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Overcoming Opiates, Ego to Renew Lacrosse Career

Editor’s Note: We welcome guest author Ray Hodgkinson to to share his personal struggles and triumphs over addiction and substance abuse. Please be aware that there will be some mildly graphic references to drug use. The author shares his story with open honesty with the hopes that it may help those who are struggling with similar issues and to educate those who are not.

Over my years of being clean and sober, I’ve had lots of time to reflect on my life with a clear mind. I used to think my addiction started when I began drinking alcohol and dabbling in recreational drugs as a teen, but I’ve realised it started much further back than that.

I can recall having obsessive and compulsive behaviours from a very young age. It didn’t matter what endeavour I started, I always went into it with 100%. It could be art, skateboarding, hockey cards, sport, you name it.

Whatever I was into, I was consumed by it.

When I was about nine years old, I was really into collecting hockey memorabilia, especially from the New York Rangers.

I was always drawn to the goaltenders, and the way their equipment looked. I would dream of what it would be like to be a pro goalie in the NHL, how I would have my masked designed and the colour schemes of my pads. There was only one problem, I couldn’t skate.

Getting Hooked on Lacrosse

My uncle, who is also a recovering addict, was coaching a Novice Lacrosse team in Saanich, British Columbia. He was the assistant coach to another gentleman, a close friend of his and a recovering addict himself. I never knew all this until later in life. Anyway, my uncle talked me into playing goal, he said that if I could play goal in lacrosse it would make me a better ice hockey goalie.

I bought the story.

I remember hating the gear I had, it wasn’t the look I wanted. I was a fat kid and this gear made me look even fatter. Another thing was: I absolutely sucked. I think I even scored on myself that season.

Who am I kidding, I did.

Somehow though, I ended up being selected for the Jack Crosby All-Star tournament. There wasn’t a rep team, or what we called A1 in novice, but to be selected as an all-star for this tournament was pretty much the same. I remember I still wasn’t all that great, but I had gotten better. Now I was hooked.

Ray Hodgkinson Ray Hodgkinson minor lacrosse

The next season my father coached and I had much better success between the pipes, my gear even looked better. I was selected for the all-star team again. This was the start of it all for me. This season was the turning point. Now, I was a full blown box lacrosse junkie.

It’s all I cared about and it’s all I ever thought about.

Hometown Pressures

Growing up in Victoria, BC, during the mid 90’s was something special for any kid that played lacrosse. We had the best team in the nation. With lacrosse Hall of Famers like Paul and Gary Gait, Tom Marachek, Neil Dodridge, Tyson Leis, Chris Prat, the Pepper brothers, Daren Reisig, Mike Simpson and Del Holiday. Absolute legends of the game. Some people might not know them, but these guys were my heroes.

One man in particular caught my eye and that was goaltender Marty O’Neill.

He had everything I wanted. He had style, and the equipment to match. He had a custom mask, green leg pads, and even his wood stick was painted green. I conjured up enough courage to go talk to him after a game once and I was star struck. This man became my hero and we soon developed a friendship that goes on to this day. Over the years, Marty was always my mentor and will always be my sports idol.

ray hodgkinson bantam

Marty worked with me from a young age and this was when everything started to click for me and the way I played. He had me play flat angles, which no one my age was playing. I was then selected to play on the pee wee A1 lacrosse team and proceeded to play A1 ball the rest of my time in minor lacrosse.

This started my eventual downfall in life, I believe.

My Own Enemy

My ego became a huge thing. Not that I was an egomaniac as a kid, but this started my own internal pressure that I put upon myself. I had to be to be the guy, I had to be the best. I couldn’t deal with not being the best goalie on the floor or on the team. When I was 13 years old I started drinking and using drugs. This was my escape from the stress and pressure I was putting on myself.

Fast forward to my first year of Intermediate lacrosse. I wasn’t the best guy on the floor and I was eventually cut by the Intermediate A Shamrocks. This was a massive blow to my ego, and I didn’t deal with it well. It became a victim thing. I was the victim and this sort of behaviour bled into everything in my life. My escape was drugs and alcohol.

When I was high or drunk I distracted myself.

I went on to play for the Coquitlam Adanacs Intermediate A team and we had some success, but we were beaten by the Shamrocks in the finals by one goal. It was all decided in the final two minutes. I was crushed and as you could imagine so was my ego.

This started the whole “suitcase mentality” I had in Junior. That year, I played Intermediate A in Coquitlam and then a good number of minutes for the Junior A Shamrocks and Adanacs.

The next year I played for the Coquitlam Junior A team as an Intermediate-aged player. When things didn’t go my way, I wanted out. This happened many times during my Junior career and I ended up playing for every team but two in the BCJALL.

I choose to look at this now as a positive. Some may look at it differently, but I made a lot of life long friends in my Junior A travels and I have many good memories from those years.

A Darker Opponent

In my last two years of Junior A, I was introduced to harder drugs.

This was when I began using opiates. I soon became a full-blown functioning addict. It’s shameful to admit, I made a lot of poor choices. I stole painkillers from people, and raided many bathroom medicine cabinets.

I have made an amends to many people as I got clean, but I just wanted to take this time to apologise to anyone I ever stole from. Instead of making personal apologies to everyone, which would take a lifetime. I’ve chosen to live a clean life with integrity as a means to apologise.

ray hodgkinson philly wingsMy trend of abusing opiate painkillers continues through Junior A and went on until I was eventually drafted into the NLL.

I played two seasons in the NLL and never made an impact.

