“Celebrity Recovery” is a four-part series featured during National Recovery Month recalling the celebrities who have survived addiction, gone through rehab, and continue to be in recovery today.
“Michael, you have all the money that anybody your age could ever want or need; you have a profound influence in the world; you have free time—and you’re the most miserable person I know. What’s up with that?”
Bob Bowman, Michael Phelps’ long running Olympic swimming coach, looked at his student as he questioned Phelps’ depression, according to the New York Times. Money, property, and prestige mean nothing in the face of a dissatisfaction with self-worth, which has seemed to lead the gold medalist to substance abuse.
After leaving treatment, Michael Phelps has become yet another professional athlete to turn his life around and shine a light of hope that those who suffer from an addiction problem can begin to recover, but is he really an alcoholic?
The Truth Behind the Medals
It was a Monday night in September 2014 and the Olympic swimmer was leaving Horseshoe Casino after an evening of drinking and poker. As he reassured his girlfriend, Nicole Johnson, that he was okay to drive home when he spoke to her over the phone, he eventually said to her, “There’s a cop behind me.”
Johnson’s next call from Phelps would be from jail.
The first indication of a possible substance abuse problem was at 19 when the Olympian was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol in Salisbury, Maryland, his home state. Pleading guilty, he was sentenced to 18 months of probation, a $250 fine, and was ordered to talk about his drunk driving to high school students for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD.)
“I let a lot of people in the country down,” Michael Phelps later told Matt Lauer on the Today Show. Despite his 28 gold medals, his baby boy, and his reconciliation with Johnson after a two-year estrangement, the swimmer was still unhappy.
Michael Phelps displayed a huge lack of interest in training leading up to the London games, which strained his relationship with his coach. He just stopped caring. Swimming wasn’t enough and Phelps ended up missing the first ten days of training for the London Olympics. “I think I was just over it. I think personally I had a lot of struggle through the four years after ’08.”
Since the inception of his love for swimming at the age of seven, Phelps has trained hard for his passion, but by the time he caught his second DUI, he “was at the lowest place I’ve ever been.” Claiming to retire after the Rio Olympics, “he had no idea what to do with the rest of his life,” said Bowman. Swimming was the only purpose he had ever known, and even that purpose was not fulfilling him.
A Purpose Beyond Swimming
“I was in a really dark place, not wanting to be alive anymore,” Phelps told Sports Illustrated. Despite the controversies, Phelps kept going, kept training, but after that last DUI, something had to change.
Against the wish of Bowman, Phelps checked himself into rehab, still not knowing if he is an alcoholic or not. “I sent myself down a spiral. I think it was more of a sign than anything else,” he said on the Today Show. “That I had to get something under control, whatever it was. I look back at that night, and everything happened for a reason.”
For 45 days, Michael Phelps attended drug treatment where Bowman witnessed his star athlete engage in kind and caring relationships with other clients, which was far removed from the high-performance machine Phelps had become.
“I was so afraid coming in,” said Phelps in the New York Times article. “I wasn’t ready to be vulnerable. And then, after a couple of days, I said, ‘My wall is down. Let’s get into this and see what’s going on.’”
The truth was that his parents’ divorce at age nine was hard on Phelps. He never experienced a childhood through his rigorous training. For a time, he had no structure to his days, no energy soaking exercises, and he acted out on his ADHD impulsivity. He drank heavily and he pushed people away.
In treatment, Phelps gained a reading habit, being caught by his coach reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor. Bowman claimed that he had only seen the athlete read magazines, not The Power of Your Subconscious Mind or The Purpose Driven Life.
In rehab, the Olympian reached a breakthrough and realized that his obsessive thoughts over what other people thought of him didn’t matter. “Right then and there it was like there’s no point for me to try to be somebody I’m not. This is who I am.”
Is Michael Phelps an Alcoholic?
Despite the fact that Phelps claims to not know if he is an alcoholic or not, his courageous story is still one of a perilous bottom and a journey through recovery. Just like with anyone, only Phelps can decide if he is an alcoholic.
His story goes to show that no matter where you come from, what you have, or who you are, addiction is deeper than the drugs. It’s a struggle with self-worth and obsessive-compulsive tendencies. It can cause pain in anyone’s life, but recovery is always possible.
Let Michael Phelps Addiction and Recovery Motivate You
Here at Citrus Recovery, we have addiction specialists who are ready 24-7 and willing to help anyone with this terrible disease. If you, or your loved one, are struggling with an addiction problem, call (844) 318-0072 for a consultation today.