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Hear Kate's Story

Kate Seselja describes how she too despaired about the way pokies were wrecking her life – and how not only overcame her addiction but has helped many others live their best lives as well.

About the episode

Australians are the biggest gamblers in the world, and nowhere do we lose more than on the pokies. Every year, it is estimated 400 people take their own lives due to distress over their gambling issues and a further 12,000 contemplate or attempt suicide. Here, Kate Seselja describes how she too despaired about the way pokies were impacting her life – and how not only overcame her addiction but has helped many others live their best lives as well.

Read the transcript


Kate sitting on her coach with dog


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Speaker 1: 0:00

This podcast series will share personal moments of connection and deeply felt experiences. If anything, you hear has a triggering effect, please reach out to someone who can help keep you safe. Or remember you can phone lifeline at any time on 13, 11, 14,

Speaker 2: 0:17

One common thing amongst people who struggled with gambling is there was never an intent. No one ever wakes up and says, you know what, today I'm going to go out and get a gambling addiction. It blindsides us as human beings. The way that we've normalized gambling in this country is the most despicable thing.

Speaker 1: 0:45

Welcome to lifelines , holding onto hope, the podcast in which people who've attempted suicide, explain how they found joy in life. Again, Australians are the biggest gamblers and the biggest losers in the world. And nowhere do we lose more than on the pokies each year it's estimated 400 people commit suicide due to distress over their gambling issues here. Kate says , LJ describes how she too despaired about the way pokies were wrecking her life and how she not only overcame her addiction, but went on to help many others if their best lives as well.

Speaker 2: 1:20

The first time I remember being near pokey was wanting to be by my boyfriend's side. He was a little bit older than me and we were at a club. I put some money in one, a thousand dollars. I thought, Oh my goodness, why would anyone do anything else? That first experience of winning was so intentionally seductive at the time, you know, coming over with a clipboard with the money pin to it, congratulating me telling me I was so good and clever at playing these machines and handing me a fistful of cash while I'm still sitting there at the machine, you know, basically encouraging me to keep going. I had no awareness of gambling addiction when I first sat behind a poker machine, never in my wildest dreams. Did I think that for the next decade of my life, my mental financial, emotional wellbeing would be tied up and engaged with a product.

Speaker 1: 2:47

Kate became addicted to playing the pokies

Speaker 2: 2:49

From that first engagement. Uh, it was, you know, a game just social to start with, but then quite quickly, I found myself going by myself, sitting there losing time and money that I really couldn't afford, but it made me feel very overwhelmed and confused. But there was that maybe the next press I might win again . Maybe it's the next press. Maybe it's the next press.

Speaker 1: 3:26

Australia has nearly 200,000 poker machines. One for every 120 adults. Each machine uses flashing lights, upbeat music and encouraging messages designed to maximize the time and money spent on each device. Simply hearing the sound effects from these machines can be a trigger for some addicts to

Speaker 2: 3:47

Gamble everywhere. I went, there were pokies, they were in nightclubs . They were in pubs, there were in clubs. So even if I went out with the intent of socializing and having a night with friends and inevitably we would end up at a venue where there were pokies, you know, as soon as you had a few drinks and you're not thinking so clearly, can I, of course seeing way more appealing, I'd hear the sounds. I'd hear somebody winning a jackpot. And I think that could be me. I was working as a waitress and then got a job as a front desk receptionist when I finished school. So, you know, the maximum I ever earned during that period was $1,500 a month. And sometimes that was gone. We can announce on payday . One of my mottoes growing up, given to me by my father, winners never quit and quitters never win. And that is a great motto in life too , you know , just keep going and never give up. But when you're sitting behind a poker machine,

Speaker 3: 5:16

That feeling of I can't walk away until I've won was so overwhelming. I , I couldn't handle feeling like all of

Speaker 2: 5:29

My money, this investment that I somehow justified in my own head

Speaker 3: 5:34

Could be, you

Speaker 2: 5:37

Know, could benefit the next person that just came along and put a dollar in and win all my money

Speaker 3: 5:43


Speaker 2: 5:44

Drove me mentor thinking about that. And so many times I'd have to walk out of a venue because I'd run out of time or I'd run out of money. Not because I could physically remove myself from the machine. If I had time and money available to me.

