Outcast Wallaby reveals his inner torment
WITH pain etched across his face, James Slipper opened up on his mental health battle, the terminal cancer diagnosis given to his mother, and the spiral that led to his cocaine use.
Former Australian cricket coach Darren Lehmann was among those who sent Slipper messages of support after he was banned for two months and fined $27,500 for recording two positive tests in May.
Slipper, a 29-year-old veteran of 86 Tests for the Wallabies, has already been given indications by Queensland coach Brad Thorn that he won't be selected again, despite being contracted until the end of 2020.
The shy prop is seeing a psychologist, has moved back in with his parents, and says he's not touched cocaine since his second positive test earlier this year.
"Have I used? God no. I've been waking up at 4am every morning, going through my own routine, just putting little steps in place like that," Slipper said.
"I've moved back to my family home, and that's been a big help as well.
"The last month has been really, really good for me.
"You understand how hard it was, the first couple of months, but the support I was given, people like 'Boof' Lehmann - he just sent me a message.
"Everyone goes through a rough period, it happened to me and it's probably for the better, with all the pain I'm going through, who knows?
"I want to be a positive outcome, I want to have an impact, I don't know what that looks like, for me it's continually working on myself.
"I just want to be a better person, a better player, better family member."
Slipper will return to rugby when he starts for the Australian Super Selection side against a Wallabies squad in a trial match at Leichhardt Oval on Friday night, with the backing of Wallabies coach Michael Cheika.
But despite his vow to improve himself, Thorn is unlikely to waver from his anti-drugs stance and give Slipper a chance at redemption at the Reds.
"I spoke to Brad a week after it all went down, it was clear from that conversation that the future could be murky," Slipper said.
"Whether I stay or not, it'll be tough. It'll be tough to stay and it will be tough to go."
Naturally shy, Slipper found it impossible to confide in family or friends when he started suffering the onset of depression last year.
"I had the [achilles] injury last year, then I lost someone in my family - it was my first loss," Slipper said.
"Then obviously my mum was diagnosed, again. It was just a bit of a whirlwind of a few things.
"By me stuffing up, it was pretty hard because I didn't want to push that pressure on and make my mum feel like she was the reason.
"It was hard but the moment I did it, it was relief. A tonne of weight came off my shoulders.
"It's like any family. I'm sure any parent wouldn't want to hear it, but they would want to hear it if that makes sense.
"I stuffed up, I not only embarrassed all the players, all of Australian rugby, all the fans, all the young kids, I understand that, but the people I was really worried about were the people in my family who didn't need any more stress.
"That was the hardest bit."
Slipper now has a far more open relationship with his parents.
"The professionals have been good, the guy I see in Brisbane has been fantastic," Slipper said.
"I've come a long way because of how I've opened up to people around me, especially the family. My old man told me that I speak to him more now in the last four months than I have in the last four years.
"That's not by purpose, it's just who I am. I'm not a big talker.
"I've come a long way, I'm a lot easier to talk to about certain things where in the past you wouldn't be able to get anything out of me.
"I'm seeing professional help as well, and that's going to be a constant for quite a while.
"You can't really go through something and flick a switch and you're all better three months down the track; I understand I've got to work hard continuously on myself, that's what I'll be doing."
Slipper hopes others in his shoes will be brave enough to ask for help.
"Everyone's pretty good at hiding things and putting on a front, I was pretty good at that," Slipper said.
"But it's really up to the person to make the first move.
"My advice is go to someone who is close to you, and speak up."
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