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WEST PALM BEACH (FBW)—Looking into her eight-year old
daughter’s brown eyes, Elisa stumbled for the words to answer why her little
girl’s daddy doesn’t live with them anymore.
“How do you say to an eight year old … ‘Daddy’s not a good
man,’” Elisa tearfully asked. “How do you put that into words without
destroying a child’s self esteem?”
Living in California as she pursued a theater arts degree,
Elisa said she worked the graveyard shift at a casino to pay the bills. There
she met her future husband, a foreigner living in the United States with a
temporary green card.
Elisa’s husband was not her first encounter with a gambling
addiction, she said. That came during her early years—with her father.
Born in the Caribbean to a well-to-do family, Elisa said she
and her siblings had everything they could wish for.
But her father was a gambler and he began to sell his assets
to pay for his addiction.
He was in a major car accident on his way home from a casino
late one night, Elisa said. It took him nearly a year of therapy and rehab
before he could function again. By the time he recovered, the family was left
with nothing, Elisa said.
Her parents divorced and her father moved to Puerto Rico
where he continued in his gambling habits until his friend shot him after he
won his friend’s money at a game of cards, Elisa said. Bleeding, her father lay
in the street for two days before he died.
For a while, her mother, Elisa, and her two sisters lived
with her mother’s father. Elisa said they were happy there until her unmarried
mother became pregnant. Elisa’s grandfather and step-grandmother told Elisa’s
mother to leave.
Seeking a better life for her and her children, Elisa’s
mother moved to the United States, leaving her children with their grandfather
where Elisa said she was sexually abused by her aunts and uncles. They then
moved in with her mother’s mother after her grandfather and his wife could no
longer care for them due to their work schedules.
“My grandmother hated my father because in her mind he was a
gambler and he was not a responsible man,” Elisa said.
Elisa, looking most like her “black” father, out of all the
children, suffered through seven years of physical abuse from her “very white”
grandmother, she said. Elisa bore the brunt of her grandmother’s disgust over
her father ruining his family’s finances and failing to care for his wife and
“God used it all for His glory because once I was saved I
went back to my country…and I was able to witness to [my grandmother],” Elisa
said. “It was the last time I saw her alive and I led her to Christ and I
prayed for her and God totally used that for His honor and glory.”
Elisa moved to New York to live with her mother at age 13.
She hadn’t seen her mother in seven years and found it difficult to speak of
the abuse she had endured, Elisa said. She bottled up her hurts and emotions,
finding release in alcohol and drugs.
Leaving New York to move to California at age 21, Elisa said
she fulfilled one of her mother’s greatest fears when she began to work in a
casino and married her gambler husband—whom she has since divorced.
“I always saw him as the person that I had to fix,” said
Elisa, who has been in therapy for issues of codependency for six years. “I
didn’t grow up with my dad because he was a gambler and his life was not a good
life and there was my ex-husband.”
He had no place to live and little money so he moved in with
her and got a steady job. Elisa changed careers and money started coming in as
they both grew more successful, Elisa said.
“We went from me being a cocktail waitress to making over
$100,000 a year,” Elisa said. “It might have been better if he stayed just
having little jobs here and there because everything he earned, it went to
Although the gambling was a problem, it didn’t become an
issue for Elisa until she got pregnant, she said. Once she had their first
child and her husband was still gambling away all their money, Elisa decided to
leave and moved to Florida to escape his lifestyle.
He followed her to Florida promising to start a new and
better life, Elisa said. For awhile he did. The casinos didn’t exist in Florida
in the 1980s, however, her husband found a new venue for his gambling habits—the racetrack.
“A gambler doesn’t care about winning, a gambler cares about
putting that next bet,” Elisa said. “That’s where their adrenaline comes
from…and until they’re completely broke they don’t leave that table. That’s
what a gambler does.”
She moved to New York and lived with her mom until her
husband called her asking her to come back to California where he said he had a
place for them to live and $7,000 in the bank, Elisa said. When she got there,
she found out he had lied. He also ran up thousands of dollars in debt on her
credit cards and used her name and business to fund his addiction.
They separated again and her husband was incarcerated for
identity theft, Elisa said. On her way home from visiting him in prison Elisa,
broken and desperate, turned to God.
“God, please if you’re real please save my little girl,”
Elisa remembered praying as tears poured down her face.
The next week her neighbor witnessed to her and Elisa became
a believer, she said.
“I prayed the prayer, asked Jesus into my heart, and then and
there I was delivered and I was set free from my addictions after 14 years of
being bound,” Elisa said. “My life was never the same. I just became another
She no longer had problems with drugs or alcohol, but it took
her many more years to realize her problems with codependency and to seek help
in the Celebrate Recovery program—a biblical program to help people overcome
their “hurts, habits and hang-ups.”
“I learned that I was an addict just like him,” Elisa said.
“The gambler is addicted to the gambling … but the codependent is addicted to
the addict. The codependent is addicted to the dysfunction.”
Elisa said Celebrate Recovery helped her become strong enough
to safeguard her family.
“It’s been a very difficult life just trying to do the right
thing for my children,” Elisa said. “I pray for my ex-husband. I daily pray for
him that God will get a hold of his heart, but I know that I cannot fix his
life. I can only pray and do what I can to help other addicts to live a better
Elisa now tries to help other women who share stories similar
to hers in a Celebrate Recovery ministry out of Grace Fellowship in West Palm
“Eventually I decided that I would help other people because
a lot of people where I’m at…a lot of women in my shoes don’t make it out,”
Elisa said. “So I made a commitment to the Lord that I would help.”
Elisa has seen God work in the lives of many of these women
as over 20 chose to be baptized and more than 30 became believers, she said.
“I have seen a lot of different addictions throughout my
life,” Elisa said. “To me, gambling it’s just the worst of all addictions
because …[gamblers] can affect the lives of so many other people and they’re
the same — like nothing has happened.”
Her husband, now an illegal immigrant living in California,
can’t visit their children although he calls several times a week promising
them he will, Elisa said. She admits it’s hard raising them alone. Her daughter
turned 18 and her husband wasn’t at the birthday party. Nominated for
homecoming queen, her daughter had another man walk with her in her father’s
absence, Elisa recalled with tears.
“It’s very difficult,” Elisa said, “That’s the life of being
married to a gambler because you’re constantly hiding what you have; you’re
always covering up. You don’t want to tell even your own family what’s going
on. You live in this denial; you live in this type of sheltered life where you
don’t want anyone around to know what’s going on and that can go on for a very