When I look back on this, I struggle. Was it because I used drugs and was a mental case or was it because I was never as good as I thought I could be? I had flashes of brilliance in my career and when I was hot, I was hot.

When I was not, I was really not.

After my last season in the NLL I never received another offer for camp. I was meant to play for a start-up league. I can’t remember the name of the league, but it was supposed to happen in 2012. I was going to play for the Charlotte Copperheads. Thankfully, I did not play because the league never ended up getting off the ground. I’m thankful for this because it started my rock bottom.

My whole life since I was nine was lacrosse. I never saw myself doing anything but playing pro lacrosse. I put all my eggs into that basket and it was gone. I hurt my back legitimately before the 2012 WLA season. I say legitimately because I used that as an excuse to use opiates previously.

I ended up missing camp for Nanaimo that year and was released. I later got an offer from Maple Ridge, but nothing came of it. I don’t know if they thought I was a liability or that I was a drug user. I might never know but it doesn’t matter. Because my rock bottom came soon after and believe it or not this is a good thing. I played Senior B in Nanaimo that year and had success. I thought maybe this was a shot. Teams would be contacting me again, but no one did.

Sinking the Ship

This was when things got really dark for me and my drug use became deadly. I know this is graphic, but I want to say this so you can grasp my reality. I became blacklisted by medical professionals for “doctor shopping.” I couldn’t get a prescription anymore and I was using so hardcore that I couldn’t steal enough pills. I was stealing my father’s medication and he was forced to the measures of hiding his medication from me and keeping it with him at all times. I was ousted.

My only way of using was to go to Walmart and buy the daily limit of behind the counter codeine medication, and then go to another Walmart and buy the daily limit again. Before I’d leave the parking lot I’d throw up in my mouth while choking down an excess of 20+ pills at a time… and I still wasn’t high enough.

It all came to a head when I had finished coaching a youth lacrosse camp one night and I overdosed. I ended up having a seizure and was transported to the hospital in an ambulance. When I woke up I was in the ER, and a relative was there with me. I was still high when I woke up and it was all a big joke to me.

This was my life changing moment.

A nurse pulled me aside and gave me a reality check. The nurse grew up playing lacrosse in Kitchener-Waterloo and he told me what had actually happened.

He told me I was dead.

I was moments away from being hooked up to the tubes as I wasn’t breathing, even with an oxygen mask. He said had I not been picked up, I would’ve surely passed away. I don’t know who this man was, but I owe him a great deal.

A New Focus

During the latter years of lacrosse I became obsessed with the gym. I started to enjoy training for lacrosse more than actually playing. Really, it was the partying with the team that kept me in. When that nurse spoke to me that night, I made a decision.

My lacrosse career was over, no one was calling.

I had started doing CrossFit though and I had started competing in it. I made a promise to myself that night on the long ride home from the hospital. That I would give this whole CrossFit thing a real shot. I wasn’t going to waste an opportunity to be good at something again and short change my potential like I had with lacrosse.

How can you be good at something if you’re dead?

The next year, I was meant to play Senior B lacrosse again. I wasn’t making really any money coaching CrossFit and I didn’t have the funds to support playing lacrosse anymore. I also fell out of love with the sport.

I felt I couldn’t put myself in danger by playing it again. It was risky, I could slip back into old patterns. The first night of practice, I came home and my gear bag broke on the driveway and it was 11:30 at night. I had to be up at 5 a.m. to coach CrossFit the next morning.

This was my sign.

I’d had enough of the sport. I needed time away. I stepped away completely from lacrosse, started 12 step meetings and went full-steam into competing and coaching CrossFit. It’s my career now, and I still coach and compete.

ray hodgkinson crossfit

Calling from the Crease

From 2012 to 2017, I never really had a desire to ever play again. In 2016, I moved to Australia to be with my then partner. Lacrosse was the furtherest thing from me now being in Australia. Except one day, when a man named Dan Jackman commented on Facebook about me playing for Australia in the World Indoor Lacrosse Championships in 2019. Well, I was eligible to play, I thought. I emailed the FIL and they confirmed it.

Then I started to think about it again, and sought out a tryout. It all came back to me. My girlfriend, now wife, was there that night and she could see how excited I was. She said I looked happy and content. I found my passion for the sport again. I think I spoke about it everyday for the next three weeks to anyone who would listen.

ray hodgkinson wife

I’m 30 years old now, and I’m in the best shape of my life. Mentally and physically, so the wheels started to turn. This could be my opportunity to right the wrongs I made with myself. I don’t want the sport to be a dark memory for me. It’s an amazing game that gave me so much for so many years and I want to look back on it in a positive way. This is more than likely the last time I’ll be able to compete at this level, against elite talent. I want to be positive light in the sport for people that have had the same issues as me.

Why am I telling you my life story, or at least the lacrosse part of it?

I’ve alway wanted to give back in some capacity and help struggling addicts like myself. Especially in the sport of lacrosse. I went through all this and then some. This is just the tip of a long story of my addiction. If any of this story could help some kid on a better path in life then my duty is done in life.

I can only keep what I have today by giving it away. I hope I run into that kid one day. I wished I ran into myself, but I know it wouldn’t have made difference for me. I needed to figure it out myself. But, if I can help someone to not go through it, I’d much prefer them not to suffer like I did during those dark years.

My life is much different now. I’m happy in my own skin and with the voices in my head. I have a home, a beautiful wife, a dog, a loving renewed relationship with my family, and a career I love.  I know many people aren’t lucky like me and suffer the fate that addiction eventually brings everyone to that continues using.

Life gets better after drugs, you just have to trust it will.

– Ray Hodgkinson

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