Irish boxer and broadcaster Eric Donovan says he should have had an easy path to the 2012 London Olympics, but his dreams were shattered when he hit "rock bottom" in 2011.
He now feels it's important to speak publicly about his experience of going to rehab and restarting his life.
Eric is the host of the 'Hooked on Health' podcast, and he was a frequent TV pundit during the recent Olympic Games.
Speaking on Alive & Kicking, Eric said boxing became a part of his life "very early on" while growing up in Athy.
He said: “Boxing was my education, and I excelled at it from a very young age.
“Some people - the casual fan or maybe uneducated fan - look at boxing and think it’s just two people tearing lumps out of each other, it’s barbaric and it’s vicious. To a certain extent to the professional game, it can be like that.
“But amateur boxing to me is a skill, a sweet science, a noble art. It’s my job to educate and inform people about the skill level involved, the discipline."
Despite the positive influence of boxing on his life, Eric started smoking at the age of 12 and started drinking alcohol shortly after.
He observed: “As a young kid, I started thinking ‘I’m only doing what all my peers are doing’. But I noticed very quickly that something was different about what I was doing. I wanted more. I took my first ecstasy tablet at 14… I never wanted the party to stop.
“I realised [later in life] I was doing this because there was emotional turmoil going on for me, that I couldn’t identify at the time.”
Hitting rock bottom
In 2011, Eric was a strong candidate to qualify for the following year's Olympics in London, after winning bronze at the European Championships.
He said: "I should have had an easy passageway through to the Olympics. But I went out for one last night on the town - well, that was my thinking at the time. I always seemed to cross the invisible line - I never knew when enough was enough.
"I stayed out and ended up at a house party. Within the space of around 10-15 seconds, I got into a bit of a scuffle with a guy and broke my left hand. I also broke and shattered my Olympic dreams.
“I still couldn’t tell the truth to anyone. I made up a big lie about how it happened - that I was celebrating the local GAA’s team success."
Eric's worst fears were realised when he got an x-ray and realised he wouldn't be progressing through to the London Games.
He says that was a rock bottom moment, but there were another few dark moments for him during 2011 and 2012.
He said: "Every time I went out or picked up a drink… nine times out of ten there was a problem. I was always depressed… I always seemed to have to apologise to someone, or seemed to regret stuff.
"One night out would affect me for a week or two weeks afterwards, as I tried to pick myself back up.
“I started to think [people close to me] would be better off without me, and that maybe I’m just not for this world. I didn’t think I had a purpose - I thought I was just burdening people. That was the breaking point for me.”
Ultimately, Eric turned to the one person who he had frequently turned to for help - his amateur boxing coach.
Eric recalled: “I knew when I asked him for help, it wasn’t the type of help I usually asked for. It was the help he probably couldn’t provide for me either - but he knew some people who could.
“He introduced me into the area of counselling, psychotherapy, health and wellbeing. I went into rehab in early 2012 in Wexford."
For Eric, it was the first time he opened up and allowed people to help him.
He began to learn about addiction, and realised the drink and drugs were "just painting over the cracks".
When he emerged from rehab, Eric felt he had a chance to restart his life.
He said: “I could go left or I could go right - one way was to go back to my old habits and behaviours, and the other way was to go the road less travelled, to create this new pathway for myself.”
He stressed he had lots of support and advice about what he should do, all of which he took on board.
It all helped him get to where he is now, and he now wants to help other people who might be in similar situations.
He observed: “I firmly believe it’s easier to build strong children than to fix broken adults. If we can maybe create the conditions in this country for young kids to become resilient and strong… I’m all for that.
"That’s why I agreed to take up the podcast, because I think my story needs to be heard. I go to schools all across the country and share my story.
“There’s always somebody suffering in silence."