Speaker 3: 6:06

And that hurt on such a deep cellular level that I can't, I can't even describe it, but it, it was such mental torture thinking that somebody else was going to win my money.

Speaker 2: 6:24

The machine did what it's designed to do. It took your money and it will continue to take your money.

Speaker 3: 6:31

No one ever warned me that they

Speaker 2: 6:33

Were intentionally designed to addict that they don't stop relentlessly taking your money and confusing you and mentally overwhelming you and setting you up for failure, like losses disguised as wins,

Speaker 3: 6:50

Where your internal system is being rewarded by the sounds

Speaker 2: 6:55

Of the machine, indicating that you must be winning, but just say you bet $5. The lights and sounds would go off like you've won, but it's only $3.

Speaker 3: 7:07

So it celebrates you losing $2, but it's registered in your body as a win.

Speaker 2: 7:14

I didn't understand that particular part of a poker machine until after I'd almost taken my life.

Speaker 3: 7:22

At the time, I

Speaker 2: 7:25

Started very deeply to height who I was and who I was becoming. I felt like already, I've made all these decisions that had stopped me from going on holidays with my friends , um, being able to afford a nice car. Like some of my friends eat made me make financial choices and be consumed by how can I get more? You know, how can I apply for a personal loan or, you know, just how I can get rid of my debts and have some money to do something that I want. But whenever I did have access to any money, it would just be gone

Speaker 3: 8:11

So, so quickly. Hey thought

Speaker 1: 8:14

She had escaped her addiction when she met and married, her husband fell and moved to Canberra. They're both from big families. So they dreamed of having a big family themselves, but 18 months later after her second baby Kate found herself facing her demons. Again, even as her family grew, she found a way to gamble. It seemed like

Speaker 2: 8:34

Finally I'd left, you know, all of that darkness behind when we were expecting our second child, I remember being at mother's group and it was held in a club in Canberra. And I could hear the pokies calling to me hearing that as jackpots and because I had never actually dealt with all the feelings, you know, I had been struggling with around my low self-esteem self-worth the financial overwhelm that we were experiencing at that time of running our own business, building a home, living with my in-laws. It all just suddenly seems like that was a solution again. So once again, it just became part of my world. And not only part of my world, you know, an overwhelming presence in my world, I would have to try and figure out creative ways of getting the maximum amount out of the money that we had available. I would leave things that could be left. You know, I'd look at constantly look at due dates and think, okay, I've still got three more weeks, so I could easily win some money between now. And then I was using the money that my husband was earning to fund it, or I was taking money directly out of our line of credit for our home loan. People have often said to me, how did you keep gambling when you had five children? You know, how did you do that? Well, whenever I had time, money opportunity, that's where my, where I'd be mentally drawn to go. Um, whenever I was feeling extremely distressed by our financial worries, that's where I'd be drawn to go. So it would be, you know, in an evening or while they're in childcare, when they were at school, I would figure out a way to try and get to a venue , um, and hopefully make up for the mistakes that I'd made by making new ones. There was an overwhelming sense of shame and regret. And um, about how much I had lost

Speaker 1: 11:07

Kate was caught in a vicious circle as her anxiety and distress about her mounting debts increased. She found the hypnotic state, the pokies induced to be the only escape

Speaker 4: 11:17

One night. I remember lying there, feeling so overwhelmed. I had young children at that stage. It was about 2003, 2004. I rang lifeline, welcome to lifeline. May we help you and said, I just don't know what to do. That's fine. This is usually how the conversation begins. I can't keep going like this. Is there a rehab or something that I could go to? I wished every day of my life that I'd been addicted to drugs or alcohol because someone would have , and there were places because you could go for help. Kate was

