Nilan has since gotten the upper hand and is now an anti-bullying advocate
By Stan Grossfeld
NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario — The resurrection of Chris “Knuckles” Nilan began several years ago on the fringe of Boston. After 30 surgeries from his 13-year career as an NHL enforcer, he was gobbling pain-killers as if they were M&M’s. When his supply ran out, he scored some heroin.
“I was in a hotel room by myself,” said Nilan. “I was sick, sick as a dog. I was shooting up and sitting on the toilet. I shot it and passed out on the toilet. I woke up and I saw the needle still in my arm and the blood. I’m like, ‘What the [expletive]?’ and I stood up right away.”
But his legs were numb.
“I fell forward and hit my head on the wall and I knocked myself out,” he said. “I woke up and I said, ‘I’ve got to stop. I’ve got to get help.’ I was playing Russian roulette with five bullets in the chamber.”
So he got down on his knees and prayed, as his mother taught him to growing up in West Roxbury.
“I don’t normally ask for help for myself,” said Nilan. “I pray for my kids, that God will watch over them and my parents, and my grandchildren.”
There were two stints in rehab, set up by the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse & Behavioral Health Program. Nilan also went to see an addiction specialist in Hawaii recommended by his girlfriend, Jamie Holtz, executive assistant of the The Knuckles Group.
“I was embarrassed and ashamed to ask for help,” he said. “But I was killing myself.”
Since then, Nilan has been battling to stay sober every day. He had 251 fights in his NHL career, but this is the longest and toughest fight of his life.
“Some fights never end. I am a drug addict and an alcoholic,” he said while sipping a cranberry juice and soda water before a recent speaking appearance. “My condition is in remission, 17 months. No booze, no pills, no nothing. Clean and sober.”
His marriage of 25 years is over. He blames no one but himself. He said it was not fun and he didn’t do drugs to get high. He regrets hurting his family.
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