Suicide Prevention Month
September is National Suicide Prevention month. Gambling addiction has the highest suicide rate of all addictions and the statistics do not reflect that many of these suicides are mistakenly reported as single-car accidents, wrong-way drivers, heart attacks, cerebral stem strokes (from an overdose of anti-depressants), and so forth. This is a true story of two friends of mine, who both planned their suicides down to the last detail and thankfully, both survived. The names and details have been changed to protect their identities, but the stories and devastation are true.
Mary, a 60 year old psychologist became so depressed with her inability to stop gambling, an activity that was consuming her every moment and thought, that she had to stop seeing patients because she no longer cared about their problems. Her husband, her one true love had become ill and diagnosed with dementia, as well as complications due to a congenital heart defect and diabetes. She had her own physical limitations due to severe crippling from rheumatoid arthritis. Mary had 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren- the light of her life. All that being said, Mary still could not tear herself away from the video poker machines to get home and check on her husband. She missed many of the grandchildren’s recitals and sporting events because she had hit another jackpot. Her children stopped telling the grandchildren that she would be there because of their disappointment and sadness of being let down, over and over. Mary found herself unable to concentrate and many times after hours of gambling could not recall how she actually drove home. She was already frail and seriously, thin, almost to the point of anorexic, but because of her depression had completely lost her appetite. Her practice had diminished due to her making numerous cancellations and she finally closed the practice. At this point, she and her husband were both drawing Social Security disability and what savings they had built up over a 40 year marriage had begun to disappear as her gambling addiction progressed. One evening she came home after being gone over 12 hours gambling and found her husband unconscious on the floor. She called 911 and they had him in the hospital for a month, then a rehabilitation facility for another two months. Her daily routine became a mind-numbing period of hours spent at the facilities by his side and then, she would leave and sit in front of a video poker machine to zone out the pain of seeing her beloved husband slowly losing his grasp on reality, as well as the multiple IV’s and hoses and tubes to keep him alive. It was determined that because of her health and inability to care for him at home, he would be transferred to a nursing home for full-time care. That same day, she went home and cleared out the closet of his belongings and began attaching heavy plastic tarp to the walls, floors, and ceiling with a staple gun. Her plan was to leave as little mess as possible for her family to clean up. She sat down and organized the household information regarding insurance policies, safe deposit box information, and made lists for her family of how she wanted her belongings distributed. She wrote individual letters to her children and grandchildren (for when they reached 18 years of age), telling them how much she loved all of them, but the pain of her daily existence had become too much for her to bear. She apologized to each of them and asked for them to remember her when she was gone, with happy memories and smiles- not the despicable monster she felt she had become. She prayed and asked God to forgive her for her actions, but she just couldn’t do it alone anymore. Then, she fell asleep. She awoke to her daughter sitting at the table and reading through all of the paperwork and letters; she had already discovered the plastic-covered closet. Mary looked at her daughter, a spitting image of herself at that same age and began to cry. That night, she and her daughter began attending a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting and thankfully, she is not only still alive and helping others, but has been abstinent from gambling over nine years.
My other friend, Julia, was 72 years old and at the point she attempted suicide had maxed out 6 credit cards for over $55,000, loans (taken out against her Social Security deposit), her car repossessed, behind on her rent, and a house empty of belongings as most had been pawned to support her gambling. She had never married and had no children. Julia was the youngest of 4 children and had become estranged from her three sisters in town- All much older than her, ranging in age from 80 to 91 years old and fed up with her lies and lack of accountability. How had she gotten this low?? One January day, she went to the gun store and bought a .22 used gun and a box of bullets. She told me once that she figured they would be suspicious if she just asked for a single bullet, complimentary gift from the store for the purchase of the gun. Now, picture this woman going home and trying to figure out how to load the gun- she hadn’t asked as she figured that it couldn’t be that difficult. After an hour spent trying to load the magazine, she gave up and went back to the store (it was around the corner from her apartment building) and asked them to show her how to load the magazine and shoot the weapon. That evening, she put on her favorite outfit, put on her makeup and arranged her hair. She had already decided not to shoot herself in the head, because quite frankly, she was vain and didn’t want to mess up her face. She wrote a brief note to her sisters telling them she was sorry, but had become a burden and loser. As she didn’t want them to have to deal with her remains, her plan was to call 911 just before she aimed at her heart and pulled the trigger. Certainly, she would be dead before the paramedics arrived and could revive her AND her neighbors wouldn’t have to smell a rotting body.
Well, as with all plans paved with good intentions, God had another plan for her that day. Here’s what transpired that fateful night: First, she unlocked the door to the apartment so the paramedics wouldn’t have to break the door down, because God- forbid that the apartment complex bill one of her sisters for the replacement cost. Then, Julia placed the call to 911 and said she was just about to pull the trigger to kill herself and left the phone off the hook so that they could find her address (She told me much later that she didn’t want to make it too easy and fast to find her.) Finally, she placed the gun against her chest about where she thought her heart was and pulled the trigger. As she describes the next moments she says “Damn, that didn’t hurt. Oh crap, I’m still alive! Why didn’t it shoot?” She looked the gun over and realized she hadn’t taken the safety off. She did this quickly as she realized she could hear sirens approaching her complex and once again, aimed at her heart and pulled the trigger. She awoke in the ICU unit in great pain, one month later and stayed in the hospital for almost 3 more months. Apparently, she had missed her heart by an inch and managed to break her ribs on that side, as well as blow out part of her left lung- she had been wanting to quit smoking for some time, as well. I like to tell my crazy, but wonderful friend and ‘adopted big sister’ that I will be forever thankful she’s a lousy shot and I’ve had the last 8 years to become friends. Yes, she is also abstinent from gambling over 8 years.
I believe that God had a bigger purpose for these two wonderful ladies to be able to share their experiences, devastation brought about by gambling, and the joys and extra years they’ve been blessed with since their attempted suicides.