Pavlik reflects on battles with alcoholism, looks ahead to future
Ex-middleweight champ Kelly Pavlik went to alcohol rehab twice in the past year
The Ohioan won the middleweight title in 2007 but lost it to Sergio Martinez in April
Pavlik says alcoholism never affected his boxing; his trainer, Jack Loew, disagrees
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- Are you an alcoholic?
The question lingers with Kelly Pavlik. And then lingers some more. Am I? Pavlik knew he liked beer. Beer with football. Beer with darts. Beer with his buddies who were just looking to blow off some steam. But an alcoholic?
"Well ..." Pavlik said, his voice trailing off.
Liking beer wasn't a disease, was it? The 28-year-old knew hundreds of people who liked beer as much as he did. Hell, if he was an alcoholic, so were most of the people in Youngstown. They drank just as much as he did.
Or did they? Maybe Pavlik didn't realize just how much beer he was drinking, didn't notice how three or four beers was suddenly becoming 10 or 12. Maybe he didn't realize the full effect his drinking was having on his family. Didn't realize how hard it was on his wife, Samantha, to not know if or when her husband was coming home at night. Or that his father, Mike, would unplug the phone before he went to bed so he could sleep without fear of getting that middle-of-the-night phone call telling him something happened to his son.
Maybe he didn't realize any of that then. But he does now. After two emotional, gut wrenching interventions and two stints in rehab, Pavlik has accepted certain truths.
"If you go by the program's definition, then yes," Pavlik said. "I am an alcoholic."
* * * * *
It's hard for Pavlik to pinpoint exactly when the drinking first became a problem. It could have been 2007, when he won the middleweight title with a stunning knockout of Jermain Taylor. That victory catapulted him to hero status in Youngstown. Everyone knew him. And everywhere he went, everyone wanted to buy him a drink.
"I would go out and no one would care what I was drinking," Pavlik said in a two-and-a-half hour interview with SI.com. "They were buying the drinks. After that, it became a habit."
"When he won the title, he was not prepared for what was coming," Mike Pavlik said. "He would walk into any establishment and the first thing you would hear is a guy across the room saying, 'Hey, get him a drink.' The only way I can sum it up is, it was crazy."
Crazy, yes. But out of control? Pavlik's family didn't start to see that until later, in 2009. That was a rough time for Pavlik. He fought twice that year, defending his WBC and WBO middleweight titles against Marco Antonio Rubio and Miguel Espino. But in between Pavlik battled a severe staph infection that hospitalized him that summer and cost him a lucrative fight with Paul Williams.
As the problems mounted, so did Pavlik's frustrations. He wasn't a big talker. Instead, he found solace in the bottle.
"I don't talk much," Pavlik said. "I don't get much off my chest when things are bothering me. [Drinking] was my way of venting. It would happen in spurts. There would be times everything was calm and good and, boom, there would be that spurt. It could have come from the littlest things. An argument or stress. Simple things, like pressure. Everybody hates losing. I was frustrated with myself. The last fight with [Sergio] Martinez. That's one of the things that haunted me. Why the hell would I take that fight at that weight? That bothered me. It bothered me when people said, 'Pavlik can't face guys like that.' And when I did drink, it was a go."
By the end of 2009, Pavlik's family had reached its breaking point.
"I was really concerned about his well-being, his health," Mike said. "For a parent, it was an ill feeling. You never want to see someone hurting themselves. I saw it coming. We couldn't head it off. Like he says, he keeps to himself and his way of venting was through the alcohol."
In January 2010, the Pavlik family organized an intervention. At their home in nearby Canfield, Ohio, Mike and Samantha, along with Pavlik's mother, Debbie, and a professional interventionist, confronted Pavlik. They pleaded with him to go to rehab. Pavlik agreed, and that night he flew to California and checked into the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage.
His stint at Betty Ford, however, didn't last long. Pavlik was supposed to stay for 30 days. He lasted 20.
"I didn't get anything out of it and I didn't put anything into it," Pavlik said. "If I had to do something they assigned me to do, I just went through the process and got it done."
Back in Ohio, Pavlik quickly slipped back into his old habits. He wasn't a seven-day-a-week drunk. He didn't sit at home and pound beers while his wife and children slept. But he also rarely passed on an opportunity to go out.
"I was partying," Pavlik said. "It was something that was close to getting out of control."
In September, the Pavliks organized a second intervention. They brought back the same interventionist and, for the second time in nine months, begged Pavlik to get help. This time, Pavlik fought back. He stormed up and down the stairs. He glared at the interventionist as the stranger in his living room explained what Pavlik's drinking was doing to his family.
"I'm sitting there thinking, 'You can go f--- yourself,'" Pavlik said. "'In about 10 more minutes, I'm going to kick you out of my house.' "
He didn't, though. He listened to the interventionist. He listened to his parents, his wife. And he made a decision. He would go to rehab again. He would go for 60 days this time instead of 30. And this time, he would make it count.
"My decision came down to telling everyone to go screw themselves and do what I want to, or do I man up and get it done," Pavlik said. "It was a better choice to man up."
Said Mike: "There was always the chance of him telling all of us to go piss up the river. But he didn't. He stood up. After he left, I remember going home and saying, 'I don't know if I could have done that.' It's like leaving for the military. You have no idea where you are going or what you are in for or what they are going to do to you."
There was a new twist to this rehab. He wasn't going to Betty Ford this time. He was going to The Ranch. And if Betty Ford was a country club, The Ranch Recovery Center in Desert Hot Springs, Calif., was a hard labor camp. Days began at 6 a.m. with meditation, feelings groups and classes. Afternoons were spent doing "ranch projects," which included digging trenches for a riverbed, cleaning boulders off the mountain or straining dirt to build mounds for the riverbed. If you were lucky, you were assigned kitchen duty, where you were required to cook and clean in the cafeteria. In the evenings there were a few hours of down time before a required AA meeting.
Sleeping arrangements were cozy. Patients slept in bunk beds. At night, Pavlik would occasionally be awakened by the sounds of the hallucinations of a detoxing neighbor.
"One kid woke up in the middle of the night, got down on his hands and knees and was beating his bed," Pavlik said. "He was having dreams he was using again. It shook the whole my side of the room. His bunkee was panicking in the hallway."
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