“This week’s blog post of me and Vance’s co-writing of his Memoir is a Tribute to HIM since he made the July Front Cover of “In Recovery Magazine”!!”
Yes, I did resign from the In Recovery Magazine in March in order to have more freedom to work on recovery projects and to co-write with Vance. It is where Vance and I originally met when I reached out to him to see if he’d like to do an article. Then our Cheif Editor at the time, Janet Hopkins decided she wanted to have him as a cover feature instead! And that was that. So in Honor of his issue just releasing, and Janet doing such a great job writing about Vance and his incredible recovery journey, we wanted to share it with all of YOU. It will be a condensed “taste” of what’s to come in his memoir.
Lost and Found
My name is Vance Johnson, and I am an alcoholic.
My playbook began at an early age. I began to be involved in sports so I wouldn’t have to be at home. The family dynamic and chaos as I was a kid seemed less when I was winning and was the “little hero.” Sports became everything to me. As I got older it was my saving grace as I’d play and practice from 10 AM to 11 PM; I even had a key to the gym.
I was doing really well, often placing at the top in the state and even the country. I didn’t have a good relationship with my father and feared I might grow up to be like him, as he was part of the dysfunction within our Christian home. But that is another story in all for another day.
In my senior year, at the urging of my coach, I accepted an athletic scholarship to the University of Arizona. This gave me the chance to go to college and play sports while staying close to home. The following spring, I won the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) long jump competition. I ranked second place in football my senior year and was one of the collegiate athletic conference top receivers. Through high school and college, I never smoked weed, drank or took drugs. Sports were my high.
After graduating in 1984, I went to the Olympic Trials in track and ended up as an alternate. I could have gone to the next Olympics, but instead, I decided to try out for professional football. I wanted to make some money! I entered the 1985 National Football League (NFL) draft and was picked up by the Denver Broncos in the second round. The stress was tremendous.
My first year in the NFL, I started dating a woman. We had been dating for a short time when, after a bad game where I dropped a punt, she told me she was pregnant. On the way to practice with some teammates, we stopped at a liquor store. My friends bought tequila, and I decided to try it. That tequila had lead to daily drinking mixed with the pills I took for anxiety and down a road, I had no idea how to travel down.
My girlfriend and I got married in Vegas. At practice sometime later, I overheard the guys talking about my wife. I ran home screaming and yelling and pushed her into a closet door. She hit her head and fell down unconscious; I thought she was dead. I carried her into the bathroom and splashed water on her face. Even after she came too, I was still angry and began punching the walls, just like my father used to do. Our marriage ended not long after.
By this time, I was getting high and using whatever I could to cope, but I was careful not to get caught. My life was a wreck and getting worse. I’d sober up on my way to the weekend games. Sometimes I’d get pulled over, but I’d offer the cops tickets to the games and managed to skate by without an arrest.
My domestic problems were always related to drugs. Through the years, I was married and divorced several times. I was an absent father to my children. My finances were a mess; I was bouncing checks and falling behind on child support. I also went to jail after crashing into my wife’s car. Through all of this, I was call myself a God believer, but I sure didn’t act like one. Somehow, no one realized I was an addict, including me.
In 1996, a year after my career in football was over, I tried to commit suicide. There I was, driving down a highway, crazy high and hallucinating. By then I was using drugs to manage all the craziness in my head, but it wasn’t working. When I got home, I pulled off all my clothes and lay naked in my garage, paranoid and banging my head on the ground as I cut my wrists. I called my attorney for help and told him I was losing my mind. I was desperate; to this day, I don’t know how I survived.
After wearing out my welcome in Ft. Collins, Colorado, I moved to Grand Junction, leaving my kids with their various moms. In 2007, after my fifth divorce, I remarried and tried to settle down with my new wife and my three now-teenaged sons. Running from my addictions, I scaled down the drinking, opened a couple of businesses and started attending church with my family. Although I had already damaged so many lives, I continued womanizing, smoking weed, full of sin drinking and taking pills.
My oldest son, Vaughn, who would always say, “I want to be like you, Dad,” was attending college in Grand Junction. Having blown the engine in his car, he was working for me to earn money for the repairs. One morning, he decided to take his motorcycle up to Ft. Collins to visit his grandfather.
