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CC Sabathia: I've been living as an alcoholic since 2012

It’s a Sunday morning in Baltimore, the final day of the regular season. The Yankees are dealing with the effects of a doubleheader the previous day, but CC Sabathia is feeling much worse.

He’s hung over and knows he has a serious problem.

A weekend of drinking – mostly by himself in his room at the Baltimore Four Seasons – has taken its toll on Sabathia, who can barely remember the details of the previous 48 hours.

“I woke up on that Sunday and was like, ‘I can’t do this no more,'” Sabathia said during an extensive interview this week with the Daily News at Roc Nation headquarters. “I came in on Sunday and felt like I needed to get some help. I know it was bad timing, but I felt like if I didn’t tell somebody then, I would have been in real trouble.”

Inside Joe Girardi’s office in the visitors’ clubhouse at Camden Yards, Sabathia tells his manager that he has a drinking problem. Also in the room are pitching coach Larry Rothschild, athletic trainer Steve Donohue and Chad Bohling, the team’s director of mental conditioning.

“It was just me kind of telling him (Girardi) what I’m going through,” Sabathia said. “That conversation was a tough one for me. I just told them that I had been struggling and trying to deal with this. They were nothing but supportive.

“I just felt like it was a big weight off my shoulders by telling somebody and letting the team know.”

RELATED: CC SABATHIA CHECKS IN TO ALCOHOL REHAB

The meeting breaks up and Sabathia decides he’s going to rehab the next day – the AL wild card game on Tuesday, a possible postseason run and advice from his wife be damned.

“I was the one that was like, ‘Let’s just wait,'” said his wife, Amber Sabathia. “‘We don’t have to tell anybody. Let’s just wait and see what happens with the (wild card) game; if they lose, you can go in on Wednesday. If you go to the next round, let’s just plan it for November 1.’ CC said, ‘I know if I wait, I’m not going to go. You don’t understand.'”

Sabathia isn’t interested in hiding the truth. He’s already been doing that for far too long.

OCT. 1, 2015, FILE PHOTOKathy Willens/AP

CC Sabathia has a rocky 2015 with the Yankees that ends with him checking himself into alcohol rehab.

“I would have been in rehab the whole time worried about who knows, this and that, what’s getting out,” Sabathia said. “I was tired of being in the dark about it, hiding about it. I had dealt with it from the end of ’12 all the way up until that point. It was just exhausting. That was more exhausting than actually drinking – trying to hide the drinking.”

* * * * *

Sabathia says his problem dates back roughly three years. After the Yankees were eliminated from the ALCS in 2012, Sabathia “realized that I had a problem with drinking.” His binges weren’t frequent, but when they happened, they were serious. Asked his drink of choice, Sabathia said, “it didn’t matter.

“I kind of admitted that I was an alcoholic. I would put two or three months together being sober, but I would get on the road and when nobody was looking, I would isolate myself and just start drinking. Kind of binge-drinking where I was going on for a whole weekend. I had that same kind of thing happen in Baltimore that weekend.”

In 2012, Sabathia sought help via therapy, though he never contemplated entering rehab. He would often create personal guidelines, tricking himself into believing his drinking wasn’t a problem.

“I figured I could get control of it,” Sabathia said. “I would make rules for myself: ‘I’m only going to drink wine’ or ‘I’m only going to drink beer’ or ‘I’m only going to drink on the weekends.’ For me to be planning that out is an indication that I had a problem.”

JOHN HARPER: CC SABATHIA’S YANKEES TEAMMATES SEE HIS TRUE PINSTRIPES IN BATTLE WITH ALCOHOLISM

Amber tried to help her husband through the rough times, but like most alcoholics, CC wouldn’t fully admit there was a real problem to address.

“Three years ago, CC was willing to stop; for his family, for his kids, for his marriage,” Amber said. “‘OK, I’m willing to say I have a problem; I’m willing to stop drinking.’ But he never really admitted that he had a problem or admitted that he really needed to stop.”

“It was always my wife, my mom and everybody wanting me to stop,” Sabathia said. “This is the first time that I actually myself wanted to stop.”

CC Sabathia announces that he'll be checking into rehab the day before the Yankees open the playoffs in a one-game wildcard game against the Astros.

