18-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps recently appeared on NBC’s Today, sharing intimate details about his struggles with alcohol abuse, rehab treatment, and training for the upcoming Rio Olympics.
Phelps was arrested for his second DUI in September 2014, prompting USA Swimming to suspend him from competition for six months.
Following his second DUI arrest, Phelps recognized his destructive drinking habits and decided to seek help. He also said the time leading up to his arrest was a cry for help.
“Honestly, at one point I felt like I didn’t want to see another day,” Phelps told NBC.
“I sent myself down a downward spiral. I think it was more of, of a sign than anything else. That I had to get something under control, whatever it was.”
While admitting that he has had issues with alcohol abuse in the past during the interview, Phelps said that he did not know whether he was an alcoholic or not, but stressed how important alcohol abstinence is for him now.
Shortly after pleading guilty to the DUI charge, Phelps entered a rehab treatment facility, spending 45 days in an inpatient program. Following rehab, he joined Alcoholics Anonymous to ensure his sobriety. Entering treatment marked an important milestone for Phelps, a decision that helped him refocus on what is important to him.
“I checked myself in because I think I was at a point in my life where something needed to change,” Phelps said.
This became evident to Phelps when he saw how his alcohol use was affecting his loved ones and personal relationships.
“I think my mom was happy that I was alive because I think she saw the path I was going down,” Phelps said about his mom, Debbie Phelps.
Phelps’ first DUI came in 2004, before he was the mega-star athlete he is today. In 2009, a year after he won a record eight gold medals at the Beijing Olympics, a photograph featuring Phelps smoking marijuana out of a bong surfaced and drew wide criticism.
For Phelps, training for the 2016 Olympics has been a completely fresh experience as a result of his new mentality. Knowing he is near the end of his swimming career, Phelps is focused on preparing for the summer games the proper way.
“I want to be here,” Phelps said. “That’s the difference. I had no desire to work out before. And I want to retire how I want to retire. And I have a great opportunity to do that. I haven’t trained like this in a decade.”
In 2013, Phelps announced that he would retire from competitive swimming because he had no goals left to accomplish. However, his retirement did not last long and shortly after rehab treatment, he began training for a comeback.
“If I’m going to come back, I need to do this the right way,” Phelps said.
Determined to be successful at what will be his fifth Olympic games, Phelps is using his preparation for Rio to fuel his sobriety.
“Before I even went to court, I said to myself that I’m not going to drink until after Rio — if I ever drink again,” Phelps said.
Although he is still tempted at times to drink, the added benefits of sobriety leave him feeling great. According to Phelps, he’s sleeping more and his head feels clear when he wakes up in the morning. He now focuses on getting his body in into the best physical shape he can for the Olympics.
In addition to reaching a state of physical well-being, treatment and therapy have helped Phelps come to terms with underlying personal issues as well. He told NBC that he is now “OK” and “happy” with who he is. Just another example the new wings sobriety has given Phelps.
“You’re going to see a different me than you saw in any of the other Olympics,” Phelps said.
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