A Journey Through My Veins.
*Warning: Sensitive Material*
Name: Aaron Snow
Hometown: Windsor, Ontario
Professional Sports: Drafted 3rd Round #90th overall to the Dallas Stars
(Aaron Snow- 2006 Dallas Stars Prospect)
If I knew then what I know now.
For the longest time, it was hard to look back on my life because it reflected what could and should have been. As long as I can remember, sports have always been a huge part of my life. I started playing when I was a kid and grew up playing all different kinds of sports. It was good and fun, but then I remember the first time my parents put hockey equipment on me in my living room.
I hated it. I couldn’t wait to get it all off because it was so bulky and uncomfortable. Little did I know that I would be wearing that gear when I experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows of my life.
I can’t think of the right word for what hockey meant to me. Every time I stepped on the ice, I felt like that was where I was supposed to be. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I loved hockey, it was my life. No one ever had to force me to go to practice or training, because it was always fun for me. Don’t get me wrong, there were challenging times and I would be out of breath, but that didn’t matter. As long as I was with my teammates on the ice, it didn’t matter what I was doing.
I’ve had many people ask me what’s the one thing I miss about hockey. My answer is always the same: the boys, just being one of the guys again. That feeling, it’s hard to explain for me, but it’s the best feeling in the entire world. It’s the feeling that you are a part of something bigger than yourself. It’s relying on the guy next to you as much as he relies on you. It’s going out on the ice and knowing no matter what happens, these guys have my back and I have theirs.
Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, I started playing travel hockey when I was eight for the Windsor Spitfires. When I turned 15, it was my draft year to the OHL. I decided that year to play Junior B with older guys to prepare me to jump into the OHL the year after. It is what it is, but one of my regrets is not playing my final year of AAA with guys my age. Junior Hockey and older leagues become more of a business than a game. I think a lot of the older guys forget why they started playing in the first place.
Being the only 15-year-old around a bunch of guys 20 and older made you grow up really fast. Looking back now, I know I wasn’t ready for it. That year was the first time in my life that I lost track of my goals in life and in hockey. Sometimes, you just want to fit in and not take hockey so seriously all the time. But if you want to be one of the best and play in the NHL, you need to train like you are the best every day. I was naïve and young, and I thought I could juggle it all; the booze, girls, parties, drugs, hockey. I thought I was invincible. Turns out, no one is invincible, and I was wrong. And I didn’t realize how wrong I was until my opportunities left me as quickly as they came.
In 2004, I got drafted 23rd overall to the Brampton Battalion in the OHL, and then played for Team Ontario that same year. Two years later, I was fortunate enough to get drafted 90th overall by the Dallas Stars. Unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned and I was playing Canadian University Hockey in my 2008-09 season. At that point, my NHL dreams were down the gutter. That’s when life hit me. I fell into major depression and contemplated taking my life thousands of time. I felt I had nothing to live for anymore.
(Photo by Dave Abel/Getty Images)
I didn’t know this at the time but going to the University of Western Ontario and getting away from the business side of hockey was the best thing for me. It wasn’t all hockey all the time anymore. As much as I loved hockey, I traded having a normal life as a kid to make a living from it. Professional hockey is glorified. People don’t see what these athletes do behind the scenes, what they sacrifice, to have the opportunity to make a living from this sport. The ones that don’t make it, like me, are forgotten because there is a whole new set of kids waiting to take their place.
What are you supposed to do when your entire life was hockey and you don’t have a backup plan? Well I can tell you what I did. I played university hockey and went to school every once in a while. I played well and got selected to go play for Team Canada in the World University Games in Turkey for a few weeks.
(Photo by Christopher Renaud)
A month before going to Turkey I got hit in a game and blew out my entire knee. I got surgery and was sidelined for over a year. At the time, I still had not gotten over the fact that my professional hockey dreams were over. The pain was just too much for me. I was on painkillers after my surgery and I fell in love with how a little pill could make me feel good all the time.
When my knee got better, I didn’t stop taking the painkillers. In no time, I was a full blown opioid addict. I took the pills to mask the pain in my head and in my heart. I wanted my life to be different. Deep down, I was hurting real bad. When I realized that I could take a few pills and the hurt could go away, I was hooked.
I would never wish anyone to go through what I did. This disease consumes you in every way possible. It’s all you think about. When you wake up, you are thinking of how you can get more pills. When you go to sleep, you think about how you can get pills for tomorrow. Eventually, addiction gets to the point where you don’t take the pills to make you feel good. You take the pills because without them, you are sick. When I say sick, I mean like, the worst sick you can ever imagine times a million.
Hockey was done for good, so I got a job as a marketing associate based out of London, Ontario. I was in my early twenties, working full-time, making good money. I had friends, girls, and life seemed like it was good. To the world, I was a hard-working young man with a good job, nice condo, nice car, and a friendly and likeable personality. Little did anyone know that I was a full-blown functioning drug addict.