Speaker 1: 11:57

No expecting her sixth child, but she still couldn't avoid the love of the pokies. It

Speaker 2: 12:03

Had really escalated out of desperation. I couldn't bear the shame of it any longer. I became more and more reckless how much I was spending and thinking it was a guaranteed way of a return. So long as I went into a venue with $4,000, I should be able to definitely walk out with a significant amount of money. But this particular day, when I saw that this machine was just about to click over to the 10,000, you know , jackpot, I set my sights on it and put those first couple of thousand in the counter, moved a couple of cents. More, a couple more thousand went in . It was creeping higher. And when I put that last note in of that $4,000 and I still hadn't won the 10,000 something in me just clicked. And I went across the road to the bank, drew another couple of thousand directly out of our home loan came over, put another 2000 in spending six to get 10 made sense that money went within the next hour, back across the road to the bank, get another two spending eight to get 10, still not ideal, but okay. Put that next $2,000 in still nothing I'm running out of time. What do I do? I can't walk away now. Eight grand down. I've got to go get more. So I get another three that goes so so quickly. My heart is pounding in my chest. My brain is on overdrive. How can this be happening? Why haven't I won? Then the moment that just bewildered me beyond belief, it clicked over to the 10,000 and I still didn't mean desperate to try and make sense of it. I thought maybe I have to win the feature whilst it's clicked over to the 10, go across the road, get another thousand, go back into the venue and sit down. And every time I ran across the road, stressed out of my brain, that someone was going to go flip the reserved sign off and take my machine. My machine, like I owned it like I had the 10,000 plus I'd invested in it, made it mine. Come back, put that thousand mean , got a feature.

Speaker 3: 14:55

Still didn't win. It was, it was so tough . Tourists trying to make sense for healing . So stupid feeling like I can't be here anymore. I don't want to be here anymore. Send a message to my friend. Can you pick up the kids from school? I've just been held up,

Speaker 2: 15:20

Go across the road, access one more thousand dollars hour up to 12.

Speaker 3: 15:26

I walked out of there. That date , nothing.

Speaker 2: 15:30

I was sick of saying, sorry. I'll never do it again. I'm sorry. I don't know why I keep doing this. I felt betrayed by my own mind. Everybody

Speaker 3: 15:42

Hated who I was. I wished I could go back to my 18 year old self and never walk into a club or almost

Speaker 2: 15:51

Twilight . And I was pregnant with our sixth child and she kept me here. I couldn't figure out how to take my life and not hers.

Speaker 3: 16:02

No one should ever have to face their darkest moments. Alone. Lifeline is here to help please call 13, 11, 14, or visit lifeline.org.edu

Speaker 1: 16:17

For eight hours. Kate just sent, she told herself she was no good to anyone. She didn't deserve to be here. Her babysitter and husband desperately tried to call her, but she couldn't answer. Trauma has no words when she did finally pick up, she expected fury, but Phil knew he had to help Kate or lose her. All he said was please come home.

Speaker 2: 16:44

When I got home that night, I wrote down everything on a piece of paper that I had been trying to conceal. It's far as money that I owed people or the credit cards that my husband didn't know about and everything. I just listed it on this piece of paper and slid it across the table to him. For the first time, I felt like he saw how much pain it was him. Instead of just seeing me through the lens of his pain, his disappointment, he saw me, I know the really hard thing to do, but when we can step outside of our own pain and try and see the humanness in others, that's where the magic happens. You know, supported

Speaker 1: 17:41

By Phil. Kate went to see a counselor.