CC Sabathia announces that he’ll be checking into rehab the day before the Yankees open the playoffs in a one-game wildcard game against the Astros.

The night before the Sabathia’s fateful weekend in Baltimore, the Yankees celebrated their postseason berth with a booze-fueled party in the clubhouse. He said he didn’t partake in any of it, saving his drinking for a solitary hotel room instead.

On Friday, they were rained out and were able to leave the ballpark early giving Sabathia plenty of time to drink. On Saturday, the Bombers played a day-night doubleheader and were at the ballpark from approximately 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

There were reports Sabathia was drunk at the ballpark on both of those days, though he insists he was not drinking in the clubhouse.

“I probably was still drunk from the night before or hung over,” Sabathia said. “It happened quick.”

Six weeks earlier, Sabathia had been caught on video getting into a shouting match outside a Toronto nightclub, something he called “a bad decision” at the time. In retrospect, this was a rare time Sabathia’s drinking problem was on public display. Fortunately for him, the incident didn’t escalate to a worst-case scenario.

“I was just out with some guys. I remember that; I wasn’t like obliterated or blasted, but I wasn’t sober CC,” Sabathia said. “I would have just laughed that off or said something smart back.

“If I was sober, it wouldn’t have happened.”

RELATED: VIDEO SHOWS SABATHIA ‘FLIPPING OUT’ OUTSIDE TORONTO CLUB

The Toronto incident put a scare into Sabathia, who began considering that he might need to take the next step to address his problem.

“I think Toronto was enough,” Sabathia said. “I didn’t get in trouble there or anything happened, but that type of (stuff) leading up to it, that can happen any time if I’m not sober. That was warning signs enough for me. Really at that time is when I felt like I needed it, but it was right in the middle of the season.”

Sabathia says he often drank alone and scheduled his drinking around starts so he could recover in time for game day. 'For me to be planning that out is an indication that I had a problem,' he said.Andrew Theodorakis/ for New York Daily News

Sabathia says he often drank alone and scheduled his drinking around starts so he could recover in time for game day. ‘For me to be planning that out is an indication that I had a problem,’ he said.

Sabathia didn’t seek treatment, leaving him open to another binge six weeks later in Baltimore.

“I thought it was a scare for him, like, ‘OK, now I’m really going to clean myself up because that happened in Toronto,'” Amber said. “I don’t think he planned on drinking in Baltimore, but the disease planned on drinking in Baltimore.”

Sabathia’s meeting in Girardi’s office was the first step toward getting well, but making his problem public was equally important for the 35-year-old.

“I really didn’t care how it came out. Amber was like, ‘Why don’t you just wait until after the wild card game and we’ll see?’ I called (Ron Berkowitz, his publicist) and said, ‘You guys can figure out how we play it, but I’m leaving. I’m going on Monday.’ That was something I was absolute about.”

Sabathia left Baltimore before Sunday’s game started, heading home to his family.

RELATED: DARRYL STRAWBERRY ‘PRAYING’ FOR CC SABATHIA, SUPPORTS HIS DECISION TO ENTER REHAB

“That day was probably the most humbling, humiliating, scariest day of my life. Right now, it’s quickly turning into the proudest day of my life; standing up and getting some help.”

The following day, Sabathia checked into Silver Hill Hospital in New Caanan.

“October 5 was the first day of the rest of our lives,” Amber said.

* * * * *

A two-day detox was a harsh introduction to Silver Hill, and by the end of day five, Sabathia says he was ready to go home.

“I’m glad I stuck it out,” he said. “I got a lot out of it.”

The day after he checked in, Sabathia watched his teammates get eliminated in the wild card game.

“I asked him, ‘Are you going to watch the game?'” Amber said. “He said, ‘Being here right now in rehab is the best way I can support my team. That’s the best thing that I can do for them right now, taking care of me.'”

The toughest part for Sabathia? Watching Masahiro Tanaka get squeezed by the home-plate umpire.

“I was yelling at the TV, hollering,” Sabathia said. “The strike zone was VERY tight for us; I thought Tanaka threw some good pitches. It is what it is. It was tough. But I felt like I was in the right spot getting help so I can be there in the future.”

Sabathia learned a lot about himself and his disease during his month-long stay in Connecticut.