I did a good job at work and seemed happy to everyone that knew me. On the inside, I was fighting a battle I knew I could never win. With the pills, life was great. I could work, party, and function. Without the pills, I was depressed, sick, suicidal, manic. Without them, I could do nothing but lay on the ground and wonder if life was worth living. Eventually it all catches up to you. Rent was late, bills were late, credit cards were maxed, and all my money was going toward these pills. That was the day I called my mom crying, and told her I needed help.
You always know deep down that this day will come. You just try your best every day to make that day as far away as possible.
So, I broke down and told my parents everything and began my road to recovery. Little did I know that this was only the start of another rollercoaster of ups and downs. As they say, relapse is part of recovery. I swore those tiny little pills off, but it’s easier said than done. I told my boss and took some time off work and went to an inpatient rehab facility for a month. I got clean, and I had never felt better. I went back to work, back to my friends, and stayed clean for about a year. During that year I was high on life, but it eventually became too much for me and I went manic.
Naturally, I was very energetic and happy. But when I went manic I started having hallucinations. My parents checked me into the hospital, psych ward to be exact, and I was diagnosed with bipolar manic-depressive disorder. Summed up, this means that my highs are really high and my lows are really low. Looking back on my childhood, it all kind of made sense now. I never thought to get diagnosed as a kid, but I definitely should have been.
For about five or six years, I was in and out of rehab. I was in detox probably ten times. I knew what I had to do to get better. I just wasn’t ready to do it. Sometimes I felt like I was, then I got some cash and it was right back on the streets to get that high until I was broke again. It was a never-ending cycle of hell. I was putting my friends and family through unimaginable pain and I knew it. But I still couldn’t get myself to give up that high. I would give my parents hope and tear it away from them in no time. That next pill would ease the demons in my head.
My Dad always tried to remind me to stay on track and stay focused if I wanted to make it. Back then, I always became annoyed and thought he didn’t know anything. Looking back, it hurts me. He was right about everything. He was looking at the bigger picture and was only trying to help me reach my goals. If I would have listened to him, things may have turned out differently.
To this day, it still upsets me to think about my Dad when it comes to my life and hockey. He was a better Dad than anyone could have ever dreamed of having. He spoiled me. He took care of me. He played hockey any time I asked. He was not the “I love you son” type, but even though I could have used that once in a while, there was never a doubt that he did. His actions spoke louder than words. He came to my games no matter where they were and that meant a lot to me.
I still struggle with the fact that when my life came tumbling down, I blamed my Dad. I told him he ‘pushed me too hard’. He ‘put me in hockey in the first place’. That just shows how lost I really was. I blamed the person who sacrificed everything for me. The person who loved me more than anyone.
It’s important to recognize how much this disease affects loved ones. One night I was deep into my disease and I was staying at home. I had grabbed some dope earlier in the night and once my parents were asleep, I used like I always did. At 2:00 AM my Dad woke up to a wheezing sound. He rushed to my room to find me blue in the face, my body half on the bed, half on the floor, barely breathing. I had overdosed and my Dad came in right as I was fading away. He pulled me on the ground and started driving his knee into my chest. He yelled to my mom to call 911. As he continued to pound on my chest, the color in my face began to return. I eventually came to. Once I realized what had happened, I broke down. I knew I couldn’t go on like this, but these drugs had their grip on me like a choke hold.
The only way I thought I could be free from all that pain was jamming that needle into my arm over and over again. I thought about leaving that needle part of my story out of this, but I want you to understand how a regular kid with a good life like me could end up living on the streets.
Today, I’m in my thirties, and ten years ago when I was going through this I think there was this negative stereotype about addiction. Addictions weren’t openly discussed to outsiders, but today things have drastically improved. People are starting to understand that addiction and mental illness is not a choice. Many people have underlying issues that need to be treated with medication, psychotherapy, or counseling. The most important thing to remember is that an addict has to want to change themselves in order for any of these methods to work. No one can force an addict to want to get clean. For me, and probably most people, that means hitting rock bottom.
I am so grateful that I am still alive today to speak about my life. Today, I have a beautiful wife and a four-year-old daughter. I am living that normal life that I guess I have always wanted to live. Hockey took me to so many different places. I always said that I wanted to make the NHL. I wanted to take care of my parents and give them everything they’ve given to me. It never really worked out like that, but it never mattered that much to them. I think they would rather have a healthy and happy son, and a grandchild, than an NHL son.
When I was deep in my addiction, I told myself that I didn’t care if I woke up the next day or not. Today, I wake up each day thankful for what I have on this earth. What I went through, with hockey and my addictions, has made me the person I am today. Addiction and mental illness are a part of life, and if someone you know is suffering just let them know you are there for them. That you care about them. You can’t force someone to get help. Just being there is more than enough and all you can do.
I hope this little bit about my life helps people realize that it can happen to anyone. More people than you think are suffering with their own battles. I guess I realized that life is a little bit like hockey. There are challenging times, where you will be out of breath, down for the count.
But I know at the end of the day, I have friends and family that always have my back, just like my teammates on the ice. All I wanted to be was one of the guys. Now, I’m just unapologetically me.
(Snow Family Halloween 2016- Monika, Jade, Aaron)
It’s okay to not be okay.
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