Speaker 2: 17:44

I was met with the most beautiful woman who saw my pain. If you ask me how much money I'd lost, she could see how destroyed I was as a human being. And she asked me what I liked about myself. And I just looked at her and burst into tears and was like, there's nothing. And she said, you need to tell me 10 things that you like about you. And I just said, can I list my children individually? And she said, no, you have to really, really think about it. And it was this point of suddenly being aware that I had zero self-esteem. Then she asked me things like, what did I do to take care of myself? Again? I looked at her with confusion. Uh, I'm a busy mom. Like, what do you mean? So I started to do things for me. I started to wake up at 5:00 AM and go for a walk. I started to go to the movies just because I could, I started to take care of me in a way that I had never thought to. And that was really hard.

Speaker 1: 19:10

She then joined the actsh gambling specific smart recovery group discovering she was not alone in her distress. Addicts were all ages and from all walks of life.

Speaker 2: 19:20

And that was amazing to be in a room with other people who felt and had had similar experiences to me. As I heard somebody sharing about how stressed they'd been around a particular situation, I think, wow. Yes. I remember feeling that way too. It just helped normalize the whole thing. Suddenly this secret world was not so secret anymore. It was the first time in my whole life that I didn't feel alone or profoundly misunderstood any longer, about six months into my recovery, you know, and going along to the meetings on a Monday night and someone said, you know, I'm just so angry. There's responsible service of alcohol. Why isn't there a responsible service of gaming? And the facilitator said, well, there is, and everyone just went what? And she said, there's a gambling liaison offices or something in, in the clubs. And I was like, are they also leprechauns? Because I've never seen one and not a single person in that room had ever encountered anyone, have a conversation with them about their gambling. Once I challenged, you know, I'd , I'd put $5,000 into machine in , um , Monica. And I went up to the manager at the bar afterwards and I said, I just put $5,000 in and it didn't give me one feature. And he goes, I don't know what to tell you, lady. He didn't say, Aw , have you thought that maybe you have a problem? Oh, there's help the support. How about he just made me feel like I was an idiot, never in the 15 years, whether it was in new South Wales or act, was I ever approached by a staff member other than to encourage me to keep going. I realized when you know, about 12 months after that point, somebody said to me, you know, how's your recovery going? And it just landed like a sledgehammer. And I thought, why do you get

Speaker 3: 21:43

To label me or

Speaker 2: 21:45

Judge my life by something that I struggled with? I'm not that person anymore. I don't believe that I'm going to struggle with this for the rest of my life. So it was at that point that I really reclaimed my own humanness. And it's been one of the single biggest factors of me helping people moving forward is labels are oppressive and they don't help anything. We're all human. We're all fallible. I'm no different to anybody else. I identified an area of my life that I struggled in, but that did not define who I was. And it certainly didn't mean that my future was a foregone conclusion.

Speaker 1: 22:35

Having helped herself, Kate wanted to help others. So she trained to be a facilitator for smart recovery.

Speaker 2: 22:41

I realized that it was time for the next step. When every Monday night I was turning up in order to try and help other people. I was worried that if somebody new would come in, that they would be met with the right reception, that they would be met with new skills and awareness that they, you know , never had access to before that, because if it happened to me, it could happen to anybody. And when I looked at the statistics of the amount of which this country struggles with gambling are tiny, tiny nation of 27 million people loses $24 billion a year. The fallout of that is that over 400 suicides occur from gambling harm. And that's, I think in my, you know, in talking to families are very conservative figure because the level of personal family shame around this addiction leads people to try and conceal it. And the shame should never have been on the individuals. It should always have been on the products.

Speaker 1: 23:57

Kate started the hope foundation. It stands for help other people every day. And she's become a recovery coach, giving people advice on improving their self-care self-awareness self-esteem and teaching them how to forgive themselves and thrive. She's also become an ambassador for the United nations, providing workshops around the world about the importance of health and wellbeing . While I developed

