I no longer need to be lucky to survive addiction, I just need you

To: My son, Karson

From: Alex Neutz (As told to Lauren Brill)

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The day you were born was by far the craziest, scariest and most exciting day of my life.  Seeing you and hearing you cry for the very first time, I immediately fell in love.

I felt lucky that I never gave up on myself or life and was able to be your dad.  While I still have struggles, I no longer need luck to survive. I just need you.

See, when I was in middle school I started to doubt myself. I felt an intense amount of self-inflicted pressure to be perfect.  Through high school my football career took off and I ended up playing college ball at the University at Buffalo. As my stats on the field grew, so did my anxiety. By 20 years old, I lost all control. I didn’t know who I was anymore.

There were days I did not want to get out of bed. Crazy thoughts went through my mind.

I remember times when I would drive to practice and think to myself,  “If I get into a car accident, I would have an excuse not to play football anymore.”

At night, I would go to sleep wondering if I would feel this miserable for the rest of my life.

Then, I broke my wrist my junior year and my doctor prescribed me painkillers. Almost immediately I began taking the pills to heal all of my pain except the pain in my wrist. The pills took away my stress, my anxiety and my depression.  It made me feel numb and happy.

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I never got so much as detention a day in my life. I was a perfect golden boy, who in an instant became a drug addict.

Alex set a school record with 31 touchdown receptions.

You would need to show me a highlight film from my senior year of football for me to remember anything I did on the field that season because there wasn’t a day that I was sober. Still, I graduated as UB’s all-time leader in touchdown receptions with 31 but my life beyond football was destroyed by the pills. It took away all of my money. It took away all of my friends. Most of all, it took away who I was as a person.

All I cared about was buying pills and consuming pills. I owed a whole slew of people money. The amounts would range anywhere from one hundred dollars to one thousand dollars. I sold everything and anything in my house. Every single dime I got went straight to pills.

My health began to quickly deteriorate. After college, my once 6-foot-3-inch, 205-pound stature dropped down to 165 pounds. If that wasn’t bad enough, I was even robbed and held at gunpoint. Then, one day I was driving looking for drugs. I got pulled over and the cops found pills in my car. They arrested me for criminal possession of a controlled substance. You’d think that would have been my rock bottom moment but it wasn’t. I didn’t hit an all-time low until a few months later when I realized I would rather die than be addicted to painkillers

I realized I would rather die than be addicted to painkillers.

The problem was I didn’t know how to tell my parents that after all that I had accomplished, I needed to go to rehab. Society made me feel ashamed and embarrassed, even in front of my own family. A friend recognized my desperation and thankfully told my mom and dad, who responded with love and grace.

I went to rehab and was reminded of how much I enjoyed life. I educated myself on addiction and worked with a cognitive-behavioral therapist. I started meditation as an alternative coping mechanism.  But the most important component of my recovery was opening up, talking about how I felt and why I needed the pills to numb my pain in the first place.

We live in a society where there is a cast of shame over mental health issues, especially in football. If you talk about your problems or your struggles, some will say you are weak or you just aren’t cut out for the gridiron.

I no longer fear people’s judgment, as I wear my story like a badge of honor instead of hiding it like a shameful secret. It’s not about who I was or what I did but I am proud of what I have overcome and how the lessons I have learned prepared me to be your dad. Plus, every time I share my story I heal myself while also possibly helping someone else.

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Even though I have come so far, I will be honest, Karson, it’s still not easy. I am three years sober but I battle with anxiety daily. It’s you, Karson, that stops me from succumbing to any temptations.

Karson, you are only one-year old but one day you will realize that the world is not fair. At some point, you will struggle. Life will be tough. You will have some rough days.  But I want you to know if you have a bad day, it does not make you weak. If you are stressed, depressed or anxious about life, it is okay to talk about it. I want you to talk about it. I want you to feel free and safe to express yourself.

Alex is motivated to stay healthy by the love he has for his son.

I never want you to feel alone in life. I never want you to feel judged or lost. I don’t want you to carry the burden of your struggles all on your own. We all need people to help us get through rocky times and I want to make sure there is always someone you are comfortable going to with all of your problems. I want to promise you that you will always have a person who is by your side through every rough moment or disappointment.

Karson, you keep me healthy each and every day because the only way for me to guarantee you will have that person in your life, that person who will listen to you and love you unconditionally, is if that person is me.

So, I may have given you life but since the day you were born, it’s you who’s been saving mine.

I love you, Karson.

Dad (Alex Neutz)
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