Q&A with Abby Wambach: 'DUI was one of the best things that ever happened to me'
Abby Wambach told the world some of her deepest, darkest secrets in her new memoir, "Forward." The leading international goal scorer revealed the details of her struggle with alcohol and substance abuse.
The impetus for being so forthright? Being arrested for driving under the influence following an evening of drinking. She said she hopes her book helps others and gives them the courage to be real with themselves and those around them. "When we stand in our truth," she said, "people meet us with truth."
Wambach opens up about her past, what she has learned, and what's next moving forward.
Q: How does it feel to have the book out there?
A: It feels really good to have the book out there. It's been a labor of love for the last five months. When I agreed to do this book, the idea of what we were going to do with it was one thing. Then April 2 happened. I got the DUI and it turned into a completely different book. We were kind of scrambling at the end, doing literally last-minute edits. I actually didn't even hold the book until I went to my first book event the other day, which tells you that this really was something I wanted to put out there in a real, honest way. I'm really proud of it. I think this is really going to help people. I didn't do this to sell books. I had every opportunity not to do it in this raw, honest way, but I'm one of those people who, if I do something, I do it to the fullest.
Q: Early in the book, you say this is not a book about soccer. What is this book about for you?
A: The book is about my life. I think that I loathe the fact that I was able to play the game so well, on some level, because of the identity I carried around with me. People looked at me as an athlete, a soccer player, for so long. It actually took me until I was in Paris a couple of months ago, running in the streets, and somebody stopping me [to realize] I am a soccer player. It's not who I am, but it's a part of who I am. Soccer was what I did. The value I take from this book is that we all are more than what we do. I hope this book shows that being sensitive, being in touch as a deeply feeling person is OK.
Q: What do you mean when you say that you hope that this book helps people?
A: Whenever we read anything, whether it's memoir or fiction, we're trying to relate to the subject at hand, or to the plot of the story. Your plot and your story might not have anything to do with mine, but you're going to be able to relate on some level in some way. You might know somebody that has my issues, or you might have a completely different set of issues, but you're processing them in the same way. That's what's important. When we stand in our truth, people meet us with truth. I believe that's an indirect way to affect positive change in our world, to not be ashamed of who we are as people.
The DUI was one of the best things that ever happened to me because of the things that I reveal. The DUI was a byproduct of the other problems I was having, this dark side, the secret life that I was living.Abby Wambach
I'm proud of the accomplishments I've had. I worked very hard to play soccer for as long as I did. But maybe I'm most proud of writing this book. Just yesterday, I was talking to somebody on the phone and trying to give them help. Mind you, I'm no professional, but that's what's going to happen. This might take on a life of its own. I can shed light on a really hard part of my life, a dark part of my life, and that will give someone else the courage to stand up and say, "Me too. I'm struggling and I need help."
Q: What was it about the DUI, that moment, that served as a catalyst for you to reveal yourself in this way?
A: Well, first of all, my mug shot speaks volumes of how the night felt and the ensuing days after the night. I got crushed in the media for a while, rightfully so, don't get me wrong. I was embarrassed, beyond embarrassed. Part of what makes my friends and family a little bit nervous about revealing so much in this book is that they felt like I was punishing myself for the DUI. The DUI was one of the best things that ever happened to me because of the things that I reveal. The DUI was a byproduct of the other problems I was having, this dark side, the secret life that I was living. The only way that I could really get well was to reveal this secret life, so that I would never make the same mistake that I did in April. And that's a promise that I'm willing to keep.
Q: You reveal a lot in the book beyond your history with alcohol and substance abuse. How has your family responded to learning about pain that perhaps they were not even privy to before now?
A: They were scared for me for a few reasons. They spent a lot of time protecting this secret. Some of them knew the full extent, most of them didn't. The fear, in large part, was because I was in so much pain that I didn't share with them at the time. I'm a very private person when it comes to my really deep, deep feelings. That gets exacerbated because of the celebrity I have due to the sport that I played. Whenever somebody is put on a pedestal, I had to keep things as private as possible. My family ... I get it. I get their fear. It's also a big reason why I have kept this stuff quiet for so long. I don't want to disappoint my family and my fans. I know there are going to be people who judge me for this, and that's OK. I'm a big girl, literally, and now I feel like a strong enough woman that I can stand up for what I believe in and say what I need for myself.
