The NFL is big on stories of redemption and it would appear Erin Henderson has completed the first step in a long journey of sobriety.
In a nearly-1,000-word open letter the TMZ website, Henderson explained his side of his ongoing battle with sobriety, which came to a head when he was arrested twice in one month, leading to his release from the Vikings.
In a heartfelt explanation of his struggle, Henderson believes that the measure of men isn't how many times they fall down, it's how many times they pick themselves up and try to reclaim their lives.
"Never in a million years would I have thought the worst experience in my life would turn out to be the best things that ever happen to me," Henderson wrote in his statement to TMZ. "A new person was birthed through the cycle of acknowledging a problem, addressing it, seeking help, and moving forward."
Henderson went on to say that his eyes have been opened by the experience, but, initially, that wasn't the case. As with many who see their lives crumbling around them at times of adversity, there was a sense of short-term panic that his situation was not only going to alter his football career, but his life.
"When I was arrested for a DUI twice within a month span followed by being released by the Minnesota Vikings, I immediately felt panic," Henderson said. "My mind ran to feelings of abandonment and neglect. I was fearful of my mistake and that my weak moment would not only taint my family's legacy but my own brand that I work so hard and persistent to make sure is pure and respectful. I prayed I would be forgiven, I asked for clarity, a new heart, mind and soul."
In sharing his story, Henderson brought some clarity to his situation, quoting former head coach Leslie Frazier as a voice in his head as he sat with his career in shambles at the start of this year.
"Individuals with adversity must hit their rock bottom before they decide to make a change," Henderson said. "For me that was January 1, 2014 when my life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. As I look back on it I cannot be more grateful. I was arrested and spent almost 24 hours in a holding cell and had nothing but time to think about the path my life was heading down. Coach Frazier would often tell us ‘Show me your vision and I can show you your future.' That night I had a vision of my future and knew I had to do something to better it. It was at that moment I realized I could not do it on my own and made the decision to seek the help I needed."
Upon his release, within two hours Henderson packed up some belongings and checked himself into the renowned Hazelden Foundation, a treatment center that deals with drug and alcohol addiction. He realized that his problem was something that would be public given his celebrity – in a separate interview with USA Today, Henderson said there were times when he showed up hung over for practice because he had been drinking heavily the night before.
However, what he found was that he was in the same situation as everyone else in his group and, behind the Hazelden walls, he wasn't a celebrity. He was someone, like all the rest, looking to turn his life in a positive direction. They were all battling the same personal demons and Henderson went headlong into the process of recovery and awareness of his problems.
"I removed my many masks and allowed myself to be myself," Henderson said. "Over time, my addiction had me convinced that I needed it for people to accept me. My brief period in Hazelden proved otherwise. Sober Erin's light shines 100 times greater than ‘using' Erin ever could. The dark cloud hanging over my head was not the shadow of anyone or anything else. Rather my addiction hiding my brightness from the world and my endless abilities that followed."
Henderson made it clear that his battles with sobriety and trying to get back on the right path weren't simply to salvage his NFL career. There were far bigger factors in play – ones that take precedence to continuing his football career.
"I've been blessed with a beautiful and loving wife and an awesome son that blows my mind on a daily basis," Henderson said. "I had become so caught up in others idea of success that I wouldn't let me be proud of what I had accomplished. I managed to make myself unhappy and forgot to enjoy the journey. With my faith restored and a new outlook, I feel equipped to take on any more of life's challenges thrown my way. With the choices I have made, I no longer have much control over what happens with my professional football career. I do believe God has a plan for me and it will include furthering my legacy on the field."
Whether Henderson will return to the NFL is still a question that hasn't been answered, but as he continues to take one day at a time in his sobriety, he has his eyes open to the prospect in front of him and is prepared to take on the future challenges that will come that have a direct connection to his past failures.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Henderson chronicles struggles with alcohol
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