Embattled QB Thriving In Desert Recovery Community
By Shad Powers
Original Source: desertsun.com
Todd Marinovich has been here before.
And that’s in the figurative sense, in need of rehabilitation for a lifelong drug addiction, but also in the literal sense, at a rehab facility in the desert.
On Aug. 22, 2016, Marinovich, the former USC quarterback prodigy and NFL player, reached what he called an all-time low. He was arrested in Irvine after being found wandering around naked in a stranger’s backyard holding a paper bag full of drugs. He was cited for trespassing, possession of a controlled substance, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of marijuana.
“Gosh just thinking about it now, I have hit some pretty low spots in my journey thus far, but the arrest in August of last year was a whole new level,” said the 48-year-old Marinovich, who will play his first pro football game in 17 years Saturday when he starts at quarterback for the SoCal Coyotes of the World Developmental League.
And this isn’t his first trip to the desert for rehab. That happened 26 years ago when he was an NFL rookie.
“I actually was here in 1991 for my first treatment. It was the Betty Ford Clinic,” he said. “The Raiders sent me. I was definitely not ready for rehab then. Not too many 21-year-olds are. It was a 45-day in-patient treatment and I couldn’t wait to get out.
“I was surrounded by all these old guys who were … well the same age I am now. (The thought made him chuckle). And I sat around the circle going, ‘Yeah, thanks for the horror stories but what happened to you isn’t going to happen to me.’ And then it did … and worse.”
So as he sat in an Irvine lockup last August, he sobered up and started to take a serious look at his life. What he saw was embarrassing to him. He’s a father of two kids under the age of 10. He realized this can’t continue. It’s time to take back control.
“I didn’t have any options anymore. I knew I needed treatment, and that’s where it all began,” he said. “I call it the gift of desperation and the self-loathing of being at the bottom. That’s why I’m here in the desert.”
The first positive development for Marinovich in the weeks after his arrest was the re-emergence of Donna King in his life. King, the program director at Palm Desert Recovery Center, had worked with Marinovich 10 years prior at a rehab facility in Orange County.
She saw in the newspaper that he had regressed again, and wondered if there was anything she could do to help. She asked her bosses at the recovery center and got the go-ahead to make contact. She called Marinovich’s mother, Trudi, who posed the idea to Todd.
“Donna said, ‘Todd, if you’re willing, we’ve got a bed for you,’” he said. “She saved me, she absolutely saved me. She’s an angel.”
So it was settled. Marinovich’s latest attempt at rehabilitation would take place in the desert. He took one look at his 1969 Volkswagen bus and didn’t think it could make it the two hours here so he had his mom drop him off.
From the beginning, Marinovich felt like everything was different about this attempt at sobriety.
“I immediately got a sense of safety here,” he said. “It wasn’t like I picked the desert, the desert kind of picked me. And I immediately got into action.”
The first phase was the sober-living program which focuses on achieving sobriety and that was followed by an intensive out-patient treatment which focuses more on the person. And Marinovich has jumped into this new lifestyle with two feet.
King can see the difference.
“The Todd I met 10 years ago to the today is no comparison,” she said. “He’s humbled himself around the disease. Before he wasn’t ready. He didn’t have the humility that he has now. He’s had a tremendous amount of growth.”
And that growth has helped. When the sentence came down in March relating to his August arrest, the judge was impressed with the work he had already done. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, but will avoid jail time if he has a successful rehab and stays out of any legal trouble for 36 months. So far, so good.
As the Palm Desert Recovery continued to help Marinovich with that growth, so too did the second angel to join his world in the desert, a man named Larry.
Larry, is a Harley-riding, pony-tail wearing ex-addict who has been sober for 36 years. A leathery embodiment of the structure and discipline needed to have a successful rehabilitation. Marinovich needed that. He considers Larry his spiritual adviser.
“This guy came up to me in the parking lot and pulled up on his Harley, pony tail down to his waist and he said, ‘Todd, are you willing to start treating your illness?’ And it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I said, ‘Yeah’ and we created this relationship. And I started doing the things that he suggested, and my life has just gotten better,” he said.
Always one to embrace Buddhist philosophies, Marinovich put it another way.
“It was like that old saying, ‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears’ and it really appeared for me in the form of Larry.”
So with the Palm Desert Recovery Center team and Larry on his side, Marinovich had the tools and backing to make this work. The rest was up to him.