Q: How did it make you feel when you learned that Sydney Leroux thought you might have overdosed and died after she received a vague text that said "OMG ... Abby!"
A: To be honest, it really altered me, it affected me a lot. When you're so stuck inside something, like I was, you don't envision that happening. It's why so many people OD and die. It's why so many people get too drunk and drive. It's why bad things happen. Now I could see that happening. When I read her interview back, I knew that was possible. [Sydney sharing] that fear helped me. It made me more aware of what I needed and of what I wanted. I needed help, and sometimes your best friends are the ones who can be so brutally honest that is actually what allows you to wake up a little bit more.
It was intense, though. My god. When you get sober and you start to atone for your sins in certain ways, you need to go apologize for some of the things that have happened. I think about that. I think about the people, like Sydney, who were not just worried about my secret getting out. They were actually worried about my well-being, my health and my life. I'm glad that Sydney's fear was just a fear and not a reality.
I'm really going to slow down. The idea of wanting to build a home and wanting to stay there for a considerable amount of time is really appealing to me. ... I want to live a life that's calmer.Abby Wambach
Q: How has sobriety been for you?
A: Interestingly enough, and everybody is different, I'm just going to tell you about my experience. The DUI was such a wake-up call that I haven't, for one second, looked back. It's like experiencing the worst hangover in the history of hangovers and never wanting to experience that feeling again. That's how I feel. I'm sure that will wear off at some point, and I'm going to have to engage in more of a conversation to maintain my sobriety. Those are lessons and education I really want to have.
Most people wait for a long period of time to talk about this stuff. They wait until they have it all under control, are saying the right things, have seen the all the therapists, and gone to rehab and everything. The truth is, I wanted to talk about this as soon as possible because I want this to be not just my healing process, but to be a part of others' healing processes. This is a day-to-day thing for me. Today it's going great.
Q: The chapter titles of the book are labels that have been assigned to you or that you've claimed over time, and you talk throughout the book about defying labels. What does that look like for you?
A: My dream in life is for people to stop classifying people as anything. Whether you're a woman or a man doesn't matter. Obviously it matters for certain reasons in terms of reproduction and all of that, but it kind of doesn't. I don't need a guy to get pregnant. I can do it with a doctor. Obviously I'd need a sperm donor, but the reality for me is that labels close us all off. They make us more close-minded, and they put blinders on us because if I'm in this little box, I'm safe.
What I'm telling people is that there's no such thing as walls. You can call me whatever you want, but I'm going to be me. I'm going to encapsulate all of those labels at once. I want to be expandable and I want to be placed in a space the size of the planet. That's what we all earn; it's what we deserve. It's our birthright, it really is. We don't have to be put into gay or straight boxes or female or male, because we're all human beings. That's it! All the other stuff doesn't matter. I don't care what religion you believe in, I'm still going to respect you. I don't care what color you are, I'm going to respect you. We're going to have a conversation. I don't care who you go to sleep with. It doesn't matter. None of it matters. Labels are stupid. Period.
Q: Throughout your book you talk about struggling with those labels over time. And at one point you say that you wanted someone to look at you, to see you. What does it mean to see you?
A: It's funny because that's something I say, that I really want to be seen, and then you saying that made me go, "Oh my gosh, I hope she doesn't see me." I'm scared that somebody is going to see the depths of me, and see parts that they don't like or see nothing. I want people to see who I am, what my heart and my spirit are more than what I did on the soccer field, more than what my face looks like, and even more than what my mouth produces. I want people to see my spirit, and hopefully they find something.
Q: What's next for you?
A: I'm going to continue to work for ESPN, do my own personal speaking engagements, but I'm really going to slow down. The idea of wanting to build a home and wanting to stay there for a considerable amount of time is really appealing to me. Sunday night chicken night and ho-hum Mondays. I actually want to know what people feel like on Mondays. I don't know what those are like for people. I want to be of the people, that's what I want next. I want to live a life that's calmer, and that doesn't involve many airplanes. I just want to be happy. I think this will make me happy.
I'm sure in two months I'll say, "I'm going crazy, I need to get out of here." But I just need to do things that make me happy, that impassion me to try and change the world. Obviously, I'm impassioned by women's rights and equality, but anyone in recovery knows that I have to take care of myself first.