Abby Wambach Opens Up About Her Struggles With Substance Abuse

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“I was stubborn and I was in denial. I didn’t want to face the truth.”

That’s how Abby Wambach described her experiences with alcoholism and prescription pill addiction to the Associated Press.

The retired USWNT legend, who left the game last year with the world record for international goals scored (men or women), opened up about her struggles in her forthcoming memoir Forward, which hits bookstores tomorrow.

Wambach’s addiction issues became public knowledge earlier this year when she was arrested on DUI charges in Portland, Oregon back in April. In interviews ahead of her book tour, she said that night was when she hit rock bottom.

“That night getting arrested was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Because if I don’t get so publicly shamed and publicly humiliated, I don’t think I wake up. I think I was asleep for a lot of years. Asleep to the pleas from my family and friends, and even myself, to get help. So that night I was humiliated enough to wake up.”

She posted an apology to her fans and friends on her Facebook page the next day, but the damage was done. Sponsors had started distancing themselves from her, and the incident loomed over the legacy she was diligently trying to cultivate post-retirement. She ultimately pled guilty and agreed to undergo treatment as part of a reduced sentence.

Wambach said that night was the culmination of a difficult period in her life. She was still adjusting to life after soccer, something that proved harder than she thought it would be when she announced her retirement after the 2015 Women’s World Cup. She was also having marital difficulties with her wife, retired Portland Thorns midfielder Sarah Huffman. The two are currently in the early stages of divorce proceedings.

She said that friends and family had tried to reach out to her as her substance abuse became more and more of a problem but that she wasn’t in a place where she was willing to listen. She also said the problem had been slowly and quietly building for years before it finally came to a head earlier this year.

“Not only was I hiding this secret from the world for so long, so were the people that I loved — they loved me so fiercely they wanted to protect me as much as possible, almost from myself. Sarah was definitely one of my saving graces because she was one of the first people in my life who made me aware of the problems that I was having. And this was years ago. This isn’t something that just snuck up on me when I retired from soccer. This is something I’ve been dealing with for years now.”

In addition to the book, Wambach is busy at her new job at ESPN as a podcast host and occasional studio analyst. But she says much of her work these days is focused on her recovery— and mending relationships with her friends and family.

“It’s really hard to talk about things when you’re ashamed,” Wambach said. “And I’m not ashamed about what happened to me anymore because it led me to where I’m at right now. I’m proud of where I’m at.”

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