Mike Tyson: 'I'm not going to use anymore'

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
10:38
AM ET
Mike TysonRichard Shotwell/Invision/APFormer heavyweight champ Mike Tyson opened up about his struggle to stay sober.
On surface glance, a casual sports fan might think that being Mike Tyson mostly consists of upside, him being the former heavyweight champion of the world, a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and the focal point of a new docu-series called "Being: Mike Tyson."

But the 47-year-old man once tabbed "Kid Dynamite" has remained relevant partly because of his travails, which have included well-documented battles within the legal system, and substance abuse. In a Tuesday chat with the former fighter, who has entered the promotional fray with Iron Mike Productions, it's clear that he is a work in progress, a soul who must be vigilant not to stray from the merely discontented to full-on tortured.

Full disclosure: I informed Tyson that I am not unfamiliar with some of what he struggles with, having ditched liquid and chemical self-medication somewhere around the time he was taking on Peter McNeeley. I shared that not to insert myself into the story, or seek to establish a bond beyond the tenuous, but rather to let him know that I root for him to succeed with sobriety, if for no other reason than I understand he functions as a role model for others who have sought to fill a hole in the soul through inappropriate methods.

Tyson told me that his Aug. 24 admission that he had slipped, given in front of media after his inaugural promotional event in Verona, N.Y., was an impromptu situation. "Was it spur of the moment? I did not know at all I was going to do that, but I felt the love in the room," he said. "I felt I was lying to people, and I had to come clean for myself. I felt so happy I did that."

Something that perhaps can best (or maybe only) be understood by those who have struggled with substance abuse, Tyson explained that he is a sensitive person, too sensitive, and sometimes feels ill-equipped to deal with the regular slings and arrows of life. "I'm 40 days sober now," he told me. He said that he isn't finding it easy to lay down and fall asleep at night, but insists he won't reach for the lure of the temporary oblivion. "I'm not going to use anymore," he said.

We compared notes on what makes someone a good candidate to be a substance abuser, and I had to chuckle, darkly, when Tyson told me, "Only bright people get high. We're always analyzing. And the unexamined life is not worth living. The dope dealer, the dope smuggler usually doesn't get high." I offered that it could be argued that it might be easier to not be so analytical, and he shot that down, saying that he needs to take stock of himself, examine himself and his motivations rigorously, to stay on the straight line.

Another Hall of Fame boxer, Oscar De La Hoya, recently suffered a sobriety slip, and Tyson said he maybe has an inkling why Oscar couldn't stay away from substances that are alluring but lead to self destruction. "It's not about being in boxing, it's about coming from poverty, dealing with your beginning," Tyson said. "Maybe he hasn't mourned that, maybe he hasn't mourned the death of his mother. It comes from not dealing with your childhood."

Viewers can see Tyson grappling with his past misdeeds on his show, which runs on Tuesdays. Two parts of the six-part series have run thus far. The ex-fighter is looking forward to an autobiography coming out, as well as an HBO special about his one-man stage show. But what I find refreshing about the man is that he doesn't hew to the typical "I have fallen, now I have gotten up and feel better than ever" narrative you hear from so many celebs. In the show, he visits places and situations that shred old psychic scabs, and he sounds like a regular Joe, or Mike, when he says, "It's hell dealing with this stuff sober."

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Michael Woods, a member of the board of the Boxing Writers Association of America, has been covering boxing since 1991. He writes about boxing for ESPN The Magazine and is the news editor for TheSweetScience.com.

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