Speaker 2: 24:20

A tool for communication, cool awake. And that is just a little card that I give people that helps them to be able to have a constructive conversation with themselves to identify where is my wellbeing being harmed right now? Is it a person, a product or an environment? Am I taking hits to my self-esteem? Is there more information that I need to gather? You know, for me seeing the documentary coaching absolutely answered all of those questions that I had around. What's wrong with me? Why do I keep doing this? No one asks those questions of themselves after they've seen that documentary and how to employ your own self care . We all can be empowered if we met with compassion and given an opportunity to step out of shame when you're operating in your life through the lens of regret, shame, fear, you're not connected to the truth of who you are. You've been disconnected. And that takes intention to recreate and reconnect. Those bonds with yourself self-compassion is everything. But if your not being met with being able to be okay with our humanness, be okay with the discomfort that comes from being fallible. Like we all are. If you've prescribed to the thinking that there are normal people, and then there are addicts, then you're feeding into this nonsense in our society of good people and bad people, there's pain. And there's those that have experienced it. If you're fortunate to be a person who hasn't experienced pain in their life, then you need to provide more space for others who have not judgment. No one can ever know what it's like to be in another person's shoes. And when I listened to other people's stories and what they've endured , how can you not be impressed by their ability to adapt, just to keep surviving? I that's what I say to them. Congratulations, you're a human being and you're an extraordinary survivor, but you're made for more than that. You're not meant to just exist when we're in high functioning or low functioning existence mode. It's not sustainable. Something is going to break, but when we're able to connect to our humanist and step out of that shame, that leads to those cycles of overwhelm. That's where the freedom is because you don't care. What other people think. I remember after one of my talks, this woman said, wow, so you had lots of children. And you know, there was a bit of dysfunction in your family. How are your children now? And I just said, okay, thank you for that question. Uh, yeah. My children have experienced things that, you know, perhaps I wished that they hadn't experienced, but they've also witnessed incredible healing. And when we're okay with our humanness, we can have the important conversations in life. And they've been exposed to seeing the dark and the light, the good and the bad, the positive and the negative experiences. So they have a frame of reference. And as a result, you know , we have incredible relationships where they can tell me anything because they know I won't judge them. I have two stories around my children that are the most profound stories. My eldest child that morning after I almost took my life. He actually connected me with my humanness. I was sitting there just really, really in an overwhelmed state. And he came in because he'd known that everyone was looking for me the night before and he was worried and I thought, Oh, I don't want to have this conversation with you. You know, I could have said to him, Oh, my car broke down or whatever. And just, he would have accepted that, but I just burst out crying. And I said, mate, I've made so many mistakes. I don't even know what to do. And he just held my hand and he said, mom, everyone makes mistakes. And I thought, what, how, why did I think that I wasn't allowed to, it really hit me. And I just gave him the biggest hug. So grateful. He really connected me to the fact that I was no different from anyone else who makes mistakes. And then the most recent conversation I had with little boy who is now all 11, he said to me, mum , I'm so glad that you told me about how dangerous Parky's are. He said, because I will make sure I tell my friends so that they don't get hurt when they're older. And I said, Oh honey, that's so good that you can understand that. And I said, because lots of boys, you know, they go to a club and their , one of their friends will say, come on, let's go play them. Thinking that they're just a game, but they're not. And they hurt people's lives. And I said, but hopefully by the time you're 18, if mommy's done a job, right, maybe they won't be there. And he just gave me a big hug, but just for him to be aware and grateful for that knowledge made me so happy. So happy.

Speaker 1: 30:45

Thank you for listening to holding onto hope. Lifeline Australia is grateful to all our interviewees who share their stories in the hope of inspiring others. We also acknowledge all of you who provide support to people in crisis and those on their journey to recovery. If you found this podcast helpful or inspiring, please share it, rate it, write a review or subscribe wherever you download your favorite podcasts. If this story has affected you and you require crisis support, please contact lifeline on 13, 11, 14. You can do this@anytimeorvisitlifeline.org.edu to access web chat every night from 7:00 PM to midnight. If it inspired you to be a lifelong volunteer or to donate, please visit lifeline.org.edu with thanks to WYO creative for interviews, editing, and production, and the voice of lived experience, which is essential in the development of our work.