Former Nashville Predators forward Colin Wilson recently suffered the kind of personal tragedy that makes people take stock of their lives and contemplate what they could be doing differently.
That tragedy, of course, was the loss of close friend Jimmy Hayes, who was found dead on Aug. 23. The autopsy results revealed the cause of death as acute intoxication due to the fentanyl and cocaine found in his system.
“When I saw the story in The Boston Globe about Jimmy Hayes’ autopsy, everything that I’d suppressed about my own addiction came flooding into my mind,” Wilson wrote Monday in the Players’ Tribune. “I’m two-and-a-half years sober — and in a way, I guess, I thought I had beat it. But you never beat it. You just live with it. And what happened to Jimmy … it could have happened to any of us. It could have happened to me.”
In his Players’ Tribune story, Wilson detailed exactly how serious had become his own personal addiction, which began at age 20 with Ambien. He admitted that he reached a point where he couldn’t sleep without it.
Then at 22, seeking what he described as a more therapeutic option, Wilson turned to marijuana. It helped subside his obsessive-compulsive disorder and instilled a sense of calmness and normalcy that he hadn’t experienced in quite a while. He soon turned to alcohol and Xanax and was chemically inducing the dopamine rush he wasn’t getting naturally.
But Wilson’s drug-dependency issues rapidly escalated to involving harder substances like cocaine. And by the time he was 28, he was using every few weeks.
“I was in the NHL. I was scoring goals. Playing in a Cup final. Living a dream,” Wilson continued. “But I was an addict. And I didn’t even know I had a problem… It was insidious. But at some point, I crossed this invisible line where I couldn’t find the off switch anymore. I couldn’t curb the feeling of wanting to be high.”
Wilson reached his breaking point in 2018. He recalled waking up with a cocktail of alcohol, cocaine and sleeping pills in his system. Hungover and unable to see straight, Wilson walked to the Colorado Avalanche facility and was ready to come clean to head coach Jared Bednar, which happened at the end of the season. That night was the last time Wilson used any substances.
Fast forward to Hayes’ death, and Wilson decided it was time that everyone hear his story in hopes it could prevent anyone else from meeting the same fate Hayes did. At 32, Wilson is pursuing a degree in psychology at Boston University — the school he attended when the Predators drafted him No. 7 overall in the 2008 NHL Draft — to help those going through similar situations.
“What I put myself through ... it can’t be for nothing,” Wilson added. “I won’t let it be. I am still working every day to survive it. Addiction is for life. And so, I’m going to use it now. I want to make a difference. I know I can.
“…I know there are people, and athletes, all over who are going through — or about to go through — the things that I did. I don’t want them to be ostracized by their community, to be left out in the cold. I think our society is making really great strides around mental health and its importance. But, to me, addiction is just as important a frontier. Of course, they are connected. Both aren’t clear to see, and both require empathy and patience and love. We need more of all those things. “
Wilson spent the first eight years of his career in Nashville, scoring 95 goals and 237 points in 502 games. He scored 13 of his 17 playoff goals and 24 of his 33 playoff points with the Predators.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_