“I’m not depressed, I don’t have anxiety; that I’m in a pretty good place,” Sabathia said. “I just don’t need to pick up alcohol. Going up there, you learn how there are different triggers that can set you off. I was able to kind of identify them. I know it’s going to be tough, but I’m up for the challenge.”

Sabathia encountered all types of people during his stay, some of whom had hit a rock-bottom far lower than his own.

“It made me appreciate what I have,” he said. “Some people fall all the way off where they lose their family, their house, everything. It made me appreciate what I still have and what I can have in the future staying sober.”

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpiCorey Sipkin/New York Daily News

After a stint on the DL, Sabathia pitches better, but skips the AL wild card game in order to check into rehab. While he says the timing was unfortunate for his team, it was necessary for him.

Sabathia looks the same after his month in rehab, albeit a few pounds heavier than he was when he walked into Silver Hill.

“The food was unbelievable,” said Sabathia, who was also treated to some comfort food when Amber would visit. “It was a good place, so I gained a lot of weight. I ate a lot of candy, Oreos, all that stuff. I’ll be working out hard this offseason.”

RELATED: YANKEES FANS VOTE CC SABATHIA OUT IN DAILY NEWS KEEP ‘EM OR DUMP ‘EM

While the Sabathias hid the news from their three youngest children (Jaden, 10, Cyia, 7 and Carter, 5), their oldest son – Carsten Charles III, or “Little C” as the 12-year-old is commonly known – was old enough to read the articles about his father, fully aware of what was happening. The younger kids were conditioned to him being on the road with the Yankees, so his month-long stay in rehab didn’t seem odd to them, Sabathia said, adding that he came home twice to watch his sons’ football games and to visit with his daughter.

After all, Sabathia’s own father, Corky, had struggled with drugs during Sabathia’s childhood. CC knew all about addiction and wanted to make sure his own son understood why all of this was happening.

“We talked about my father and his struggles that he had going through rehab, and me just trying to break the cycle and be better for him and in the long run for his kids,” Sabathia said. “It was actually a good conversation we had. I think he gets it. He’s a smart kid.”

* * * * *

Since the end of 2012, Sabathia’s numbers on the field have paled in comparison to those he put up during the first 12 years of his career. He’s quick to point to the elbow surgery he had after the 2012 season and the degenerative knee condition he’s battled the past couple years as the cause for his on-field struggles, saying firmly that his drinking issues were not a factor.

In fact, he made sure they weren’t.

“I would go around my starts,” Sabathia said. “If I knew I had a weekend or three or four days, where I would have two days to get back to be ready to pitch, I would do that. The planning out of it, what made me realize I was an alcoholic, I’m planning out when I can drink. If you’ve got to do that, I feel like you’ve got a problem.”

Sabathia and the Yankees celebrate with a booze-filled party after clinching a playoff spot this season. The pitcher says he has no problem if the Yankees celebrate with alcohol, but he will no longer drink.Andrew Theodorakis/ for New York Daily News

Sabathia and the Yankees celebrate with a booze-filled party after clinching a playoff spot this season. The pitcher says he has no problem if the Yankees celebrate with alcohol, but he will no longer drink.

Sabathia can’t remember a time when he felt like he couldn’t pitch because of his drinking.

“I was functioning as an alcoholic,” he said.

A starting pitcher’s life is one of routine. The four days in between starts aren’t exactly labor-intensive. Get your work in, play catch or throw a bullpen, shag some flies and watch the game in the dugout. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Sabathia’s drinking never got in the way of that routine, he said, part of the reason he was able to keep his secret to himself.

“I could always come to the field, sweat everything out, do my running and do everything I had to do,” Sabathia said. “I pretty much just hid it, would be walking around hung over and sick all the time and still going through the motions.”

How well did he hide it? Aside from Dellin Betances and Chris Young, who Sabathia had spoken to before he left Camden Yards that Sunday, his teammates had no idea what was coming.

“I’m sure they knew that I drank a lot, but I don’t think they realized how bad it would get when I got into the hotel room and continued to drink by myself,” Sabathia said. “It was always alone.”

Sabathia stressed that his problem was “strictly alcohol” and not with any recreational drugs.

“I grew up around enough drugs that I know not to touch them,” Sabathia said. “My dad didn’t drink; he used drugs. I grew up around drinking, though. I picked up drinks when I was 14 for the first time.”

