This blog post was written by Eric Janoski, a member of the Trails Carolina substance abuse treatment staff, on the topic of CC Sabathia and the stigma of substance abuse.
CC Sabathia, pitcher for the New York Yankee’s announced yesterday that he was entering an alcohol treatment center and will miss the playoffs. In a statement released by the Yankees he wrote, “Today I am checking myself into an alcohol rehabilitation center to receive the professional care and assistance needed to treat my disease…It hurts me deeply to do this now, but I owe it to myself and to my family to get myself right. I want to take control of my disease, and I want to be a better man, father and player.”
Before yesterday, I had no idea who CC Sabathia was. I don’t follow baseball. I respect the players, but I’ve never been fond of the sport or found it very enjoyable to watch. I played little league for two years in the early nineties and was terrible. I made contact with the ball exactly three times. I was struck by the ball twice while batting and caught one fly ball in my short career. What caught my attention about this story was less the unavoidable consequences of losing a pitcher in a playoff run, but more; where CC Sabathia was going and the language CC Sabathia used in the press statement released by yankees.
First, where CC Sabathia was going. I’ve never played a professional sport and had to walk away in the midst of the personal turmoil and torture under the public spotlight and enter rehab. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to read about something so personal on every sports news outlet like CC Sabathia did. Every day. While I’m literally going through it in real time. I can relate to certain aspects though. I did have to walk away from a job, leave my family, and admit defeat to my friends, colleagues, and myself and enter a treatment center. I don’t have to imagine that part. It was real.
After several years of sobriety, I started drinking again. It didn’t take long for the wheels to come flying off. After only a few weeks, I was worse than I had ever been before. More than the blackouts. More than the near fatal incidents and accidents. It was the guilt and shame that was killing me. How could I be in this place again? How could I put my wife through this again? I felt self-inflicted shame from my sober community. I was alone and close to death. If it hadn’t been for the drug and alcohol treatment center, I don’t think I would have survived. The decision to enter rehab came easily to my wife and I. It was only after I started to explain it to my colleagues, friends, and family that my doubts started to creep in. Wasn’t this a bit extreme? Was I really an alcoholic? 42 days seems excessive? What about work? What would people think? I ultimately confided in my wife that if she felt this was an appropriate course of action I would do it. Is this overkill? “No, this is life and death,” she said. I sometimes forget that piece of my story. How close I came to not going to treatment because of what those on the peripheral of my life thought.
I can’t imagine what CC Sabathia is going through. There is a lot of noise. What I’m currently writing is part of that noise. A lot of opinions and conjecture about what the timing of his decision implies. It all seems so familiar. When it’s time to go, it’s time to go. He doesn’t have to explain his reasoning to anyone. I don’t care if you’re the pitcher for the yankees or you’re selling insurance in Billings, Montana. Leaving your family and entering into a world of intensive early recovery is a massive undertaking. Six to eight weeks might not seem like a long time, but I saw three men leave my program because the time away from their families and the intense emotional work was too much. It’s a personal and private decision that will have a long term impact of his life, whether he continues with long term sobriety or not. To offer support and respect his decision and privacy is the best we as a public can do.
The second piece that struck me was the use of the word disease around CC Sabathia. As someone who has spent the better part of decade working in the mental health field the disease model of addiction and treatment isn’t news to me. What is surprising is that a pitcher from the Yankees chooses to or believes that addiction is a disease. More than ever addiction continues to gain national press. From Jeb Bush’s daughter struggling with the disease to the current heroin crisis in New England. With each passing year, I believe that the stigma associated with drug and alcohol addiction and treatment continues to crumble away, in part because of media attention on both individuals and the disease as a whole. As we continue to distance ourselves from the past assumption that this was a moral issue or just a matter of “saying no,” we move closer to a better understanding of the disease and of reaching individuals in the throes of active addiction with unprecedented resources and numbers. The more we talk about this disease, the less people die. The more we talk about treatment, the less people die. The more accurate information we have in the hands of addicts, alcoholics, and their families about addiction and treatment, the less people die. The less societal induced shaming, the less people die. When we take a man like CC Sabathia and diminish what CC Sabathia is doing as being selfish or shortsighted we miss the opportunity to elevate him, as a man, as father, as an athlete, and as an addict going through a very private ordeal in a very public eye. I don’t believe that recovery needs idols or mascots, but I think seeing a public figure admit they have a problem and doing something about it is far more powerful and far-reaching than the commissioner’s trophy could ever be.
Trails Carolina wilderness therapy help young people ages 10-17 work through emotional and behavioral issues such as substance abuse, depression, and anxiety issues. For more information about Trails Carolina, please call 800-975-7303.