Most people who follow Kerwin, know that addiction has played a big part in his journey, and for former rugby league player Sione Faumuina, it has been no different.
The sports star had money, fame and an international rugby career, but none of that was enough to beat the bottle.
As painful as his journey has been, Sione’s alcohol addiction eventually led him to his most important mission yet, and now on the blog, he’s here to share that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Everyone has a kryptonite, and for me it was always alcohol.
Despite having all the opportunities in the world, despite having all the money I could need, despite having a loving family and an incredible sporting career – the booze would always win.
I grew up in a big Samoan family in Auckland New Zealand. There were no mobile phones in those days, and we weren’t into video games, so pretty much all we did was play sport.
I had three uncles that were eight to ten years older than me, and they played professional rugby – so growing up I was their ball boy and would follow them around everywhere.
Rugby ran in our blood but during high school I actually put all of my attention into basketball, I never aspired to be an All Black like most kids did, I just liked watching them.
However, once I finished high school my best friend who was playing league at the time encouraged me to give it a go – that was in March 1999 and by November of that year I was in Canberra doing pre-season with the Raiders.
It all happened so fast. The first year I played in the lower grade and in the second year I debuted at 18-years-old.
I dabbled in drinking as a teenager, and from the get-go I loved the way it made me feel. As I got older I started to notice that I was drinking a lot more, and that I had a much higher tolerance to alcohol than many of my peers.
I quickly built up an image of being a big drinker – people would say, “Sione can drink everyone under the table,” and I started walking around like it was a badge of honour.
Before I knew it, I’d gone from drinking all day, to drinking two, and then three days straight.
I thought it was just what young people did, but I quickly found out that when you’re a footy star and you do dumb things, everyone knows about it.
I had a high disposable income and had formed a high dependence on alcohol. As my tolerance for liquor grew, I’d have to drink more to get the feeling I craved, and I would find myself blacking out and waking up in places, not knowing where I was or what I had done.
There were a few instances, where I’d do something stupid and my club would have to pay someone not to go to the media, and other times my indiscretions were blasted on the front page of the newspaper.
During my career I went back and forth between the New Zealand Warriors and clubs here in Australia.
My coaches tried to help me. There was a period of time where I had to go and check into training seven days a week. Even on the days the boys had off, I still had to go in just to prove that I hadn’t been drinking. There were some days I literally just went in to get checked and then I would go home.
It was really hard, but I wanted to prove I could stay clean. I even started going to church with a mate which really helped me stay on the straight and narrow. I managed to remain sober – it was 2005 and I played and performed the best I ever had.
I had made a goal to play the best footy ever, and had my eye on getting player of the year.
I was more focused than ever. The media was saying I was a front runner and all the boys were telling me to get my speech ready. And I’m not going to lie, I thought the title was mine. I had been visualising my photo blown up on the wall, and that had kept me going strong, that had kept me off the booze.
But the player of the year went to someone else. And as soon as they read his name out, I got up and walked straight to the bar. I got absolutely hammered. I went all out.
When I eventually got home to sleep off the hangover, I got a call from my CEO saying that a man had rung him because I’d assaulted his nephew while I was out drinking.
I couldn’t remember a thing. The club bailed me out again but at that point I was back on the down-hill.
During my career I did go and see a psychologist which uncovered that I was showing the same signs my dad did when he drank.
I love my dad but there were times when I was young where he would drink and go out and wouldn’t come home for days. I just saw so many similarities in us both. When we’re sober we’re great people, but sometimes when we drink we change.
My mum also saw the synchronicity and would beg me to stop drinking.
It seemed rugby wasn’t the only thing that ran in my blood, because when I started to really look into it I realised that there was a long line of alcoholics on both my mum and dad’s side of the family.
But I didn’t care. In fact, I saw it as an excuse to drink even more, after all, it wasn’t my fault, it was genetics.
I was eating shit food, smoking like a chimney and was on frequent three day benders, all while turning up to training and playing rugby like I didn’t have a care in the world.