Struggling with the drug addiction is difficult enough, but doing it in the public eye magnifies that difficulty.
Famous since being dubbed the ‘Robo-QB’ by California Magazine as a high schooler – a reference to the specific training regimen his father Marvin put him through as a child – Marinovich has been part of the national sports scene for 30 years. He lived up to the hype at USC, leading the team to a Rose Bowl win in 1990 during his stint there. He was then drafted in the first round, 24th overall, by the then-Los Angeles Raiders, but his NFL career was short-lived. Two years later, he was out of the NFL for good.
The increasing drug use affected his play. And the pressure and public scrutiny drove him to keep doing drugs. It was a vicious cycle.
His final organized game came in 2000 as a member of the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League. It did not go well.
“I was strung out on heroin living paycheck to paycheck and was not in any way a useful part of the team,” he said. “It was a sad existence, I’ve come a long way since then.”
Marinovich said when he takes the field Saturday for the SoCal Coyotes, it will be the first time he’s played a football game entirely sober since he was 15.
“Because of being someone in the public’s eyes, all my stumbles throughout my journey have been national news, and it’s hard for people to relate with that,” he said. “It’s tough for anybody that is struggling because only their close friends know about it, their family knows about it, and in my case it was extremely hard and for years it drove me deeper because of the media coverage of it. It just brought that much more shame and guilt.”
King said that is a pattern she’s seen before.
“He faces challenges that a lot of us don’t have to face because he’s been a celebrity his whole life,” she said. “Many in recovery are very quiet about it and the anonymity can help, but that hasn’t been Todd’s experience. It took him a while to get there, but he’s learning that yes he is different, but just like all the rest, all he can do is work on his recovery every day.”
The day-to-day thought process is crucial for a recovering addict. Marinovich understands that, and he’s altered his entire life to focus on that concept.
“The real sobering thought is ‘What I do yesterday has no bearing on what I do today’ so it’s really all about today and routine is paramount for me,” he said. “I stick to my daily routine of what I need to do to stay in line and everything else falls into place.”
While the Marinoviches were not a religious family, Todd did attend a Christian junior high school and a Catholilc high school, Mater Dei in Santa Ana, but faith didn’t play an important role in his life.
But in this past year in the desert, he’s reconnected with The Source, that’s how he refers to it. And it’s been an integral part of his recovery.
“The best way for me to describe it, and it makes sense to me but it might not to you, is that addiction is not about the drugs and alcohol, that is just a symptom of the real problem,” he said. “The real problem is a separation from one’s self. A separation from all the people that love me, and a separation from the creator. You feel isolated and alone. And the solution is reconnecting to the source. So I learned about God in my upbringing, but this is the first time I’ve actually practiced to improve the actual relationship.
“And how do I create a stronger bond with The Source or God or whatever you want to call it? I need to communicate, and that’s something I do on a daily basis.”
So part of Marinovich’s new routine is communicating with The Source as part of a morning meditation. And where does that take place most mornings? The golf course.
Marinovich, an admitted life-long hacker, has jumped head first into the sport of golf. He likes to go out early – and I mean early – to start his day on the links.
He lives in a condo now, but when he returned to the desert in late 2016 he was staying at a friend’s house at Palm Desert Country Club. He had an idea.
“I said ‘You know what? I think it would be cool to take a golf lesson.’ I’m an athletic guy. I have good hand-eye coordination. So I took one golf lesson and I was hooked … not surprising since we all know I have an addictive personality,” he joked.
How hooked was he?
“I would go on the golf course at like 4:30 or 5 in the morning and I was having to wait for the sun to come up, so I got some glow-in-the-dark golf balls, and I’m out there smacking it around and that was my morning meditation,” he said. “Walk by myself where I could just talk to God and I did that religiously for months and so even when I’m not in the desert and I go to a golf course, there’s something special about walking on the grass. I get this kind of sense of ease that the desert first opened my eyes to.”
Marinovich has two children, an 8-year-old boy named Baron and a 6-year-old girl named Coski. The name Coski is an homage to Todd’s best friend and soulmate Marco who was affectionately known as Co and then Coski. Marco died on July 19, 2010 from addiction. Coski was born on July 19, 2011.
Todd and his wife, though not legally divorced, have been separated for more than two years now.
They co-parent. The kids live with their mother in Orange County during the school year, and Todd sees them on weekends and has them for the bulk of the summer months. He and his wife Alexandria met in a rehabilitation center about 10 years ago.
