06 Sep “I Chopped Off My Pinkie”
I Chopped Off My Pinkie
Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr Thomas Lee
These were Mike’s (not his real name) greeting words to me as he wiggled his amputated left little finger.
“Six months ago, I cut off this finger as a reminder and promise that I will never gamble again, ” he continued. “I had just lost $300,000 in one week.”
“But I failed to keep my promise….. I simply could not control myself ….. I started gambling again the next day.”
“By then, I had lost almost everything in my life….. my savings, my job, the roof over my head.” Then, with tears welling in his eyes, he mumbled, “And my wife and kids too. They all left me.”
“Even when everything was disappearing in front of my eyes, I could not control myself from betting on those silly soccer matches!” he lamented.
“I could not focus at work. All I had in my head was how to find money and what matches to bet on,” he recalled. “My job performance went downhill. I often went MIA. I even misappropriated company money. Finally, after several warnings, I was sacked.”
“I didn’t wake up despite the sacking. I hid this from my wife by pretending to go to work everyday. Instead, I was placing bets at the illegal dens,” he recounted.
“It was thrilling at first. I loved the adrenaline rush when matches were won and money flowed in. I felt powerful!” he beamed excitedly. He then paused and stared into space, before continuing, “But shortly later, I kept losing and kept chasing my losses.”
“Things began to spiral downhill. My losses were piling. I had to borrow from banks, friends and loan sharks in order to cover my losses, and to have just enough money for my family’s survival.”
“I even sold off my car and apartment. We moved to a rental flat. But I gambled away the proceeds because I was hoping to win back all that I had lost.”
“I knew I had to stop gambling, and I tried so many times to stop. But each time, I felt so restless and edgy that I just had to bet again. The urge was too overwhelming”
“One day, my wife discovered how serious my gambling was ….. the day when the loan sharks splashed paint on the door,” his voice quivering. “I had no choice but to tell her everything. She took the kids and left. I was devastated. In a fit of anger, I cut off my finger as a promise to stop gambling.”
He stared at his amputated pinkie as he continued, “But I did not stop gambling. My mood crashed as my losses mounted. I was so depressed that I kept having thoughts of ending it all so that all these troubles could end. I was filled with guilt, full of shame. But I could not bring myself to do it because I still carried this hope ….. the hope of reconciling with my family.” Tears now rolled down his cheeks.
All this while, I listened attentively as Mike unreservedly poured out his story. Mike suffered from Gambling Disorder, an addictive brain disorder that is very similar to how an alcohol addict gets hooked to the drink or a substance addict gets hooked to a drug. A disordered gambler loses control over his gambling behaviour, and experiences multiple gambling-related problems. Like Mike, most disordered gamblers often hit rock bottom after having lost almost everything in their lives. Many suffer from clinical depression, being laden with tremendous shame and guilt. About 15-20% of disordered gamblers would attempt suicide. Family and significant others invariably suffer too.
The good news is — Gambling Disorder is a treatable condition. I have patients returning to their normal lives, getting back their jobs and reconciling with their loved ones. The disordered gambling behaviour can be ceased with professional help. Through a combination of medications and counselling, recovery is possible.
Mike managed to stop gambling with the help of treatment. Although it took some time and lots of perseverance, he eventually reconciled with his family, found a new job and repaid his debts. As for his shortened pinkie, it will forever serve as a reminder to him to never return to those dark gambling days.