The Way Back Inn addiction treatment center was a safe bet for Lola.
As far back as this 61 year old can remember she was a gambler – something she believes she inherited from her mother’s habitual gambling.
She recalls being kept home from school to wait on the poker players who were fixtures at her home. There were frequent visits to the racetrack with her mother.
“That started my romance with gambling,” Lola said.
It was a romance that lasted for decades but one that would have ended in tragedy if not for the support she received from the Way Back Inn.
For most of her life gambling was entertainment. Over time, though, this hobby evolved into a serious problem.
She cites numerous trips to Las Vegas: “Over the years I always went. … Vegas to me at the time wasn’t really about the gambling. I loved the lights. I would sightsee.”
Traces of her compulsive behavior were already evident, though.
“I sat at a slot machine for probably 13 hours straight. … I just thought it was so much fun,” Lola admitted.
The responsibilities of two marriages and raising four children initially prevented Lola’s gambling from getting out of control. It was later in life that she went off the deep end.
For five consecutive years, Lola claims, she was taking in roughly $700,000 in W2G winnings – individual prizes more than $1,200 that have to be reported to the Internal Revenue Service.
In 2005, Lola received two years probation and a class 1 felony for embezzling $120,000 from a company she worked for. The following year, she managed to get another job, and her addiction pushed her to take $40,000 from that company.
She had now hit rock bottom. Contemplating suicide, she fled to Las Vegas, but her former boyfriend was able to convince her to return home.
Upon doing so, she immediately contacted Bob O’Connor, the Way Back Inn program director. “How soon can you get here?” he asked.
Lola immediately checked into the agency’s Grateful House, which is the female housing unit for those in treatment.
Luckily, Lola’s ex was able to convince her former employer not to press charges on the condition that the company would be paid back, which it was.
Way Back Inn and Grateful House staff designed an in-patient treatment plan that consisted of individual therapy and group meetings six days per week and instructed Lola to find a job.
Ready to wage war on her addiction, Lola agreed to the blueprint for her treatment.
“I wish all my clients were like [Lola] … she did exactly what we asked her to do,” O’Connor said. “Because she was at the end of her rope she was receptive.”
She found a job as a telemarketer – a position she still has today – and began serious therapy.
For the first time, Lola began speaking openly about how unhappy she was and feelings that stemmed from a troubled childhood. She was then able to identify this as the root of her problem.
“Everything stems from something,” she said, “and I carried a lot for a lot of years.”
It wasn’t the high of a big win that kept bringing her back. The casino was a refuge, a place for her to forget about life for a while and just be numb.
In July 2007, Lola completed her treatment and left Way Back Inn to live with her daughter in Chicago. She has not gambled since August 2006.
“I’m happier now than I’ve ever been,” Lola said with a smile.
Editor’s note: “Lola” is a pseudonym used to keep confidential the identity of the woman involved in the Way Back Inn program.