they’re going through. 

NCPG: What are you optimistic about for the future?   

Gwen: I want to get things out there into the universe into the world and to people. That there is help — that’s my long term, just making sure there’s access and that people know about it.  

Personally, I want to continue going places, like going on a cruise or going camping. I had kind of stopped doing those kinds of things. So, for myself, I want to go out and experience stuff I haven’t experienced yet. And really watching my nephew thrive.