My Pregnancy, My Gambling, My Future?
By Guest Blogger Karen Bujeya
For most women, the last day of work before beginning maternity leave is a joyous, albeit somewhat bittersweet, occasion; leaving the people you have worked with, mentored, and shared wins and losses, all to start a bright new chapter. As I sat solemnly in my office with my regional manager and loss prevention manager on that very day, reality hit me; I would not be one of those happy women.
That Friday, the final day of work before my maternity leave, I was going to come face to face with some very confronting demons.
I found out I was pregnant shortly after returning from my grandmother’s funeral in Coffs Harbour, late February, 2013. Although it wasn’t a planned pregnancy, it was sure a welcome one.
No one can really tell you what to expect or what dramatic changes will be coming your way.
I remember maybe a few months into my pregnancy having a conversation with my adopted mother about feeling a little anxious ahead of an ultrasound. She replied with a short nervous laugh and a reassuring “you will be fine”. However, I felt a tinge of emptiness to her response.
I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from her. My mother had never experienced pregnancy or childbirth herself, but this lack of enthusiasm and strange aloofness continued to surface each time I would try to talk about what I was experiencing.
She would never admit it but the feeling was there. Fearing this would turn into full-blown resentment, the conversations stopped.
So if I couldn’t rely on my own mum for support surely I could turn to my best friend for a bit of guidance during this scary, uncertain time of my life? Sure, she hasn’t had children either, but as a long-time mate she sure as hell would Google everything to try and understand and be there for me, wouldn’t she? Sadly, no. She had planned a trip overseas and did not return until about September, 2013.
I had my soon-to-be husband, right? Well, not quite. With us both working in retail and sales we barely had any time together — I’m not quite sure how we even had the time to conceive our daughter.
So no mother to talk to, no friends to connect with. We lived out west, miles from anybody we knew, and hadn’t managed to make any friends in the almost five years we had lived there.
I was a manager of a retailer in the city and although I was a little too involved in my work — coming in on my days off to cover people, solving problems on a daily basis, and still climbing into windows to set up displays at seven months pregnant — I still loved my job and came in every day with a plan and a smile. At that point, work and trying to understand my pregnancy were all I had. This feeling of isolation was only the beginning of the roller coaster of emotions I began to experience.
So you are probably wondering what this has to do with gambling? And as I look over to my angelic 18-month-old daughter while I am writing this I wonder the same thing. How did the two become intertwined?
Sometimes in the darkest of moments the bright flashing lights of the poker machine are the distraction and twinkle of hope a person needs to get them through the day — or at least that’s what I thought in the beginning. I had no idea how wrong I was or how out of hand it would get. If I thought I was in a dark place in the beginning, the term “blacker than black” wouldn’t begin to describe where I would end up.
“I’m sorry” was all that my lost prevention manager could say as he gave me a sympathetic pat on the shoulder and turned me over to the police that day. I had been in my store’s back office with my superiors for six hours as I reviewed the seemingly never-ending list of missing stock I had potentially been responsible for going missing. It was hard to be certain just exactly what I had taken but the stock value was creeping to the $100,000 mark.
Stunned, they asked me what had happened to the stock. I responded: “I have pawned them”.
Inevitably, the next question was: “what did you do with the money?”
I knew, of course. Sure, we were struggling financially; drowning in credit card debt, needing more and more things for the baby. But none of the money went towards any of that.
Finally, after a long pause, I took a deep breath, held my almost 8month pregnant belly and told the truth.
“I have been gambling and the money was to cover my losses.”
It was the first time I had uttered it out loud and it left a vile taste in my mouth. It was really only then that the reality of what I had done actually hit me.
And did it hit hard.
I had a gambling problem. ME. The woman who’d always prided herself in being honest, hard-working, reliable. The woman who dealt with any money problems in the past maturely and with discipline. The woman who when even five cents was missing from a till, insisted on knowing why. So what the hell went wrong? Where had this responsible young lady with a very promising career in the future gone?
