Wednesday, December 31, 2014

NHL’s Scott Darling: A Comeback Story

by Gabriella Pinto-Coelho

Unfortunately, stories of public figures struggling with substance abuse issues are far from rare. Celebrities like Drew Barrymore, Robert Downey Jr., Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, and Samuel L. Jackson have struggled with substance abuse and bounced back to live full lives and have successful careers. We are used to hearing about actors and musicians struggling with substance abuse, and usually don’t hear much about professional athletes and addiction. It seems almost impossible that someone who relies on their body to make a living would or could have a substance abuse problem. But in reality, anyone can.

Scott Darling is one of those seemingly “unlikely” athletes who has overcome addiction.  Darling, now 25, grew up from an affluent and supportive family in the suburbs of Chicago. He left home at 16 to play junior hockey, and started developing a reputation as a partier. He began playing college hockey at the University of Maine, where that reputation followed him and intensified. At the end of his sophomore season, his coach kicked him off the team due to numerous conduct violations. 

Friends, teammates, and coaches began to suspect that Darling was not just a wild college kid, but someone suffering from alcoholism. He decided to leave Maine and take his chances on being drafted to the Arizona Coyotes of the NHL. When he showed up to their camp out of shape and uncommitted, the team cut him loose. From there he wound up in the SPHL, a semi-pro league, where he began drinking more and caring less about his life both on and off the ice. His annual summer stint at a goalie training camp was cut short when his coach Brian Daccord kicked him out due to his alcohol-induced behavior. Darling had begun drinking at such a young age as a way to escape from his problems with social anxiety. The more he drank the more he felt like he belonged. By his early twenties, his habit of self-medication had spiraled to a life of self-destruction.

Luckily for Darling, his coach Brian Daccord was the catalyst for change in his life. When Darling showed up at training camp the next summer, Daccord ordered him to the weight room to lose the extra 40 pounds he had gained. That was the first summer Darling decided to stop drinking. By the next summer, Darling was still not drinking and had worked his way up to the ECHL. His continued dedication took him from the ECHL to the AHL, and ultimately, he was called up to the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Now, Darling says that he feels in control of not only his addiction, but also his social anxiety. It seems like hitting rock bottom was what Darling needed to turn his life around; “People don’t want to change until they have to,” Darling said. “I really dug myself a hole before I woke up. I just busted a 180 turnaround and put my foot on the gas.”

Here's wishing your life is on a growth path as we move into 2015.  

Best wishes for a healthy and prosperous New Year!

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