Richie Sadlier: ‘The tears keep coming, but this is different. Everything is different now’

Each Friday we will publish extracts from famous Irish sports books.
Richie Sadlier: ‘The tears keep coming, but this is different. Everything is different now’

Each Friday we will publish extracts from famous Irish sports books.

Today’s offering comes from ‘Recovering’ by Richie Sadlier, a former An Post Irish Sports Book of the Year Award winner

IT is the winter of 2016 and I am well.

If you were to ask me how I feel when I experience the lows we all go through, I might tell you that this will pass. I might even say everything is going to be OK.

I was once a professional footballer, but I’m not that any more.

I’m a football pundit, but I’m also a psychotherapist, a job which has given me more fulfilment than anything I’ve ever done.

I have a drink problem which, since 22 August 2011, I have treated by not drinking.

I work in mental health. It’s good to talk, I believe that. But I believe even more strongly that it’s good to talk about the right things.

Life is complicated, but where I can I have simplified it and, yes, in the winter of 2016, I am well.

On this day, when I am well, I’m driving through Monkstown in south Dublin when a car crashes into the back of mine. It’s not a serious incident, but when I get out to check the damage, I begin to feel a little dizzy.

Somebody helps me stay on my feet and I walk off the road and over to the pavement where I sit down. I’m not hurt, my car is fine and I wait for the light-headedness to pass.

My hoody is pulled up as far as it can go but as the dizziness passes, I feel something else. I lean forward, putting my head between my knees as if I’m bracing myself for impact. Then it comes. It’s like I’m under attack. I start sobbing: deep, frightened, threatened sobbing. The tears of a vulnerable and inconsolable child. I didn’t expect them, but they don’t surprise me. I know where they have come from. I know what I am afraid of. And now I know what I have to do.

I know there are things I’m still running from.

***********************

‘WHY are you here today, Richie?’

It is 2008, a year or so after I returned from England to live in Dublin.

I am in a therapy session.

My professional football career is over. Every morning I wake up and I feel I am out of control. I don’t know what each day will bring, but this prospect doesn’t thrill me. I live in fear of the wreckage in my life. I add to the wreckage every day.

I am not well.

‘Why are you here today, Richie? What was your reason for booking this session?’

Why am I here? I know why I’m here but I don’t know how I can say it.

I could say that I’m struggling with retirement, but that would just be a euphemism for saying I live a life in freefall.

‘Why are you here today, Richie?’

The struggle of a sportsman’s early retirement is not why I’m here.

‘Why are you here today, Richie?’

The clocks stop.

I cut off eye contact and I scramble for the right words. I’m really struggling to say what I’ve come here to say.

Say it, you fucking wuss.

‘It’s OK, take as long as you need.’

Look at you. Mute little shit. Pathetic. What a man you are!

After a minute or so of total silence, I mumble my response as best I can.

From somewhere, I find the words.

I sob as I tell her, staring at the floor.

The therapist just lets me talk. She doesn’t try to fill the silence when I can’t. She is sound and supportive and really, really caring.

The kind of person who would be perfect to speak to about this.

After the session, I sit in my car and cry on and off for about an hour. Her practice is in Dún Laoghaire and I can see the sea from my car. I know it wouldn’t be wise to turn the key. I just sit there crying, not knowing what to do. I can’t ring anyone to talk about what just happened. This is a secret and we can never be free of those.

I don’t want to go anywhere because I can’t face company. Sitting alone in my car is the best option. I suppose it’s the only option.

Well, apart from going drinking for two days. Which is what I do next.

The therapist has booked me in for another session but I don’t show up.

I don’t contact her to say I won’t be showing up and I never go back. I turn on myself for wasting her time and not returning for the session, but I just want to put the toothpaste back in the tube. I want to keep my secrets where they belong.

I had a secret I believed I could never be free of. A secret I have tried to talk about over the years but which I have always tried to take back.

Don’t ask me about myself.

Let’s talk about you.

Don’t get too close.

Why do you want to know?

I felt overwhelmed by shame for most of my life. I felt I had failed. I felt I had let people down.

For a time, it seemed I could succeed and make this failure OK. I went to England to become a professional footballer and I also played for my country. For a time I had the promise of success, and then I had that promise taken away from me.

I spent a long time mourning this career, which I felt I was entitled to do. I drank and drugged my way through this mourning. If your life had turned out like mine, you’d be entitled to do this, too.

I spent a long time running. And as I ran I took this secret with me.

**********************

IT’S a winter’s day in 2016 and I’m sitting in the Second Captains studio about to record a podcast.

‘Jaysus, sorry about this,’ I say. ‘I’m all over the shop with this answer.’ ‘Relax, it’s grand. Happens to us all,’ says Eoin McDevitt.

‘We can just go again when you’re ready.’ These lads are my friends. I trust them and I’m entirely relaxed around them.

I had lost my train of thought almost as soon as I started to speak.

I couldn’t get to the end of the first sentence. I do my best to play down how rattled I am but I’m really worried that I won’t be able to continue. It isn’t the first time in my media career that I’ve needed a second attempt at an answer, but it’s the only time I think I might have to abandon the recording.

These aren’t nerves. This is something else. I feel the need to explain.

‘Ah, it’s just I have clients at the moment who have gone through shit like this and I just don’t want to phrase things clumsily, y’know? Last thing they need is to hear me put my foot in it on a podcast.’

‘Oh yeah, didn’t think of that. No hassle, we’ll go again whenever you’re ready.’

The lads sit patiently while I get my shit together. Avoiding eye contact with Eoin and Ken Early, I try desperately to clear certain memories from my mind. It probably only takes me about a minute to compose myself, but again it feels like the clocks have stopped. I take an extra-long gulp from my pint of water and say I’m OK.

‘Fuck’s sake, lads,’ I say, ‘it used to be fun coming in here. Can we not go back to moaning about Ireland being shit?’

I keep it together for the rest of the recording and don’t need another break, but by this stage I’m not short of practice in hiding my feelings.

I have become skilled at pretending I’m grand at all times. I’ve had years and years of practice; years and years acting as if nothing ever happened.

***********************

TWENTY-FOUR hours after that podcast, a car collides with mine in Monkstown and every feeling comes pouring out.

I am sitting on the side of a road a couple of kilometres from the office of the therapist I had visited eight years earlier and I am sobbing again. The tears keep coming, but this is different. Everything is different now.

I know what I will do. I will tell someone about this. I will lift the weight a little because I have learned there is no other way.

There is no escape and there is no way back home. Right here is where you live your life. This is where it’s at.

- Recovering by Richie Sadlier, with Dion Fanning, (Gill Books, €12.99) is available online and from easons.com, check with your local bookshop to see if they have stock. It is published by gillbooks.ie — an Irish publisher which has been in operation since 1968 and which carries a wide range of books catering to the Irish market, from biography to cookbooks, history and children’s books, true crime, nature and sport.

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