I had been in the bar drinking Patrón at my restaurant when my ex-wife called me. “I’m broken,” she said. “Our son is dead.” Vaughn had been hit and killed by a drunk driver who had run a stop sign. I fell to my knees. I drank the whole bottle of tequila, then another, and walked through the restaurant and out the front door. My father threatened to kill me because I was acting so crazy, so I threw him on the ground outside the restaurant. Life as I had known it was over. I was never again the same person…
I used to think I would get through it, but now I don’t want to.”
I blamed my dad. I blamed myself for not fixing the car that Vaughn should have been driving. Over the following two years, I drank, smoked, took pills and had relations with anyone who wanted to be with me. Slowly, but surely, I was killing myself.
When 2012 rolled around, I was going through yet another divorce and hurting emotionally and physically. My bloodwork was off, so my mom took me to the hospital where I fell into a coma. I remained in an induced coma for 26 days. My pastor prayed over me, my daughter and sister said their goodbyes. No one thought I would make it.
There I was, 50 years old, tied to a hospital bed. I wondered if this was how it was all going to end. As I lay in that bed, I had visions of dark shadows walking in the room as if to take me with them when I passed from this world. They came every day, but they never took me with them. When I was finally released from the hospital, I thought I could go back and work like I did when I was young. I tried this for a while. Things began to turn around again.
One day, I went golfing with some friends and decided I could have a drink. From that moment, everything went downhill fast. I quickly graduated to weed, more alcohol, and pills to help me not drink so much. Before long, I was peeing in glasses and on myself; puking blood; and even drinking from glasses of pee, which I mistook for whiskey in my drunkenness.
In early 2014, I was drunk and driving down the road, crying and screaming to God to help me. I had no money, no kids, no relationships, nothing to leave behind. I reached out to the NFL. They called Randy Grimes, a former center for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Randy had turned his life around and was working as an interventionist in North Palm Beach, Florida.
The NFL sent me to treatment. When I got there, I was surrounded by losers. I had assumed I’d be on a beach with other athletes talking about old times. It wasn’t like that.
One day, a voice in my head told me that I was sick, but I could get sober if I accepted the help being offered to me. I began seeing my peers in a different light. As they talked, I listened and began to understand my own underlying issues. I attended church and got into the Scriptures. I walked in His light and understood that I needed to become “sober-minded.”
“My journey was not just about becoming sober. I knew that I could not maintain my sobriety if I didn’t continue to learn about the disease and about my own spirit. When I left rehab, I stayed away from fame, the Broncos and everything that had destroyed my previous life. I went to meetings and really listened.”
A treatment program offered me a job for $200 per week and a bus pass. At the same time, the Broncos offered me $2,000 per week to represent them around the country. I called my mother. “I’m not worried,” she said. “You’ll do the right thing.” I did. I got on the plane to Tampa for the $200 per week paycheck.
God gave me my true self back. I found my son Vaughn’s grave and promised him that I would never allow another young man to lose his life like I did.
Today, I speak around the country. I talk about my life, my children, what happened to me, and how things changed for me when I learned about my addiction. I tell people that they can change their lives, too.
Today, I am married, and I love my wife. We have amazing children, a twelve-year-old daughter, and an eight-year-old son. My wife comes first, then all my kids, then my job. God encapsulates all of it. Though sometimes things are tough, I never stop the journey. I attend meetings where there are newcomers. I’m involved in recovery every day – it’s my daily lifestyle.
I hope you will walk with me in this battle to end this addiction Epidemic…
Today Vance is helping save lives from many addictions through his new venture of “Vance Inspires” as a motivational speaker, executive keynote, sober coach and escort, intervention services and more. He is also involved with the premier treatment options and rehabilitation services of Futures of Palm Beach
Vance Johnson is a certified sober coach, a sober escort, and interventionist. Off the football field, he is now reaching out throughout America and the world via social media to break the stigma and lead people to sobriety, one family at a time. He is also a speaker at churches, drug courts graduations, and high schools, and has been a guest on national TV shows including Oprah and Dr. OZ. Johnson is a member of the Mercer County Task Force which brings awareness of the pitfalls of addiction to surrounding high schools and town hall meetings in New Jersey through The Vance Project…