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Enduring a fall to climb higher

The protagonist of the movie Rounders, Matt Damon, taught us in the nineties that, for many people with gambling addiction, having lost everything is not enough to stop betting. But hitting the ground, sometimes, makes one gain momentum for getting up again and even for helping other people. This is precisely what they do at the Association of Alicante Vida Libre (“Free Life”), for those affected by gambling, an association that the current year has been one of the finalist projects on the Interculturality and Social Action 2018 call, by Obra Social "la Caixa".
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he entity Vida Libre is formed by people who previously did not know how to live without gambling, and by their relatives. As explains its president, Áurea Pastor, they work to promote healthy habits and terminate gambling by offering preventive talks to students and teachers of institutes in Alicante and surroundings, psychological help to pathological gamblers and their families, as well as training for all those who want to contribute to change this situation.

The paths for a turning gambling into an addiction are complex and different for each person. The consequences (the moral, emotional, labour, social and physical deterioration) are always the same. For Luis Vilar, it all started in 2013, when his wife died. First, he gambled at the slot machines to escape from reality and thus overcome his loneliness, but after a while he would live only for gambling: he almost did not talk to his daughters and accumulated a mass of debts that forced him to sell his house. “I woke up thinking about the slot machines, I ate quickly thinking about the slot machines and I went to bed thinking about the slot machines. I did not live, really“, recalls Luis.

Now that he has been rehabilitated for a year, his challenge is to help people who come to Vida Libre to leave behind this universe of coloured lights and shrill sounds “that is designed only to take our money”. This is the anatomy of gambling: the probability of winning something in a game in the slots, for example, is a tiny 18.3%, in other words, you have more than 80% of chances to lose.

From his position as a volunteer, Luis has begun to contribute by collaborating with the psychologist of the association in group therapy. There he expresses his point of view to the patients and tells them how he came out of that “hole”. “It would bring me great satisfaction if everything I have learned from my experience was worth to help others“, he says. “Also, I can help young people here. I see that there are many who are falling, and I am here to try to avoid it”.

The president of Vida Libre also regrets this trend, which she believes is booming because of the emergence of new technologies and the ease of online betting: “On Tuesday I was with a 22-year-old boy who is hooked since the age of 12. He even ran away from school to play”, says Áurea. “Being able to encourage someone to begin their road to recovery in some way compensates for all the suffering that we went through with my husband as a result of his addiction. In fact, when someone who was in treatment years ago comes to greet us, I do not need anything else: my day is done”.

Text: Alba Losada
Photograph: Laia Sabaté

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