I signed a short contract and went over to play in England for a while and my drinking went from bad to worse. I was out of control.
When I came back I had no money, no job and nothing to show for nine years of professional football. All I had was a suitcase of clothes.
I considered signing another contract but I had had enough of footy. I was done, and I had a mind set at the time that all of my problems were caused by rugby league. But I had no idea how bad things could get.
Working in the ‘real world’ was a huge shock. No benefits, long hours, clocking in and clocking out – I had never had a ‘proper’ job in my entire adult life. I was in a real dark place, picking up odd jobs here and there just to get by.
Then I met a girl and she fell pregnant. We broke up not long after my daughter was born but it prompted me to get my shit together.
I landed a gig in Gladstone, Queensland, playing league and they got me a high paying job in construction.
I was still drinking but I had really cut down. My daughter’s mother tried to limit my rights as a father so I had to go through the whole process of family court – and my struggles with alcohol was at the centre of the argument. She told the court, “He’s a drunk, he’s a bum, look at his career, I can’t trust him with my daughter” – she had heaps to throw at me.
After two years of battling it out my lawyer stopped me one day and said, “Sione, you’re paying all of this money and not getting anywhere. You need to make a decision, how much do you want to be in your daughter’s life? You either choose alcohol or you choose her.
That was one of the most pivotal moments of my life. I cried. I absolutely broke down in tears.
And that day was the last day I touched alcohol – February 14th 2014. I have not touched a drop since.
People ask me all the time, why did it take until that point to finally kick the addiction, and I say it’s because I finally had a big enough reason to. A reason so much greater than myself. I needed a purpose and on that day I found it.
And when I stopped drinking, guess what happened? Everything started working. Shit started happening. Now I’m engaged and about to marry the love of my life, I’ve since had two more beautiful girls, I’ve written a book, I coach rugby, I’m a speaker, I’m an ambassador, I’m a mentor and I also work in the business development space.
All that reinforces why I will never touch alcohol again. Because I absolutely fear it.
I associate pain with alcohol, because if there’s ever a time I consider having a drink I get flash backs of everything that’s happen – all of the pain I’ve caused myself and all the pain I’ve caused others. And then I get premonitions of the future, and what it would be like if I caved – what my family would go through, and what I could lose – that just completely steers me away from it.
It’s funny because after I quit alcohol I went on a real soul searching journey.
I invested heavily in business and self-development books to try and find my place in the world. I’ve poured thousands of dollars into materials – courses, books – you name it, I’ve done it.
But the whole time I was looking for ways to get rich.
Whenever I was looking for the secret of how to make millions, I’d read a line that would say, “The golden ticket is…”
And I’d rub my hands together and say, “Here we go, this is the juicy part…”
But no matter what I read, no matter how hard I searched, it was always the same message. It was all around the art of giving.
“What do you mean the art of giving?” I would say confused.
And I used to get upset. I’d buy another book and think, ‘Honestly mate, if you talk about giving again I’m not going to buy another book!’
None of it made sense until I actually started to write my own book. And then things started to happen. It all finally clicked.
As soon as I started to learn about giving, and not only giving money but also time, and assisting others by sharing my story and really making a genuine effort to care and serve people at a higher level, I started to see the blessings in my own life.
The gift of giving is incredible. And now I get messages saying, “Your story has inspired my husband to stop drinking”.
Wow, it’s life changing.
And now I know I had to go through what I went through to give me a whole new meaning and purpose in this life.
Here’s what I know, we all go through shit. But I really do believe we’re exactly where we need to be in order to go wherever we need to go.
I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing today if I didn’t battle a crippling alcohol addiction.
I wouldn’t be able to help the people I’m helping and be able to make a real difference in the lives of others .
The key I think is finding meaning to your journey, and then using your experiences in a way that can serve and help others.
It’s about finding purpose in something bigger than yourself. The blessings from that are beyond what you can probably ever dream.
To find out more about Sione and his journey, you can check out his book here.