Home health remedies Tony Adams explains the importance of talking about mental illness

Tony Adams explains the importance of talking about mental illness

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After a seven-week drinking binge on the back of Euro 96, the former England defender finally tackled his long-term alcoholism. But protecting his mental health proved to be a daily challenge.

People see the football side of me – the big mask, the big character. But underneath, there’s this little boy who’s scared to death

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“I drank heavily for 12 years and, for most of that time, I didn’t want to give it up: I could go to prison, wake up in intensive care, or run naked down the street… But, somehow, I didn’t think that I had a problem. It was always everyone’s fault but mine.

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“Suddenly, things changed. First, my wife went into [addiction] treatment and my kids were taken off me. Then I got injured and couldn’t play football, which was my release. Football saved me and killed me: if I hadn’t had football, maybe I would have learned to deal with my feelings instead of suppressing them.

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“I went to see a therapist, and that was what made me aware of myself. It all became unbearable – you know you shouldn’t do this stuff, but you can’t stop. I didn’t want to live, and I didn’t really want to die. You realise, ‘I can’t do this.’

“I got sober through AA and the 12 Steps. They say the greatest thing about recovery is that you get your feelings back… and the worst thing about recovery is that you get your feelings back. In 2016, I was coming up to my 50th birthday and 20 years of sobriety: big milestones. I’d recently had heart surgery, and I felt nearer the end than the beginning. I just thought, ‘I have such a good life today, I don’t want to die.’ It scared me. I was sobbing like a baby, just sobbing. I took no comfort in anything. I felt paralysed. I was alone in China at the time and was beset by panic attacks.

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“That year, I was running constantly and I lost a stone in weight. After my heart surgery, running felt like the only way I could tell that I didn’t have a problem, the only way that I could prove to myself that I was OK.

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“When I’m depressed, I don’t want to go out. I know that’s the illness: it wants me alone, it doesn’t want me to talk, and it wants me to die. And I can get trapped in there. People see the football side of me – the big mask, the big character. But underneath, there’s this little boy who’s scared to death.

“Back in England, my doctor asked me how I felt about antidepressants… Well, I don’t take drugs today, so initially I wasn’t keen. But I agreed. Now, I’m very aware of the depressive side of me. I’m in therapy. I do daily prayer and meditation. By staying sober, day by day, you get stronger and get to know your feelings. Once, I couldn’t get my mouth open. Now, I can’t shut up.”

Tony Adams’s memoir, Sober, is published by Simon & Schuster

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