Abby Wambach: DUI Arrest Was the Wakeup Call That Worked

Abby Wambach: DUI Arrest Was the Wakeup Call That Worked

(Novus writes inspirational stories of people in the news who have overcome addiction. This is not to imply that these people are connected to Novus Medical Detox Center but simply to provide hope and encouragement to those fighting addiction.)

Abby Wambach's April, 2016 arrest for "driving under the influence of intoxicants" made the national news, and it almost broke the Internet.

However, the incident was in fact the wakeup call that Wambach says saved her life from a dwindling spiral of alcohol abuse and prescription pills that had begun many years earlier.

"That night getting arrested was one of the best things that has ever happened to me," Wambach told AP News. "Because if I don't get so publicly shamed and publicly humiliated, I don't think I wake up. I think I was asleep for a lot of years. Asleep to the pleas from my family and friends, and even myself, to get help. So that night I was humiliated enough to wake up."

"That night" was in Portland, OR, driving home alone after visiting (and drinking) with friends. When the cops pulled her over, she had no idea why, no memory of having driven through a red light, and in plain view of a police cruiser. It was the culmination, she told AP News, of a life spiraling out of control - her retirement just months earlier from a soccer career, a recently collapsed marriage, and a worsening dependence on vodka, Vicodin, Ambien and Adderall.

There was a promised new job with ESPN, but really - with her identity as a star athlete gone, who knows what the future might bring.

Known to millions, maybe billions

If you're not a sports fan, or you just don't follow professional soccer, you may not recognize the name Abby Wambach.

Nevertheless, countless millions of people, possibly billions considering the worldwide popularity of soccer, know Wambach as the pro women's ultimate soccer star. She's known as the killer scoring machine who fired in more goals in international play than all other pro soccer players in the history of the sport - both female and male!

As a regular with the U.S. women's national team from 2003 to 2015, she was a six-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year. She is a two-time Olympic gold medalist who helped lead the American team to win the FIFA Women's World Cup in 2015. And FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the sport's international governing body) awarded Wambach the 2012 World Player of the Year - the first American woman to win the award in a decade.

Abby Wambach is indeed very well known, and possibly better known outside the USA than at home. The 39-year-old American soccer star is more than a professional soccer legend, she's something of an institution - especially for female athletes worldwide. Time magazine even included her in its 2015 list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

Raised on competition

Wambach was born in Rochester, NY, the youngest of seven siblings - two sisters and four brothers. She says she and her sisters decided to try soccer, prompting their mom to get a book on how to play the game from the library. Soccer became a big family deal.

"I think I was bred to do what I do now," Wambach told Yahoo News back in 2011. "Growing up as the youngest of seven was like being in a team environment. You learn all kinds of things like how to compete. My brothers and sisters always played with me on the same level and they never let me win until I was better than them and deserved it. Being in such a big family makes you humble. You might have a certain skill or talent but there is always someone who is better at something than you."

She adds that she was toughened up by her brothers firing hockey pucks at her for target practice. But soccer was the big skill once she was in school. She was so good, she says, that after scoring 27 goals in only three games, she was asked to transfer from the girls' team to the boys'.

Even though her high school lost the championship, her personal skills continued to improve - enough so that she found herself playing as a professional, and eventually one of, if not the, best in the world.

After the "wakeup call"

Since her "wakeup call" in early 2016, Wambach has opened up with the media about her years of alcohol bingeing, abuse of pills (it started with pain pills to treat sports injuries) and trying drugs like cocaine and marijuana.

"Not only was I hiding this secret from the world for so long, so were the people that I loved - they loved me so fiercely they wanted to protect me as much as possible, almost from myself," she told AP News after her arrest and conviction. "And this was years ago. This isn't something that just snuck up on me when I retired from soccer. This is something I've been dealing with for years now."

Wambach had failed the roadside sobriety test, was way above the limit on a breathalyzer, and spent the night in jail. She pleaded guilty in court, and agreed to enter a diversion program for first-time offenders, that included treatment.

Since the night of the arrest, Wambach maintains that she has remained sober. The wakeup call, she insists, was what really worked for her.

But there is something else, something quite significant that helped Wambach achieve sobriety and a successful life. Now a highly-regarded and sought-after motivational speaker, Wambach inspires audiences around the world with her personal message of success, and speaks proudly of her sobriety.

In her memoir, Forward, published in 2016 after her arrest, Wambach describes the kind of grit she learned to survive growing up in such a competitive family. "My six siblings and I were raised on competition," she writes. "Tales of diligence and fortitude and success were passed down like cherished heirlooms."
Diligence, fortitude and success: In three words, this sounds like the real Abby Wambach story.

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