I was raised in Tyler, Texas—formally known as the Rose Capital of the U.S. But to anyone who lived there, it was football country. It was the land of pick-up trucks, church on Sunday, and Friday Night Lights.
I wasn’t the only NFL player to come out of Tyler. I followed Hall of Fame running back, Earl Campbell. I had big shoes to fill.
Like all big dreams, my football career didn’t start in the NFL. It started on a field at 9 years old where I wore the helmet for two reasons:
- As a boy raised in Tyler, football is what we played.
- I wanted to make my dad proud.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved the game, and I was good at it. But nothing meant more than hearing my dad say after a game, “Well done, Son.” Dad was my first and favorite coach. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to make him proud. Dad would never give up on somebody. He would encourage even the less skilled kids to keep going and not give up. He’d make them stick with it until they did whatever he was coaching them to do. Dad would say, “Shake it off, we’ll get them next time—and there will be a next time.”
Until something is part of who you are, look for others to help you get there.
In the NFL, I valued family, teamwork, and working hard. When I first started, I studied how everyone else before me had succeeded, so I could be the strongest, best player. More than anything, I wanted to make my family proud and never let my teammates down. Those values served me well. At the peak of my playing days, my dad was my biggest supporter. And I had other fans cheering me on. My coaches and teammates would slap my backside, telling me when I’d played a great game. Outside the locker room, my wife and kids would hug me and tell me that I was their hero. And shortly after I’d get home, the phone would ring. It was Dad giving me a play-by-play of how he thought I’d performed that day.
Anchor to values that can’t be taken from you.
Towards the end of my pro career, I lost my dad—and my most loyal fan. I’d go home after a game, and part of me would wait for the phone call that never came. Then I suffered injuries that messed with my body and multiple surgeries that messed with my spirit. A couple years later, the new head coach put his hand on my shoulder after the last game of the season and said, “Your services won’t be needed any longer.” As a player, I knew I’d retire at some point, but I did not see this coming. I didn’t expect a Randy Grimes retirement parade, but somehow I thought there would be a little more fanfare than a quiet dismissal in the locker room.
After all, I’d given 10 years of my life to that team. The most consistent thing about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during that time was Randy Grimes at center. How could it be that easy to let me slip away?
There would be no more fans for me, as their attention would quickly turn to new players and the next season. More heartbreaking, there would be no more locker room. I realized that even more than the game, I’d grieve the sense of family I’d had with those guys.
The problem for me was, nearly all of my identity was based on things outside of my control, and this was a dangerous place to stay. We all identify with our careers—whether it be as a student, lawyer, or delivery driver—but I’d let that view of myself replace everything else. Football had become not just what I did, but who I was.
I needed a playbook to live by, and I needed community. Without them, I didn’t know who I was. I started to believe I had nothing to give my wife and kids as a reason to look up to me. I didn’t know how to be a successful human being without football driving my life.
Beware of letting addiction take over as your main value in life.
Without my sport, I couldn’t find my identity. Still battling pain from my playing injuries, I turned more heavily to the drugs I’d been prescribed. Eventually, I used them to ease my emotional pain as well. My addiction eroded all values I’d started with back in Tyler.
I lost my dad, my career, my identity, my self-worth, and nearly my wife and children—as well as my own life—in those 20+ years I struggled to overcome the disease of addiction. My family witnessed me overdose, but even that wasn’t enough for me to get clean. It wasn’t until a close friend died that I finally crawled into treatment. It was that decision that saved my life—and began to restore my values and ultimately my identity.
Addiction chips away at your best values, even if you were never a pro athlete. A friend who recently lost his 18-year old daughter to a heroin overdose said this:
“Alana was the smartest, most beautiful girl in the world. Not only was she a straight-A student and an athlete, she had the gentlest, kindest spirit. She loved people and animals so much that she wanted to be a counselor or a veterinarian. But the addiction changed her…”
Addiction erodes the best parts of our nature and injects selfishness, shame, regret, and despair. Eventually, we act differently.
But we don’t have to stay in that place.
Let recovery rebuild your identity.
Recovery is like a giant reset button. Once I admitted I had a problem and surrendered to recovery, I craved more of it. In fact, after my treatment, I picked up cigarette butts on the treatment center campus just to be as near as I could to the solution.
Recovery rebuilt my values and ultimately my identity. Recovery gave me a new playbook—a set of rules to live by. And my recovery groups became my locker room—the community I needed so badly. The best parts of me started to return. I started to think of others instead of just myself. By the grace of God, recovery gave me the chance to restore a relationship with my wife and children.
No, I didn’t get my dad back, and I didn’t reenter the NFL. I can’t take away the years that I lost. My knees are still stiff, and I will never have the strength of a 25-year-old. Some things don’t come back.
But my commitment to family is stronger than ever. I spend as much time with my wife, mom, kids, and other family members as I can, because they are once again my priority.
Instead of going back into an NFL locker room, I have new teammates like Eric Hipple, Tim Ryan, and others in the powerful Transformations Treatment Center team. I work across the country with non-profits, After The Impact, Gridiron Greats, and many others. In my football days, my team wanted to beat the other team; today, my team wants to beat addiction and coach those who are suffering.
Through speaking and interventions, my work is now channeled into offering another chance at life instead of just winning a game.
How does recovery reset your identity?
The dictionary definition of recovery says it all: To return to normal state of health, mind, or strength.
If you are struggling today with an addiction, look at your current values and ask yourself these questions:
- Am I living my true values today?
- Do my behaviors demonstrate my best values?
- Is how I’m living right now how I want others to remember me?
If you answered NO to any of those questions, there is hope and there is help.
Please reach out to me at 888-384-1533 and let me help you.