At the end of August, a paparazzi photographer snapped a picture of Sabathia on his hotel terrace in Atlanta smoking something that looked like either marijuana or a mini-cigar, which is what he insisted it was. Now that he’s opening up, was it really just a cigar?

Sabathia informs manager Joe Girardi of his decision to enrter alcohol rehab ahead of the 2015 playoffs.Kathy Willens/AP

Sabathia informs manager Joe Girardi of his decision to enrter alcohol rehab ahead of the 2015 playoffs.

“It was,” he said with a laugh.

* * * * *

Alcohol may no longer be a part of Sabathia’s life, but that doesn’t mean he plans to change much else. He’s heading to Pittsburgh to watch his beloved Raiders take on the Steelers, and there’s no question he’ll take in his share of NBA games this season, too.

If his friends want to enjoy a beer during the game, that’s fine with him. He’s working to change his own life, not anybody else’s.

“People think that you should change; it’s different strokes for different folks,” Sabathia said. “My problem is me. I can’t ask anybody not to drink around me. That’s never been a temptation for me; it was always when I’m by myself, isolated and doing those things.

“My environment is going to stay the same for the most part, so if people see me out doing different things, don’t assume that I’m (relapsing).”

Sabathia is counting on another trip to the postseason next year, but he hoped his teammates don’t forego a champagne celebration on his behalf.

“I was going to get that Bane mask and put it over my face,” Sabathia said, referring to the famed Batman villain. “If we clinch the division next year, I’ll definitely have that on with some goggles.”

* * * * *

After her husband came home last weekend, Amber began clearing a multitude of events off of their schedule. But one thing CC insisted on attending was Friday’s PitCCh In Foundation’s “CC Challenge,” an annual event held in Central Park.

“We do work with so many kids in the inner-city, so hopefully they can take this, me going in and getting help, and see that you can ask for help growing up in that situation,” Sabathia said. “A lot of times, you grow up and everything you know is just to be tough and hard, all that stuff. Sometimes you need some help. Hopefully some of these kids that we touch can see that, too, if they have problems.”

Sabathia has been a major influence on children and adults alike during his 15 years in the majors, but his impact could be greater than ever before now that he’s attacked his problem so publicly.

“I didn’t do this for that, but if that comes, that’s fine,” Sabathia said. “I did this for myself and my family, to be a better player and husband. If it means more responsibility in being a role model, that’s fine.”

* * * * *

Spring training is more than three months away, giving him 100 days or so to spend time with his family and keep himself sober.

“I have a sponsor, I have a good support system and things in place that I’m going to be doing,” Sabathia said. “I feel good about it.

“This is my favorite time of year, so I’m excited to be around my family and kind of say this is the next chapter of my life. I’m glad I was proactive about it. It will be better.”

Come Febraury, Sabathia will be back in Tampa for spring training, preparing for another six-month grind filled with road trips and lonely hotel rooms.

“It’s going to be hard, but I have different things that I can do now,” Sabathia said. “Pick up a book, play some video games, go out with my teammates, do stuff that I like to do and get back to my old self. I think the biggest thing for me is not isolating myself and feeling like I need something to do.

“That’s what led to me and just being by myself, take the mini bar out. I’m looking forward to it. I’m excited. I’m only 30 days out, but I feel like I’m putting this behind me and looking forward to this challenge and getting better.”

Sabathia went 2-1 with a 2.17 ERA in five starts after returning from the disabled list on September 9, crediting a new knee brace for his renewed confidence on the mound. He’s planning to wear the brace going forward, giving him the hope that he can still be a key contributor to the Yankees.

“Just knowing that I have the tools in place to keep me sober, I’m looking forward to getting back on the field and pitching well,” Sabathia said. “I’ll be 36 years old in July; I know I’m not going to be what I was when I was 28 or 29, but I can still help this team win.”

Sabathia has accepted what he was and is, and said he’s not worried about vicious taunts he could hear from opposing fans this year.

“I’ll be fine,” Sabathia said. “I’ve heard worse (stuff) before. It is what it is. They call me fat, call me an alcoholic; whatever. I am.”

Tags:
cc sabathia ,
new york yankees ,
mlb ,
alcohol abuse

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