Sheldon's story

DEREK VAN DIEST -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

Sheldon Kennedy hit rock bottom 16 months ago.

During a drug binge that kept him awake for seven days, the former NHLer took a shotgun and a bag of cocaine to the furnace room in his ranch house and waited for his enemies.

After years of enduring sexual abuse from his former junior hockey coach Graham James, and then developing drug and alcohol problems trying to deal with it, it had come down to this for Kennedy. He was not going down without a fight.

"I had to get there," Kennedy said. "I had to get to a place where I had one decision to make. The decision was to make a phone call or die pretty much."

Kennedy, 36, made the call to a friend in Los Angeles.

Together they drove down from Calgary to a treatment centre in California.

Kennedy's now sober.

He's written a book, Why I Didn't Say Anything - The Sheldon Kennedy Story, due out next week. He's trying to get on with his life. Like many recovering addicts, he's taking it one day at a time.

"I'd been asked to write a book a few different times in the last five years and I felt that I just wasn't done the last chapter," Kennedy said. "I felt I needed to see a way out, to maybe give people hope and an ending of the story.

CHRONICLES HIS LIFE

"I think I got to that point. I've seen a little bit of freedom, a little bit of peace, and felt it was time to write the last chapter and hopefully put an end to this chapter of my life."

In the book, Kennedy chronicles his childhood in Thompson, Manitoba, his relationship with his parents, and his first acquaintance with James - a man who would change his life forever.

Kennedy describes how the abuse began the first night he stayed with James as a 14-year-old at a tournament in Winnipeg.

It continued through junior hockey in Swift Current, Sask., where Kennedy also had to deal with the loss of four teammates following a bus crash on Dec. 30, 1986.

He talks about the lengths James went to in order to keep the abuse secret. How he labelled Kennedy a troubled teen so it would appear the junior coach was reaching out and going out of his way to help him.

How twice a week Kennedy would have to go to James' home for 'tutoring sessions' where the abuse took place.

How there was talk in the community and around the league something was going on, but no one did anything about it.

"It wasn't really that tough to write about," Kennedy said. "It was stuff that I had to look at to get the freedom I was looking for in recovery. I had to go to those places. For me, it was just nice to be able to put it down on paper.

'JUST AN HONEST STORY'

"I felt I could write it and really feel some freedom with it. Feel like 'Here it is.' It's just an honest story - it was quite easy to put down. There wasn't this fear of writing something down and trying to protect a secret. For a long time, I was living a double life. I think it was just really nice to be able to put it down on paper the way it was with a way out, to give people a little hope without worrying about trying to protect something."

The book also chronicles Kennedy's struggles with drugs and alcohol during his NHL years. He talks about his relationships with his ex-wife Jana and how she supported him when the decision was made to press charges against James.

It takes readers through his inline skate across the country, raising the awareness of sexual abuse.

And it concludes with Kennedy's downward spiral into a world of drug-induced paranoia and the struggle to conquer his demons.

"I'm really happy with the book," he said. "It's not a pity book. It's not a preachy book. It's a book of sadness and hope put together. I think that it's kept simple. I think the issue of addiction and abuse all rolled into one can be very complicated for people.

"With me, I think the title pretty much says it all, because that's the biggest question I used to ask myself and that's the biggest question I used to get asked.

"I think its explained fairly well in there how difficult it is. It's not a hockey book; it's a red flag book for parents. I think that's what we wanted to accomplish was to keep it simple, but to keep it hopeful as well."

For the first time in a long time, there is hope in Kennedy's life.

He's going to school, working on an addictions counselling diploma and hopes to work with the NHL substance abuse program. He's also close to his family and has a great relationship with his 10-year-old daughter, Ryan.

"I'm doing this one day at a time, staying close to the meetings and other people in recovery," he said.

"The most important person to me is Ryan and the most important thing is recovery because if I don't have it, I don't have anything."


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