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THE DREAMER

Written By: Rich Clune

When I was a young boy, I was a dreamer. I wanted to be an NHL hockey player, a doctor, a lawyer, an actor, a father, and finally – live in a castle. My imagination ran wild, and my parents – in particular my mother, Anne Marie – encouraged my brothers and me not to fear these dreams, but to run towards them. Whole-heartedly. So ball hockey games were held on our street in Toronto every day after school until long after the sun went down and the street lamps came on. I can’t tell you how many tennis balls or hockey sticks flew into our neighbors’ yards. If they were mad, I never heard of it because the next day, our lost ball would be resting on the curb.

In that way, they became a part of my dreams too.

Realizing I had people around me who wanted to offer their help encouraged me to finally turn my dreams into goals and the only way to achieve your goals is to build a plan. Plans can be difficult, complex, simple, easy, long, and hard but no matter their differences, every plan has one thing in common: if you stick with it, you will achieve your goals. For me, sticking to my plan meant missing birthday parties, high school dances, and weekends at cottages in exchange for lifting weights, eating healthy food, and doing extra practice. Sometimes, all alone.

You must be committed to your plan, but it helps to be obsessed. I should know.

Through my commitment, I eventually became a stand-out hockey player in the Ontario Hockey League, Canada’s top junior development league which acts as a feeder system to the NHL where I was drafted 71st overall by the Dallas Stars. I also represented Canada on the international stage winning a pair of gold medals before making my way through the minor leagues until one day, at the age of 22, I finally realized my dream of becoming an NHL hockey player. I had stuck to my plan. It had come true.

Only not in the way I had first envisioned it in my head.

When I was promoted to the Los Angeles Kings in early 2010, I was terribly sick. And not with the flu, a head-cold, or a chest infection. I was addicted to drugs and alcohol. Because of my illness, instead of cherishing the moments – the massive sheet of ice prepared especially for nationally televised playoff hockey games – I was depressed, anxious, and living in terrible fear. I wanted to be anywhere but where I was and realized my dream had become a nightmare. When had that changed, I wondered – more importantly, when had I changed? When? It was simple. The age of 18.

I watched myself cross lines I promised I would never cross and acknowledge terrible truths that were the consequences of my disease. Black outs. Nose bleeds. Night sweats. I told myself I couldn’t stop because I was committed to my plan. My goals needed to be met. I had promised myself and everyone around me these dreams would come true. They were counting on me. There is a saying I’ve heard over the years that goes something like this: “I drank because I wanted to then I drank because I had to.” I tried to stop shortly after I turned 22 but fled from the treatment facility I entered after only four days, reciting lie after lie that I was still in control of my plan and dream and they weren’t in control of me.

My addiction only worsened and after nine months and my very first season in the NHL, everything seemed like it was all over. But what I did not know was that there were people in my life and all of our lives who have been there all along who want to help in the same way my neighbors used to help me with our lost tennis balls. People like my parents, grandparents, and godmother. My plan and my dream were wrong from the start. It had to be changed. And that’s okay. They both did. Eight years of sobriety later, it would be impossible for me to argue otherwise.

May 5th marks that anniversary day for me. Truth is, I don’t even know if it’s the day I stopped using. I don’t remember. What I do remember was telling myself it was time to listen to the people who wanted to help me. Go to meetings. Find a sponsor. Do the steps. I’m certainly not perfect, but what is perfect anyway? I can’t tell you how grateful I am to say I have a family, friends, my sobriety, but most of all a life I am proud to call my own. My brothers look up to me the way they used to before I was consumed by my addiction. I believe that freedom isn’t doing what we want but having the right to do what we ought to do. I live my life like there is no tomorrow. The only thing I pray for now is for another day of sobriety. If there is anyone out there reading this who is struggling today, I would say – ask for help.

Create a new dream for yourself and put a plan in place to achieve that goal. It will be the best decision in your life. There are so many people out there that are willing to help you do it. If I can do it, anyone can.

Keep dreaming.

Rich Clune