Michael Phelps, 18-time Olympic gold medalist, has completed a program at a drug and alcohol treatment center and says that he’s clean and sober and feeling better than ever. Phelps spoke for the first time recently about his arrest and subsequent treatment. Phelps had a second drunk-driving arrest in September 2014 which led to a six-month ban from swimming and mandatory six weeks of drug and alcohol treatment.
Phelps says “The last couple of months have probably been the hardest couple of months I’ve ever had to go through. I take full responsibility for all of my actions. For me, I know I’ve hurt a lot of people. It’s been terrible. For me, being able to move forward to be able to be back in the pool is something I’m very excited about.” Phelps is competing for the first time since the suspension was lifted at the Arena Pro Swim Series. Phelps also said, for the first time publicly, that he’s trying to earn a spot on the U.S. national team that will compete in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
“Everyone has the right to believe whatever they want,” Phelps said last week. “I know exactly how I feel now and exactly how I wake up and go through my everyday life. If somebody doesn’t believe the words that are coming out of my mouth, that’s not my choice. I know the only person I can control in any situation is myself.” He went on to say, “I of course would like to show everybody in the world that I am in a different place and I am much better than I ever have been. I understand that’s going to take a lot of time, for me to be able to prove to whoever I need to prove to that I am different, that I have changed. This week will be the first week I can start that.”
Hearing Phelps speak sounds so much like any person relatively fresh out of drug and alcohol rehab. “I’ve changed my life,” “I’m different now,” or “I’ve got this. It’s hard to tell if Phelps is just speaking confidently because it’s the press and really no one’s business or if this is really how he feels. What is of note is that he got engaged to his girlfriend, Nicole Johnson, in February after being out of rehab only a very short time. In recovery, we generally say that making big life changes in the first year is a mistake. Seeing this type of action and jumping back into swimming and pursuing the Olympics so quickly is all concerning as it speaks to moving too fast, not prioritizing recovery and not taking the time to think about life and what you might want next.
In 2004, a 19-year-old Phelps was arrested for his first DUI. In 2009, pictures surfaced of him smoking pot from a bong and in 2014 he received his second DUI. What this speaks to is at least an 11-year history of drug use (and it’s likely much longer since it’s doubtful his first time misusing alcohol was the day he got arrested for his first DUI). Being “all better” after six weeks of mandated treatment makes me concerned for Michael Phelps. Those of us who work in drug and alcohol treatment know that he has a long road ahead of him and, as we often say, “Whatever you put in front of your sobriety, you’re going to lose.” Let’s hope he’s prioritizing his recovery first and foremost and finds great emotional and spiritual success that exceeds his gold medals.