Abby Wambach says she abused alcohol and prescription drugs for years until her arrest for driving under the influence in April.
"I was stubborn and I was in denial," soccer's most prolific international scorer told the Associated Press in a phone interview. "I didn't want to face the truth."
In Forward, her memoir set for release today, the retired U.S. national team star and former University of Florida standout recounts her career, which culminated in last year's World Cup victory. She also chronicles her high-profile marriage to fellow soccer player Sarah Huffman and the struggles they faced.
And she tells of her bouts with vodka and pills, which included Vicodin, Ambien and Adderall.
Chapters in the book are words that she has been labeled: Tomboy, captain, lesbian, and yes, addict.
"That night getting arrested was one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Because if I don't get so publicly shamed and publicly humiliated, I don't think I wake up," she said as she prepared for a book tour.
With 184 goals, Wambach is the leading career scorer — man or woman — in international soccer.
She says she has been sober since the night she was pulled over in Portland, Ore., after dinner with friends. It was her rock bottom: Her mugshot was everywhere the next morning. She pleaded guilty, agreeing to enter a diversion program for first-time offenders that included treatment.
In the book, she never pins down a moment that alcohol and drugs started to become a problem. Like so many who have shared her experience, it developed over time. Those closest to her tried to reach out, including Huffman, fellow national team player Sydney Leroux and friend Kara Mirarchi.
"Not only was I hiding this secret from the world for so long, so were the people that I loved — they loved me so fiercely they wanted to protect me as much as possible, almost from myself. Sarah was definitely one of my saving graces because she was one of the first people in my life who made me aware of the problems that I was having," Wambach said. "And this was years ago. This isn't something that just snuck up on me when I retired from soccer.''
Wambach, who as a freshman helped lead the Gators to the national title in 1998, announced her retirement last October and played her last match with the team in December, a 1-0 victory tour loss to China in New Orleans. She said she looks back at pictures from that game and her eyes seem hollow.
Wambach and Huffman, whose kiss after the World Cup victory became one of the most memorable photos of the tournament, could not work out their differences and are divorcing.