I was a three-sport athlete in high school. I had the drive, ambition, motivation, dream and vision to earn a living doing what I loved most- playing football. I wanted to go on to play college football. I wanted to play in the pros. I was unstoppable…until a sports injury derailed me. Slowly but surely my lifelong dream started to resemble a burning candle at the end of its wick. I would soon fall in love with something else besides football- opiates. My injury treatment would end up leading me to addiction treatment.

The injury I suffered required surgery. The doctors were uncertain if I would even be able to play again. I experienced chronic pain. I was having difficulty processing the thought of never stepping onto the field again. I was trapped in a nightmare I never thought possible. The nightmare only grew with a prescription of Oxycontin written in my name. My friends, family and teachers watched a bright star in the classroom and on the field fade out.

I felt lost without sports in my life. They were my adrenaline rush, my addiction. Once they were taken away, my depression worsened over time. As addicts, we always find ways to swap out and replace one addiction with another. Healthy addictions can easily be replaced with unhealthy addictions, as was my case. I understood my injury and my circumstance was out of my control. I understood these things happen. Life happens. I just had issues accepting life on life’s terms. I dealt with a lot of guilt and shame in the sense that I believed I had let my family down. I felt like a failure. My family, friends, classmates and coaches all had high expectations of me.

I always found the word “painkiller” to be a bit ironic. Drug addicts such as myself use it to kill more than just physical pain.  I needed something to kill the pain I was going through- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. My only comfort and coping mechanism was found at the bottom of my prescription bottle. Sadly, this was only the beginning. Curiosity started getting the better of me. I wanted more. I needed more.  I began to get sucked further and further into the rabbit hole that is addiction.

I told myself I would NEVER do heroin. I told myself I would NEVER stick a needle in me. One fateful day, a loaded syringe would find its way into my vein. A friend convinced me it felt so much better. I would get “more bang for my buck.” I remember the warming sensation and relief as the opiates flooded into my bloodstream. I felt a rush of euphoria. I felt what I needed to feel at the time. My life felt as if it was over before it began. Everything and everyone I knew and loved took a backseat to my addiction.

The relief and euphoria I felt from opiates was only temporary. Why do we subject ourselves to the pain and misery of withdrawals? Cramps, aches, pains, sweats and depression does not sound like a good time to any sane person. I wanted to stop yet I could not. I was aware that I needed help. I wanted to get help but, like many of us, we are scared. We are afraid of being misjudged and bearing the negative stigma attached to “junkies.” Addicts come from all walks of life. Addiction can happen to anyone…and yes, that includes players on your high school sports teams.

I spent most of my money on feeding my addiction, whether it was with honest wages or dirty wages. I was caught in a cycle of lying, stealing, manipulating, cheating, wheeling and dealing both family and friends out of money or possessions to get my fix. I suffered from suicidal thoughts. The thought of overdosing- intentional or unintentional- was always on my mind. I was sick. Sick of everything. I just wanted a way out for good. I did not want to continue to live this way but it was all I knew. I knew I was better than this.

Addiction reminds me of an artist and his work. In order to understand an artist’s work, you must understand the artist. Same applies to addiction- you have to understand addiction before you can understand the addict. My family was beginning to sympathize and open up to what I was going through. While I do hold myself accountable, they could also see I was a victim of circumstance. I was caught in the vices of a growing plague that began sweeping the United States like wildfire- the opioid epidemic.

I took my last stand against my addiction after my family offered to send me to a medically assisted treatment center. The idea of quitting cold turkey and suffering through withdrawals terrified me. My family thought it was best to send me to a place that offered medications to gradually wean me off of opiates for good. A combination of medication assistance and intensive therapy gave me hope. I was equipped with a better understanding of the addict brain and disease of addiction. I started to remember who I was before I had fallen prey to my love for opiates. I realized I was capable of enjoying life on life’s terms. I love the life I live today- sports or no sports.