Addiction: NFL + ESPN Please Shut-Up

by Joshua Hoe

So, a few years ago an NFL team called the Cleveland Browns drafted a Quarterback named Johnny Manziel.

Manziel was a major star in college at Texas A&M and was one of the most electrifying players at that school in decades.

He also seemed to have a problem with partying.

After his rookie season in Cleveland, Manziel was sent to rehab.

After he returned from rehab, Manziel seemed to bounce back, and started moving up the ranks and made it to first string QB.

Then a video surfaced of him at a club drinking.

Now he is the third string QB and probably on his way out of Cleveland.

And none of the NFL talking heads will shut-up about how they would handle the situation. Even though it seems fairly clear that nary a one of them knows one damn thing about addiction or recovery.

And since virtually every American watches NFL football, they are all at risk of getting socialized into believing the same old nonsense that has governed bad addiction recovery models for years.

One Simple Lesson Everyone Needs To Learn About Addiction Before Talking

Relapses are part of recovery.

Let me repeat, because this is really important.

Relapses are part of recovery.

Only a very small number of people, even those who go to the best rehab facilities, are HEALED and EUREKA they never “act-out” (use) again.

Most people make progress (not perfection).

It is a myth that people go to rehab and are healed (although a small percentage do manage to have sustained sobriety after rehab).

If you really cared about understanding addiction, instead of listening to yourself yap, you would not have been surprised Manziel had a relapse. You might even have factored it in to your plans, if you decided to go forward with him as a potential quarterback.

Addicts (like me) relapse, it is often a lifelong battle, and over time they reduce the relapses and the social impact of their addiction by being in an active program of recovery.

Oh, but hold on, the NFL talking heads have a supposed “expert” they wheel out for these moments.

Chris Carter, with all due respect stop talking

Progress not perfection Chris.

Chris struggled with addiction as a player, his team cut him, and so he now believes that since “hitting rock bottom” (getting cut) worked for him, it is the ONLY option for any addict.

So, now, with his extensive access to ESPN’s main shows, he repeats this mantra ad-infinitum every time a new story about player addiction surfaces.

Only four problems:

1. You don’t have to bottom out to recover

2. Yes, some people changed their life entirely after bottoming-out, but not everyone who bottoms out is “cured.”

3. The “Rock-Bottom” myth allows people to feel they can be cruel to addicts in order to “help them” recover. A terrible support model.

4. Rock-Bottom does not guarantee recovery. And recovery does not mean permanent sobriety.

Ask any expert who studied after 1980 and they will agree that you don’t have to bottom out to recover. Look it up, read the books, as put it:

The idea that an addict has to “hit rock bottom” and that their “bottom” has to be something dramatic and often terribly destructive — the loss of a job, time in jail, the end of a marriage, a DUI or worse — is an outdated notion.

Also, the bootstrapping metaphor is really destructive here. Just because Chris turned his life around after hitting rock-bottom, that does not mean it is the only path for recovery.

In fact, in 12 step programs we learn that you should only speak of your own experience, not graft it on to other addicts. In other words, if my experience helps you…great. If my experience does not help you, find other experience that might help. It is not about ego, it is about recovery.

In addition, the idea that because you did everyone else can is also really destructive and dangerous. It allows you to discard the people you are helping because they did not live up to your standard of recovery.

The truth is that NOBODY – not even the greatest addiction experts in the world – knows why or how people recover. The science of why people recover is, at best, alchemy. In other words, be grateful you recovered the way you did instead of holding other people responsible for your good fortune.

There is no magic formula. NONE.

Once you are in recovery, there are plenty of things that have been proven to help.

Before you are in recovery, there are plenty of things we know that can help get people out of crisis.

But a person has to want to recover.

Nothing else matters. We are powerless to make people recover. They have to want to recover.

This “Rock-Bottom” mythology is what allows “supporters and loved-ones” to feel like they are doing the right thing by abandoning addicts to their own devices.

You cannot recover for someone else. But, you should never wish them ill and you should always be moral and emotional support for them.

Addiction often comes from the feeling from inside the addict that he or she is radically alone in the world.

It comes from fears of abandonment and isolation.

It comes from trust deficits, which will be accentuated by this type of response.

And often it can be triggered by fear or stress, like the stress that comes from the press watching your every move, or the stress from knowing you will be starting a game millions might watch, or from your fear of failure that you compensate for with braggadocio.