“I survived my addiction, but my marriage didn’t,” Marinovich said.
It’s clear that his children are a driving force for his current attempt at rehabilitation.
“My kids are my major motivator for me moving out to the desert to try to change my life,” he said. “I don’t know if I would have done it if they weren’t here, but 100 percent I think kids, for somebody that’s struggling with the illness is a motivator. Is it enough? No. But seeing them get older so quickly. It was a real blow to me to see that they were just babies and now kindergarten, first, second, third grade. I saw their childhood slipping before my very eyes and I said, ‘I gotta do something before I miss it.’ And thank God I did.”
Marinovich is very excited for his kids to see him play football, a big part of his life which they haven’t seen yet. They have a hint that their dad is someone who has been in the limelight.
“When I take them to USC games, a lot of people come up to me still, and my kids are like, ‘Dad, are you a celebrity?’” he said. “And I laugh and I say ‘Absolutely not, but I played on some good teams.’ So they know what I used to do, but they’ve never seen anything that I’ve done, so it’s going to be super cool for them to be a part of it.”
The desert also has created a situation for Todd and his father to be closer. In January, Todd moved Marvin into an assisted-living facility with 24-hour care, which he requires, here in the desert. The two spend time together frequently. Marvin, who also played at USC and was the strength and conditioning coach for the Raiders for a long time, attended Todd’s news conference in July when Todd announced he was returning to football.
This relationship rekindling hasn’t gone unnoticed by King, and she thinks, it is another indicator that Todd is on the right path.
“Todd’s relationship with his dad is very important,” King said. “It’s been very touching to me how he takes care of him, and he does that lovingly and willingly. He would go over there and play the guitar for his dad. I think Todd has always lived in the limelight and now appreciates the little things. He doesn’t need to win a football game for his dad, he can just play the guitar and spend the day.”
The camaraderie of teammates is one of the reasons Marinovich is excited to return to the sport he loves. But hanging around with a bunch of single 20-somethings who want to go out at night may be problematic for someone trying to recover from drug and alcohol addiction.
Not so, says Marinovich.
That is how he tried to operate in the past, but again, this is a different type of rehabilitation. The theory being that if you’ve done the work on yourself, you don’t have to avoid the things you like such as going to concerts or hanging out with friends. Again, it was Larry that showed him the way.
“My experience with sobriety before was avoiding people and places and things and if I was in that type of situation where there was drinking, I was missing it and I’d be white-knuckling it the whole time,” Marinovich said. “And that is no way to live.”
“So now I can be around it if it’s for a particular reason and Larry made that super clear. If you do the work, the problem you’ve been struggling with your whole life will be removed and you don’t have to shy away from situations that you used to enjoy, like concerts.”
And Marinovich has been on a concert-going binge in 2017. He’s seen The Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Pixies, Lucinda Williams and his favorite so far was Ryan Adams at the Greek.
“I lone-wolfed it to Ryan Adams, and I was like a fan in the front row, going crazy like I was watching the Beatles,” he said. “It was encouraging to know that if there’s a reason for me to be there, and that’s the music, obviously there’s a lot of extra-curricular activities going on that I just don’t have interest in. So I still get to enjoy the show … and (he said excitedly) I get to remember it the next day. It’s awesome.”
The day-by-day approach, and the support of his team of supporters, has been working. It’s been about 375 days since last August’s arrest.
Part of his rehabilitation, and one that he has really come to love, is to talk to groups about his addiction and use himself as a cautionary tale. He used to hate public speaking, but now he finds it gratifying. He has spoken at juvenile halls, high schools, and football teams of all levels.
He knows there are doubters. People in his life or online commenters who don’t believe he’ll be able to maintain his current sober path.
He understands. It’s a fair question to ask. But he truly believes that this time is different.
“It’s taken a long time … and not that I’ve really attained anything yet, I want to make that clear … but I have finally for the very first time treated my illness and I had never attempted that before. And that’s why when Larry looked at me and asked me if I had done these requirements to actually recover, I was given hope. He said, ‘Well Todd, it makes sense. You keep stubbing your toe because you haven’t really adopted the solution.’
“I have a playbook now that allows me to respond to life, because here’s the deal, life is always going to be throwing things at you. If it is ever where things are going well, it’s not going to stay like this for long. And so it’s how I react or respond to it that is the magic in it. And I have a gameplan now that I’ve never had.”
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