It may surprise you to reveal I am still looking for the answer.
Between May of 2013 and September 2013 something was happening within me. Yes, there was a beautiful baby growing inside of me, and I wish I had taken more time to enjoy the wonder of being pregnant, but that wasn’t the only thing at play here.
Not everyone gets the chance to experience something so life changing and I felt like I had failed myself. Was there something wrong with me? I could see other pregnant woman looking so radiant and happy, going to work and home and living there lives without secrets.
But then again, maybe they were looking at me thinking the same thing.
I guess that is one of the forms gambling takes on. You become a chameleon. You start to believe your own bullshit and before you know it you are no longer living the life that you knew, you are living the lie that you know and it becomes a part of you.
Anybody that tells you gambling is just for a bit of fun, probably has never experienced losing a whole month’s wage in two days.
Of course it never starts that way. It was only small losses and wins to begin with, nothing to get the heart racing. But then the most unfortunate thing happens; you win. You win BIG.
But winning is a good thing, right? Wrong. Let me tell you it is the worst thing that could happen. That win then becomes the benchmark, and quite unachievable at that. But you don’t entertain negative thoughts. It has happened before, you say, so it will happen again.
I wish I had been in the right frame of mind to know that this could not have been further from the truth.
During this time a black cloud seemed to form over me. And it was this black cloud that began controlling my days. I was gambling on an almost daily basis; at work, on my days off (I was alone most days as my husband worked). The need to gamble was always there.
What began as a distraction to drown out my anxiety and loneliness quickly turned into a very stressful experience, almost like a mission — a mission to not return home a loser. Anyone of sound mind would have known that not going at all was the best way not to lose.
All sense had gone out the window.
This “black cloud” seemed to become thicker as my pregnancy moved along. Soon there was no separation from being depressed and the gambling. Everything was becoming a big ball of dark matter.
I had run out of excuses for not having money, my relationship with my husband was becoming dismal and strained. I couldn’t look him in the eye. It was during this murky period that I began stealing from my employer. I had to cover what I had lost, I had no money and I was convinced my relationship wouldn’t survive if he knew what was really happening.
I had never meant to hurt my employer, not to mention the staff that would suffer as a result of the loss. I never thought it would go that far. It is such a cliché, but I just couldn’t stop.
Did I stop and think about what I was doing, who it was affecting, did I really think I was going to get away with it?
The reality was I wasn’t thinking at all.
The days following my termination of employment were probably the worst days of my entire life. Who was this person? This wasn’t me! I loved and enjoyed life and didn’t waste my time gambling. I was just weeks away from being a mother.
As I lay there on my own, my husband at work, my thoughts began to get more intense and the blackness began closing in. It felt like there was a demon inside me — not my daughter, but something else. This was not the person I had known all of these years. I had to get it out of me!
This is where my life took a turn for the worst and landed me in a psychiatric ward under close supervision with fears of self-harm. From my grim perspective, I had destroyed my marriage, my career and my daughter’s future. Would she be born in a prison? Who would take care of her? I had no one to blame but myself.
On that day at work I had only been cautioned by the police and they said they would contact me at a later stage for a formal interview. Weeks went by and I heard nothing. I gave birth to my beautiful daughter and life went on. But it was not without torment.
Not a day passed where I didn’t think about that day. In my own sick mind I was petrified something was going to happen to my daughter as a result of my wrong doing. Every time I heard a knock on the door, I expected to see the police. This was not living.
Finally one day, almost exactly a year after it happened, there was a firm knock on the door and I didn’t even have to look in the peep hole to know it was the police. I was being officially charged. To me it was almost a sense of relief.
I definitely did not want to go to jail but knew I couldn’t go through life without taking responsibility and receiving a form of punishment.
I am still yet to be sentenced but, whatever the punishment is, I will carry this conviction around with me for the rest of my life.
Be that as it may, I feel a lot more at peace with myself. And even though I haven’t gambled since that fateful day, I know the black cloud that still follows me will eventually dissipate and my family and I can move on with our lives.