There are 3835 poker machines across 50 licensed venues in Canberra according to the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission.
Kate Seselja used to know them all too well.
“I let an addiction to poker machines highjack 15 years of my life,” Kate says.
The addiction also cost her more than $500,000.
Kate said no one, including her husband and family, saw the signs. She lied about what she did as easily as drawing breath.
“I was so ashamed of not being in control that I didn’t understand my own mind and body,” Kate told Region Media. “I didn’t properly understand the environment I was in either, not just the physical environment of the club and how pokies are intentionally designed to addict, but also the struggles I was having at the time – all of it.”
Kate hasn’t gone near a poker machine since 2012 and through her own process of beating her addiction, she questioned the impact on her six children. She also questioned herself and discovered some profound learnings.
Kate is now a mentor and founder of a social enterprise called The Hope Project, which offers practical help for people struggling with addictions and destructive behaviours.
This week is also Gambling Harm Awareness Week.
Gambling and Racing Commission chair Paul Baxter said the week provides an opportunity for us to talk openly about what gambling harm is, its impact, what can be done to prevent it and how to support those affected by it.
Kate Seselja has been talking about the impact of gambling and addictions for much longer than just a week, though. She’s on a mission to reach a point where the conversation no longer needs to be had.
“I first started talking about my experience of addiction to try to give some context to other people who might have been struggling in that same space,” she says.
“What evolved was an understanding that we haven’t really been taught how to be sustainable as human beings.”
Kate’s learnings have also involved many trips overseas to further her own understanding. She has just returned from her second trip to America where she has met with leading neuroscientist Dr Adi Jaffe and Mastin Kipp, an author who founded The Daily Love website. They aim to end emotional trauma by filtering all the cutting-edge neuroscience to be applicable to people quickly.
Kate is doing the same here in Australia and she says the research by leading neuroscientists shows how poorly we cope with adversity and shame.
“We can trauma-proof ourselves and our society,” Kate says. “I’m not selling rainbows and sunshine by any means, but I think it’s completely empowering to help people build their own individual boundaries and protect their own well being in a constructive way.
“We are all human. We all make mistakes, but if we choose to turn towards them and address them, then we’re not living in shame.”
Kate would like to see a more compassionate society that doesn’t default to knee-jerk reactions and social media algorithms that provoke conflict rather than agreement.
She said while it’s foolish to think that adversity is never going to be a part of our lives, people can learn to be more resilient through some simple exercises.
“I thought I was profoundly broken. I can’t change what has happened, but in wanting to change, I started looking at that pain in a constructive way.”
Kate learnt some important things about her vagus nerve, which interacts with the parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs and digestive tract.
“Your vagus nerve is what gets triggered when your body perceives a threat. The quickest way to calm it down is by humming.
“You think about when we soothe a baby, we hum and we rock, and that is something that is really beautiful when you self-soothe.”
But Kate says there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but reframing and breathing are good techniques to learn.
“What I’m doing now is like the coming together of all these pockets of knowledge. None of it is ground-breakingly new, but bringing it together and giving it fresh context in a way that makes it more accessible allows people to choose how they move forward.
“Unless we have these conversations and we equip people to talk about it without all the shame and fear and blame, it just doesn’t get to the purpose. It stays hidden inside families that just continues the cycle of pain to another generation.”
Meanwhile, Kate will continue to breathe deeply.
“Deep breathing is such a powerful tool. We breathe between 23,000 and 25,000 times a day, but how many breaths do we actually notice and pay attention to?”