This does not mean you have to keep Johnny Manziel as a QB, pay him tons of money, or any other business decision.

I am not saying you have to let addicts ruin your lives. I am saying that you should not try to make their fall hard…or try to withdraw emotional support “for their own good.”

The “Rock-Bottom” meme is also problematic because many people hit multiple rock-bottoms before recovery. And some people never recover despite rock-bottoms that would make us all shiver (and I had a pretty rough one myself).

It is a myth that people can be “rock-bottomed sane.” Addiction does not follow a non-addicts idea of logic.

“Why would you let yourself come to this” A non-addict asks all the time.

If it was only about logic, nobody would have addiction problems.

All addicts do things that make no logical sense to anyone else and seem opposed to their own self-interest.

And yes, I know you have experience with addiction, and the NFL has you counsel people in the league suffering from addiction. But, if what you say on television is any indication, you are way behind even a 12-Step understanding.

Mostly, I want you to stop making your own experience in recovery into a universal truth.

Not everyone recovers or will find recovery in the same way/s that you did, and not everyone will recover the way you recovered.

One of the traits of addicts is making everything about them.

In this instance, I would suggest that you Chris Carter are falling into this trap.

You have a massive microphone and the ability to help or hurt a great number of people with your words.

I read addiction literature constantly, go to meetings every week, and talk to as many experts in the field as I can.

But I am not an addiction expert.

I do not pretend to have any of the answers for anyone else.

But, I do know enough to ask you to please stop saying things that have been proven not to be true.

Recovery is very much about humility, I will 1000% admit that I do not know how to “make” other people recover.

Will you?

Steve Young Please Stop It

Another NFL super-genius former 49ers QB Steve Young can’t stop opining about how great it is that the Cleveland Browns are finally giving Manziel “consequences.”

The rest of the narrative he is selling is that Texas A&M let him get away with whatever he wanted because he was a star and now that Cleveland is adding consequences Manziel will be turned around or have to learn “the hard way.”

This is known as the “Tough-Love” model of addiction treatment and despite spawning a multi-million dollar industry committed to “tough-loving” addicts, it is also mostly BS.

Just another example IMHO of non-addicts making themselves feel better about treating addicts badly.

Mr. Young, recovery does not guarantee life-long sobriety. Relapses are part of recovery. We addicts look for progress and not perfection. If Mr. Manziel used to party every weekend, and once in the last six months he partied, that is progress.

Yes, that might mean he should ramp up his commitment to his program of recovery, his therapy, and using his tools. But, with all due respect, you have no idea if consequences will help or hurt his sobriety.

Let his therapist handle what he needs and stick to x’s and o’s.

For some reason, people confuse recovery with sobriety.

People assume once you have been to rehab, you are cured.

These are dangerous myths. And perpetuate a whole lot of nonsense.

You sir, are helping perpetuate that nonsense.

I am not an “expert” in addiction, but I have studied it, struggled with it most of my life, lived through massive crisis and trauma, and talked to hundreds of other addicts and experts.

I will talk to addicts about what I believe, what I have experienced, and what I think about addiction. But, always with the understanding that what I say might not work for them.

I don’t know your background in addiction, but, if you don’t have experience please stop acting like you are an expert in addiction on national television.

Have a little humility.

My Suggestion to the NFL and it’s Talking Heads

Johnny Manziel may find the magic TOTAL RECOVERY your talking heads seem to believe all addicts recover to.

Most likely he, like most addicts, will struggle and find progress by following a program of recovery.

Recovery does not mean perfect sobriety, it means you are committed to making progress and trying to find and maintain sobriety and recovery (they are different things).

Please stop pretending you football experts are experts in addiction.

Millions of people in this country watch you every week and you have the potential to do real damage (both to addicts and how addicts perceive addicts and addiction).

In addition, if you care about your players struggling with addiction issues, have real experts in addiction work with them.

Don’t just look at them as employees, have a duty of care.

Do not assume if you send someone to rehab, they are fixed, (clap hands) job done.

Every week I see what seem to be hundreds of people injured while dealing with non-guaranteed contracts. Your game is a damaging and stressful enterprise that could lead many to addictive behaviors.

Care about your players mental and physical health.

How do you feel about what the NFL’s talking heads have been saying about addiction? How do you feel about the “tough love” and “rock-bottom” methods of recovery? Please leave a comment!


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