Former addict now helps others
September 20, 2007
May 24, 1996.
It was the last day of Paula Chung’s life.
She cashed her last paycheck and sat down at her favorite bank of video poker machines for the last time.
She went up, she went down, she went up again and finally – it was all gone.
She walked out of the casino, into the midday Reno sun. Head spinning, she got into her car and instantly knew what to do.
She was going to kill herself.
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She started her car and turned onto Kietzke Lane. She had a dull knife with her to execute the final plan. Hands on the steering wheel, she begin to saw at her wrists.
She began to swerve, frustrated. No blood was coming out.
Undeterred, she kept going, until finally, she paused.
Nothing was happening, it just wasn’t her lucky day.
“I’m sitting there trying to kill myself with this dull blade and I can’t even do that right – it pissed me off even more,” said Chung, a trustee for Northern Nevada Gambler’s Anonymous. “Looking back, telling the story – in spite of those depths – it’s actually kind of funny.”
And then, something happened.
“That was just it,” she said. “Everything was gone. I had to come clean. I didn’t have any other choices.”
Chung, now 63, said she was the “classic woman gambler.”
“I was a late onset gambler,” she said. “I didn’t start gambling compulsively until I was 50. I was married and raised two kids in San Diego. We went to Vegas a couple times a year – for fun.
Fast-forward and Chung’s living in Reno, divorced, raising two children on her own – son away at school, daughter about to leave for college, uninspired at work and in a bad relationship.
“And I started gambling,” she said. “I just got caught up in it.
“Video poker was everything. I lied about everything, where I was. I took two-hour lunches. I took Fridays off and my paycheck.
“Like I’m so sure. I would call in ‘sick’ with all these excuses – like they couldn’t hear the machines in the background.
Chung said the day it stopped, she’d lost everything, her “life was out of control.”
“I’d go to GA meetings and go gamble after,” she said. “Then, that day happened, and that was it. I went to someone I knew who had a room and I stayed with them. I called my boss and I came clean.
And then, the truly unexpected happened: She found a new career.
“I got serious – did some 12-step work, ran into a psychoanalyst who was a friend of mine, one thing led to another and I quit my job, went to Chicago in the summer of 2002 and took my training to be a gambling counselor.
Chung will enroll full-time at the University of Nevada, Reno later this year to complete her Bachelor of Science Degree in criminal justice, with a minor in substance abuse.
“I get to go for free because I’m old,” she jokes.
Chung is a spokesperson and Northern Nevada Trustee for Gambler’s Anonymous. She works full-time at Bristlecone Family Resources in Reno – the only out-patient transitional living center for problem gamblers in Northern Nevada.
She is remarried, has four grandchildren, golfs, sings with the Truckee Meadows Community Chorus, does theater, manages the GA hotline in Reno and travels with her husband.
“I’m in great shape,” she said. “I’m extremely blessed, sometimes more than I think I deserve.”