Recently, Josh Hamilton had a relapse in his battle with drug addiction. The story has been out there for a few days now and you've probably read all about it, so I'll spare the details. As the story broke, many different writers had many different things to say. Some were critical of Hamilton, thinking him foolish for even setting foot in the bar. Some were compassionate and forgiving. Some praised his candid press conference. The reaction from non-media types (aka, my friends) has been even more varied. A scroll through my Facebook news feed the day the story broke had people questioning whether he meant his faith, as well as some who were going to support him no matter what (many of my friends are Christians, so their comments were mostly directed towards his very public faith).
Having read many of these different viewpoints has helped me to better understand the issue. It has always been a personal issue for me; my father was an addict for the early part of my life. I knew that he was an addict, but I didn't know the extent. A little over a year ago, my father died in a car accident, and I learned some things about his struggle with addiction that he had kept secret. After the jump, I'll share a little about that and why I think Josh Hamilton's battle with drug addiction can be a wonderful thing for public understanding. (Oh, and this isn't exactly Rockies-related, other than a passing Neifi Perez reference. Sorry.)A quick back-story (I won't make it too detailed): my father was addicted to narcotics. I don't know specifically which ones, but I know for certain, he was addicted to marijuana. He went to rehab for a month when I was three years old. My mother made him go after they got back from a cruise in the Bahamas. While he was in the Bahamas, he bought marijuana from someone in the street, in sight of an empty police car. My dad figured that if he could see that the policeman wasn't there, he couldn't be caught. He was right, but he risked being arrested and detained indefinitely in the Bahamas while his 3 and 5 year old sons were growing up in West Virginia.
I found out about the Bahamas story about a month after my dad died and I couldn't understand it. Why would my father, a perfectly smart and reasonable man in any other situation, take such a huge risk for something he could get later from people he knew better? Did he not care enough about my brother and me? Did he not care about his wife?
Drug addiction, at least as I have always seen it portrayed, is a type of downward spiral. You take one of the "gateway drugs," become addicted, someone gets you into harder stuff, you get addicted to that, then harder stuff, etc. Some people don't escape that cycle and die. Some people get caught and sent to jail. Some people turn themselves around and go to rehab and are fine. It's the last one of these that makes the public addiction story of Josh Hamilton so unique.
He has made no secret out of the fact that he battles addiction and has for years. He believes that God has helped him deal with it. He knows that he is still vulnerable to temptation. And he IS still vulnerable to temptation. Extremely vulnerable. We want him to be finished with his struggles, but he will realistically never be. When he has a moment of weakness and gives in, he is not saying that he has given up on being sober. He just literally cannot help himself. I can't think of another example of someone having such a short relapse and being so open about it. He has chosen to be open about it, and I'm thankful for it.
When my father was done with rehab, he began to smoke cigarettes. This helped him to stay away from harder, illegal drugs, but it was still an addiction. When I was in junior high, he quit smoking for about two years. Then, one of his friends carelessly asked him if he wanted to smoke with him, and he said, "Yes." Two years of quitting smoking were gone and he continued to smoke for the rest of his life. I never understood how he could have picked up another cigarette, but I understand better now. Though I thought that he had "kicked the habit," the truth is, you can't really ever do that. Over time, the cravings will weaken, but if you have a moment of weakness and give in, you're right back where you started.
Many professional athletes have had several issues with drugs and relapses, and if you view it from the perspective that they literally could not help themselves, it becomes all the more tragic. Neifi Perez was suspended three times for using amphetamines. Ken Caminiti was arrested multiple times for cocaine, but was unable to overcome his addiction, eventually overdosing. Josh Hamilton, as proactive and inspirational as he has been, has still publicly relapsed twice in the past couple years. However, his honesty and his openness about his fight has given many people a new understanding of just how difficult it is to break out of addiction.
I am fortunate to have never taken any illegal drugs. Knowing about my dad's predisposition to addiction has been an added motivator to stay away from it all, but under different circumstances, I could just as easily have turned out differently. My father struggled with addiction, and I didn't understand until recently what a battle it must have been for him. While before, I couldn't understand why he would risk everything just to get his fix, I now can't understand how hard he must've battled to be clean, just so he wouldn't lose everything.