Former NHL star Kevin Stevens putting his life back together
All the goals scored, all the fame, all the money and the parties, all the seemingly endless good times . . . none of it matters anymore, not when he’s sitting there among his new friends, each day trying to keep his grip on a new existence that has nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with just living.
“I’m Kevin,” he tells them each time they meet, “and I’m an alcoholic, addict.”
It is where Kevin Stevens, former Boston College and NHL star, spends his days now, alcohol- and drug-free for the first time in nearly a quarter-century, attending at least one Alcoholics Anonymous meeting a day. He sometimes goes three times a day. Those meetings helped keep him out of jail. So he keeps going, “learning how to live,” he says, a day at a time.
“It isn’t humanly possible that I should be here, you know?” Stevens said last week, making his first public comments since his arrest a year earlier on federal drug charges. “It’s like . . . you know . . . I am very lucky, very fortunate. God has a plan for me. There is no way that God doesn’t have something planned for me because . . . the stuff I did . . . it’s not feasible to be alive.”
At age 52, and clean these last 12 months for the first time since the early 1990s, his millions are long gone, much of the money lost to what he now calls the “wasted life” of addiction. Lost, too, is his marriage, with his ex-wife and three children now living in Duxbury while he rents an apartment in Weymouth that he shares with his girlfriend and their 2-year-old son.
After pleading guilty in December to two charges related to oxycodone, and facing the potential for up to two years in jail, Stevens on May 4 was sentenced to three years probation, fined $10,000, and ordered to give motivational speeches to raise awareness about addiction and the dangers of prescription drugs. Per the terms of his sentence, he must maintain regular contact with his probation officer and submit to random drug testing.
“Probation before was a struggle,” said Stevens, noting that he was sentenced to probation in his playing days with the Rangers, following his arrest on crack cocaine charges after a game in St. Louis. “Doesn’t really bother me now. It’s easy when you’re clean.”
For the most part, Stevens said, he is happy these days, mainly because he is out of the stranglehold and morass of addiction. Though it’s sometimes difficult for him to block out the thoughts of the life he squandered, the fact that going on a vacation now is a financial reach while many teammates from his NHL glory days are living in leisure, drawing from deep financial reserves.
“Money is tough, I’m not broke,” he said, noting that the Rangers still pay deferred salary from his final NHL contract, money he said he is obligated to share with his ex-wife. “I don’t have a lot, but I can live life. Like I say, addiction takes everything.”
It’s a simple existence, by Stevens’s telling. He awakes each morning, asks God for help, then structures his day around AA meetings.
“I used to ask God for help when I was jammed up,” he said. “I ask God to help me every day now. Just a little thing in the morning, ‘Give me direction, help me get through the day.’ Just something that works.”
‘A bad decision’
Over the course of a 90-minute interview with a Globe reporter at the downtown office of his attorney, Paul Kelly, Stevens spoke bluntly about his decades of drug use, the pain his addiction inflicted on family, friends, and himself, and his continuing return to sobriety.
He bottomed out more than a year ago, while sitting alone in a Rhode Island jail cell for the better part of a week, following his arrest on the oxycodone charges.
“Not a good place,” said Stevens. “They keep you by yourself for 72 hours. I wasn’t bouncing, but I was trying to get off the stuff. It’s not like I was deathly sick — and I have been deathly sick from this stuff. But it was scary. You’re in this little room. You don’t hear anything. You don’t see anything. Scary.”
Some two months prior to his arrest, Stevens was pulled over by police as he drove away from the Braintree MBTA stop, moments after picking up 175 pills of oxycodone that he intended to hand over to a cohort on the North Shore for cash and a cut of the pills. The pills confiscated, Stevens was allowed to return home to Weymouth that day. He wasn’t hauled in by the feds, according to Kelly, until a wiretap of Stevens’s accomplice caught him scheming to acquire more oxycodone.
“They were lying in wait,” Kelly said.
Stevens and Kelly, dating back to the arrest, continually made the case, to the media and the court, that Stevens’s addiction woes date to a horrific on-ice accident in 1993, the days when he was the game’s premier left winger with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Knocked cold on his feet, an unconscious Stevens crashed face-first into the ice, shattering many of his facial bones. During a one-month stay in the hospital following surgery to reconstruct his face, Stevens contends, he became addicted to the prescription painkillers percocet and vicodin, identifying that as the trigger to his catastrophic downward spiral.
“I had 27 good years till then,” said Stevens, who played a half-season with the Bruins (1995-96) as part of his 15-year NHL career. “And then I had 25 really [expletive] bad years. Normal people would say, ‘Kev, what are you doing? Stop!’ But I couldn’t. Once that compulsion, that obsession, is set off in your brain, there’s no stopping it.”
It was a party in New York, soon after his recovery from surgery, that Stevens believes accelerated his addiction issues. Offered what he identified as a recreational narcotic, he ducked into a bathroom with the drug and ingested it.
He now believes his failure to control his impulse in that moment sent his addiction, and his life, careening out of control.
“Someone hands me this thing and says do it,” recalled Stevens, today some 50 pounds heavier than his playing weight of 230. “I made a bad decision to take a narcotic that night. Which I’d never done in my life. I never knew what it was.
“That kind of [expletive] spun this thing out of control. It’s a two-minute decision. If I say no, my life goes a different way. Two minutes.
“I never thought I would be an addict. I never thought that decision would put me in this tailspin. A bad decision. And it took me down the wrong path.”
In July, Stevens will attend a workshop on public speaking, sponsored by the NHL Alumni Association, to sharpen his storytelling skills.
It’s that story about a poor two-minute decision, he figures, that he will tell kids when he begins his court-ordered speaking gigs.
According to Kelly, the NHLAA is footing the entire workshop bill for Stevens. Kelly also noted that the NHL Emergency Assistance Fund has paid the bulk of Stevens’s legal fees related to the oxycodone arrest.
“Not insignificant,” said Kelly, crediting longtime NHL executive Brian O’Neill for the EAF help.
In dealing with Stevens intensively for the past year-plus, Kelly is convinced his client also likely suffers from CTE, the brain disease incurred by athletes exposed to concussive and subconcussive blows, typically over a period of years.
“Everything I’ve read about CTE suggests that there is a strong probability that Kevin has it,” said Kelly. “If there was a test for determining if someone had CTE while alive, I would strongly encourage him to take it — only in the event that there was some cure or something that can be done to help control it.”
By his count, Stevens figures he suffered 10-12 concussions over the course of his career.
“The memory loss . . . I try to think, you know, is it just from being, like, in addiction for a while, or whatever?” said Stevens. “It’s hard to know that CTE stuff.”
For now, said Stevens, he is just happy to be free again, disentangled from the unremitting obsession to acquire and use painkillers. He can read the paper, watch TV, just sit and be quiet, simple tasks he couldn’t accomplish when addicted.
“Addiction just takes and takes and takes,” he said. “Sobriety gives you back and back, back and back. But addiction takes and takes. Most of the time it takes everything, until you are on your [expletive] knees.”
Stevens is up again, unsure where the next 25 years will lead, hoping to land a job, eager to piece the shards of his life back together.
“I’m Kevin,” Stevens says at least once a day, embraced by people he never knew before, hoping to know again the self he left behind.