September 25, 2008 Publishing Good News since 1884 Volume 125 Number 33

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New life for daughter, wife, mom against all odds


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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 children.

“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 gambling.”

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 person—in everything.”

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 life.”

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 Beach.

“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 long time.”