Everton midfielder Dele Alli has said he hopes to inspire others after revealing he recently spent six weeks at a rehab facility in the United States for addiction, mental health and trauma treatment.
In an interview with The Overlap, Gary Neville's YouTube channel, published on Thursday, the former England midfielder said he had become addicted to sleep medication as a way of dealing with traumas from his childhood -- which he said included being sexually abused at age six by a family friend.
Alli returned to Everton this summer after spending last season on loan at Turkish side Besiktas, where he made 15 appearances in all competitions. However, when told he needed another surgery, he said he could feel a negative cycle beginning again and decided to seek help.
"I think with things like that, you can't be told to go there, I think you have to know, and you have to make the decision yourself, otherwise it's not going to work. To be honest, I was caught in a bad cycle. I was relying on things that were doing me harm," Alli said.
"I was waking up every day, and I was winning the fight, going into training, smiling, showing that I was happy. But inside, I was definitely losing the battle and it was time for me to change it because when I got injured and they told me I needed surgery, I could feel the feelings I had when the cycle begins and I didn't want it to happen anymore."
Alli, 27, said he left the facility three weeks ago, adding that he is sharing his story now to help others.
"I want to help other people to know that they're not alone in the feelings they've got and that you can talk to people; it doesn't make you weak to get help, to be vulnerable. There's a lot of strength in that. So, to come out and to share my story, I'm happy to do it," he said.
Alli detailed the traumas he had from his childhood when growing up in Milton Keynes, which he said included being molested aged six by his mother's friend, smoking at seven and selling drugs at eight before being adopted by "an amazing" and supportive family when he was 11.
"I mean [my troubles have] been going on for a long time, I think, without me realising it -- the things I was doing to numb the feelings I had," he said.
"I mean I didn't realise I was doing it for that purpose, whether it be drinking or whatever. The things a lot of people do -- but if you abuse it and use it in the wrong way, and you're not actually doing it for the pleasure, you're doing it to try and chase something or hide from something, it can obviously damage you a lot."
Alli said that he hid his addiction from his adopted family and from teammates who tried to help and that he considered retiring from professional football at 24.
"It's hard to pinpoint one exact moment [when I started to feel that things weren't right]. Probably the saddest moment for me was when [José] Mourinho was manager, I think I was 24. I remember there was one session, like, one morning I woke up and I had to go to training -- this is when he'd stopped playing me -- and I was in a bad place.
"I remember just looking in the mirror -- I mean it sounds dramatic but I was literally staring in the mirror -- and I was asking if I could retire now, at 24, doing the thing I love. For me, that was heart-breaking to even have had that thought at 24, to want to retire. That hurt me a lot, that was another thing that I had to carry."
Alli excelled at Tottenham after his arrival as a teenager from MK Dons in 2015, becoming a crucial part of Mauricio Pochettino's team that reached the 2019 Champions League final. He also starred at the international level for England, the height of which came during the World Cup semifinal run in 2018.
However, he has since endured a steep decline in form. He fell out of favour at Spurs and moved to Everton in January 2022 but has made just 13 Premier League appearances for the club.
He said he is now ready to fight for a place in Sean Dyche's team this season and said he mentally he is in the "best place I've ever been."
"I'm proud of who I am today and don't blame anyone; I thank a lot of people," Alli added. "I thank a lot of people for the tough times they created for me because I think that made me a tougher person because that made me braver, made me stronger and it allowed me to overcome challenges that, if they were just sprung on me, maybe I wouldn't be able to deal with. But, I have a lot of people to thank because they did help give me the hunger and the passion to keep going and keep fighting and prove them wrong.
"I think the main thing for me is I want to prove myself right because I know how good I can be as a player and as a person and it's important for me that this battle against myself, I will win, and I do prove myself I was right about all these things."
A number of players have issued messages of support, including England captain and former Spurs teammate Harry Kane, who said he was proud of Alli.