Even Abby Wambach is astonished when she reflects on her year. She went from publicly acknowledging a problem with alcohol and prescription pills to getting sober and marrying a “Christian mommy blogger.”
The biggest stunner? She doesn’t miss soccer a bit.
“I played soccer until the end,” she said. “I played it and I did it as well as I possibly could for as long as I could. I don’t miss any of my old life.”
The game’s most prolific international scorer was arrested in Portland, Oregon, last year and charged with driving under the influence. Her mugshot was splashed all over the news just 10 months after she celebrated winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup with the U.S. national team.
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Last September, she came clean in her book “Forward,” a confessional memoir in which she said she abused vodka and pills, including Vicodin, Ambien and Adderall.
“I accepted who I was. I accepted the mistakes that I made,” she told The Associated Press about the aftermath of both the arrest and the public confession. “The No. 1 thing I could do for myself was to start loving myself again. The choice to do that saved my life.”
Wambach is now sober and her life has been turned upside down — in a good way. During a book tour, she met another sober woman, Glennon Doyle Melton.
Melton is a celebrity in her own right. She is the woman behind Momastry, a blog that took off after she posted an entry titled “Don’t Carpe Diem.” In it she imagined what she’d like to say to the struggling mom in line at Target: “‘It’s helluva hard, isn’t it? You’re a good mom. I can tell. And I like your kids, especially that one peeing in the corner. She’s my favorite. Carry on, warrior. Six hours till bedtime.'”
It was shared more than 4 million times.
Melton went on to become best-selling author and an in-demand public speaker. But she shocked some of her fans last year when she announced her marriage was ending. She shocked even more last November when she posted a photo of her new love: “Her name is Abby. You might recognize her from soccer.”
Wambach’s own marriage to Sarah Huffman had crumbled earlier in the year, strained by the alcohol and pills, as well as the time spent from home because of her job.
Wambach retired from soccer at the end of 2015. She capped her illustrious career with the sport’s most prestigious championship when the United States defeated Japan 5-2 at the World Cup in Canada. It was the third World Cup title for the U.S. women and first since 1999.
The FIFA World Player of the Year in 2012, Wambach appeared in four World Cups with the national team. She also has two Olympic gold medals.
She finished her career at the end of 2015 with 184 international goals, more than any player, male or female.
Wambach became more active in social and political issues late in her soccer career, and has been outspoken about gender equity in particular. She led a group of players in protesting FIFA’s decision to play the 2015 Women’s World Cup on artificial turf, which is considered by many to be inferior to grass.
She had intended to continue that work, and she also signed a deal with ESPN. But then she was arrested.
Wambach came to the realization that her life was out of control. Her marriage was on the rocks, and she was wrestling with her retirement and her direction.
She took full responsibility for driving drunk. She pleaded guilty, agreeing to enter a diversion program for first-time offenders that included treatment.
She wrote her book, a cathartic exercise. She fell in love. And, she says, she found her voice. Earlier this year Wambach was named an advocate for the United Nations’ Equal Pay Platform of Champions, which promotes wage equity across the globe.
“Pain is a traveling professor. It knocks on everybody’s door. And the wisest people I know are the ones that say, ‘C’mon in, sit down and don’t leave until you’ve taught me what I need to know.’ And that’s what I did,” Wambach said. “The truth is that pain is the very thing that allowed me the space to open my arms and heart to this new love and this family.”
Wambach married Melton in May, simultaneously fulfilling her dream to have children.
“A year and a half ago when I was really struggling and pretty sick, If you were to tell me I’d be a stepmom and sober and living in Florida and as happy as I’ve ever been, I would have called you a liar,” she mused. “We’ve got a 14-year-old, an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old and these are the best teachers I’ve ever had.”
Wambach did not update her story for the paperback release of “Forward” that comes out Tuesday. She laughs when asked if there’s a new one in the works.
For now she’s simply living in her own happiness.
“Thinking about the DUI, and thinking about how I wanted the DUI to impact me, it was an intentional decision to make that moment into the best thing that ever happened to me, a start to a better life,” she said. “I couldn’t anticipate over a year later the joy I would feel now. I’m just so grateful because I just did it one step at a time, and I did it without hiding.”