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Alcoholism is about more than losing your job

Steve Sarkisian may have lost his USC football coaching gig, but figure skater Chad Conley writes that he has the potential for a new lease on life. Conley writes from experience.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I decided to write this piece because I think this issues of alcoholism and drug use seem to come up more and more in sports, and yet we don't ever talk about it.

When I scan the Outsports Web site and other media outlets, I may read about an athlete in trouble with the law for common assault outside of a nightclub, or perhaps receiving a DUI. These stories give us the reason to gossip with our friends about the athlete, basically attributing it to the fact they have an ego, and that's the reason for their behavior. We may also say that if they didn't go to jail, or if they plead their charge down in court, we compare it to getting away with murder.

What we don't see is the whole picture for some of these people.

Ousted USC coach Steve Sarkisian falls into the post-athlete category. A college football coach with a Canadian connection, he spent two years playing for the Saskatchewan Roughriders (CFL). Fast-forward 15 years later, Sarkisian's life, like many others, unraveled and the unravel resulted in voluntarily checking himself into a drug and alcohol treatment center and losing his job as the head coach of USC football.

I know I'm no football expert (not even a little bit), but I now know who Steve is and what he's about. He's an alcoholic just like I am.

Upon reading the story about Sarkisian's dismissal after appearing very intoxicated at a school event, memories of hitting my own rock bottom appeared.

If you were to ask Steve today what dream in life he failed to fulfill, he would probably say as an American Football player. He had dreamt of being the star quarterback of a of an NFL team earning a multi-million-dollar salary and being the face of every major endorsement. This, of course, is only based on my perception of what every American male playing football wants.

I understand it. At 10 I wanted to be an Olympic champion in figure skating, and I spent many years chasing that dream.

I also spent a number of hours in my lifetime chasing a bottle and other substances. I'm sure, if you asked Steve, he would say he spent many hours chasing his own bottle. We are both, after all, alcoholics.

I can probably tell you what Steve's life looked like the day his shadow darkened the entrance to the treatment center the day he checked in. Full of anxiety, regret, degradation, and a sense of all-around failure, Steve Sarkisian walked up to a desk and signed forms to voluntarily check himself into residential treatment. He then was probably asked for his phone and other communication devices to be turned in. It was probably during his intake that he was informed that his employment with USC had been terminated.

Steve Sarkisian has lost the one thing that probably means the world to him, and in my eyes that is the biggest gift of all.

When I first got clean in 2001, I had absolutely nothing left except a suitcase full of clothing and a pair of skates. The skates were useless because I actually hadn't skated since 1999 after my addiction became too powerful to carry on with activities that required accountability. The first time I went to treatment in 2000, I still had an apartment, friends, family, and a job to go back to. I didn't lose anything, except the ability to score narcotics while I was in treatment.

I was there for every reason but myself, so I bided my time until I completed my 90 days of what felt like incarceration. The net result? Six months later I was loaded. I was loaded because there were no actual consequences. Not yet anyway.

USC stipulated they were terminating Sarkisian based on the fact that he had not done his job effectively, and they were worried about other incidents coming to light. I'm sure that he has several incidents that have occurred. It comes with the territory of addiction.

Now that he has settled into his residential treatment center, he will be forced to adhere to rules that systematically help get his life back on track. He will be able to look at his defects of character and have a chance to develop tools to change his behavior patterns.

Most people who have no knowledge of addiction don't realize how smart addicts truly are. Most will think he's burned his career. It's done.

Yes, he has burned his life down to the ground. His coaching career may or may not be over, that's really up to the football specialists (which I am not). I do know this though, that he will receive a new journey like I have, along with so many others, and so long as he follows his path to recovery, he can have an amazing life.