By: Mike Tyson
LAS VEGAS — IT’S the time of year for resolutions. Lose 20 pounds, get to the gym, eat healthier, be more productive, whatever. But in a few months, many people will let these goals fall by the wayside, to be revived next year. I belong to a group who can’t afford to make pledges we don’t keep. I’m an addict.
For addicts, discipline isn’t something to strive for each new year; it’s necessary for every moment. Though it might be surprising — considering all the craziness associated with the Mike Tyson persona — one of my best qualities is my unerring discipline, which my mentor and first trainer, Cus D’Amato, instilled in me. Cus and I worked hard so I could become the youngest heavyweight champ in history; I sacrificed most of my social life as a teenager and for years pushed my body to extremes every day, just to repeat the brutal regimen the next day.
Cus died a year before I won my first belt, in 1986. With him gone, I had less of an incentive to stay disciplined, and I started drinking heavily and taking drugs. I finally retired from boxing in 2005. I didn’t want to insult the sport by coming in out of shape, just fighting for a payday. That’s when I became a full-on raging addict. Since then, I have struggled for sobriety, sometimes successfully, at other times not.
Even though I possessed incredible discipline when it came to boxing, I didn’t have the tools to stop my slide into addiction. When I got a chance to get high — boom, I’d get high. I wouldn’t call my sponsor, wouldn’t call my therapist, wouldn’t call my sober companions.
No, in order to kick it, I had to replace the cravings for drugs or alcohol with a craving to be a better person.
I’ve learned that being sober is more than just avoiding drugs or alcohol. It’s a lifestyle focused on making moral choices and elevating the things that make life worth living to the forefront. Don’t get me wrong. If I craved drugs or alcohol, I’d still give in. I could never fight those cravings. But when I am focused on doing good and being good, and practice the day-to-day mechanics of a sober, healthy life, I don’t get those urges to do bad things to myself.
Of course, I needed a developed conscience to back it up. Over the years, my conscience has saved me from descending into a life of total, selfish hedonistic abuse. Even when I was just an antisocial kid, stealing and jostling in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, my friends and I would question our behavior. At my lowest points, I’d still be somewhat outside myself, thinking of the effect my actions had on other people.
Even with your conscience nagging at you, it’s extremely difficult to develop a sober and moral consciousness without a good support system. When I was in the prime of my career, I had a lousy support system. Greedy vultures were all around me, putting their hands in my pockets, using my status for their own self-aggrandizement. There was no way I could win with people like that in my corner. I am now very fortunate to have a wonderful wife and children surrounding me.
In 2009, I vowed to get sober after the accidental death of my 4-year-old girl, Exodus. I was determined to live a better life for the sake of my family, but the pain was so bad that I went back on drugs. Recovery is a drawn-out process, and without the continued encouragement of my support system, it would be close to impossible.
Strangely, times of success are most dangerous for me. When people tell me, “You’re great” or “Your comeback is amazing” or “You’re a god,” I could feed right into it and go get high. Hey, if my life is so good, how could smoking a joint be bad? How could a shot of Hennessy or a line of coke be so bad when everything else I’ve been doing is great — especially when there are beautiful, successful people feeding my ego and supplying the drugs? So I’ve learned that when people congratulate me, that’s when I focus on my flaws. That way I don’t allow my narcissism to fly sky-high and allow me to think that I can act out without any consequences.
I had been sober for five years when I had a slip and started drinking again last August. I had just finished the manuscript of my book, my one-man show was about to air on HBO, and we had a reality series in the can for Fox Sports. I was not accustomed to all that success in an arena other than boxing.
I have such a negative self-image that I just expect bad things to happen to me. And even though I hadn’t been using for five years, all that time I just didn’t feel comfortable in my skin. I was holding secrets from my loved ones, things that I had to get off my chest because I was dying inside. That’s the worst feeling in the world, keeping things to yourself. When I resolved those issues, through therapy and by talking honestly with my family, I felt like a new man. When I relapsed in the past, I would keep getting high until I was in a car accident or got arrested. But this time, after drinking for two or three days, I came back. I didn’t wait for an intervention. I just got right back on the wagon. After years of therapy, I had learned not to beat up on myself. I remembered that relapse is a part of recovery.
This is the best I’ve ever felt. I’m on the pathway to humility, fully aware that you can’t rule until you’ve served. I’m looking forward to a glorious 2014, when all of our best-intentioned resolutions become realities.
Original Source: nytimes.com