On the soccer field, she may have seemed superhuman. But in her personal life, she was anything but, says Abby Wambach, the world’s leading scorer in international goals.
In a memoir titled Forward, the now retired U.S. National Team superstar reveals that she struggled for years with an addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs such as Vicodin, Adderall and Ambien in an attempt to numb herself and deal with stress.
In April, during a time when her marriage to soccer player Sarah Huffman was falling apart and she was struggling with retirement from the sport and a new job with ESPN, Wambach was arrested for drunk driving, and her mugshot was soon circulating worldwide. She felt shamed and humiliated, she told the Associated Press, but it turned out to be “one of the best things that has ever happened to me.”
The experience woke her up to her problem, she said, one that she had been trying her best to ignore despite the efforts of family and friends. As a first-time offender, Abby Wambach’s recovery included a diversion program with addiction treatment, and she’s been sober since.
Sharing Her Truth
In a Facebook post title “My Truth” written on the eve of the book’s release, Wambach prepared her friends and fans for her memoir:
“Tomorrow I am publishing a book that may shock and even disappoint some people. … When you read about my lows, my self-doubt, my drinking, you might judge me and that is ok. But no matter who you are or what you’ve done with your life, I bet you will recognize the feeling I describe, that private terror that makes you wonder if you’re lost for good. You’re not.
“I am nervous to open up and talk about my struggles for the first time this week. But I hope in so doing, we can change the conversation about what it means to be a ‘hero.’ Heroes fail. They fall down. They screw up. Heroes tell the truth.”
Judging from the thousands of responses to the post, Wambach need not fear a lack of understanding or support.
Wrote Anne Margaret Crowley McCombs: “Telling the truth really does set you free. Many of us drinkers kept it hidden, or thought we were, and in doing so; our secrets kept us so sick! It’s amazing when you admit you are powerless; you gain power. Others can surely relate — especially this female alcoholic. It’s so empowering for ALL of us that you are owning your truth and talking about it. You will become stronger and possess a strength you didn’t know you had! I will pray for you and please know that you ARE a winner. Onward and upward. Get ready for new freedom and a new happiness.”
Katie Grys said: “We all deserve a second chance (and sometimes a 3rd, 4th, 5th) … It doesn’t matter how long it takes, there is hope for everyone to recover from whatever illness, sickness, addiction, disease, etc. they suffer from.”
Added Mia Jean Ratto: “Thank you for sharing your truth! You are my hero now and always. Your mistakes and what you have learned from them make you a survivor and a warrior.”
Finding her way to sobriety, Wambach told the AP, has helped her deal with the stresses in her life, with her retirement from the sport that defined her for so many years, and with her most important goal: becoming a “whole human being.”
“I’m not ashamed about what happened to me anymore,” she said, “because it led me to where I’m at right now. I’m proud of where I’m at.”