Gridiron to Guardian: Student Athlete Inspires Change at His Alma Mater

Let's Talk Addiction & Recovery Podcast
He looks off to distant scene, Ticino

Mike Heuerman's football career at the University of Notre Dame took a heavy toll on his body. He needed surgery to repair the labrum in his hip and the torn muscles in his lower abdomen. But, as is often the case, the prescription opioids introduced him to addiction. Now Mike is five years sober (and counting), and spreading the hope of recovery to college students at his alma mater. Hear how else he’s inspiring people in the full conversation with host William C. Moyers.

Be patient and believe in yourself and just know that there is another path that you can take.

Mike H.

0:00:13 William Moyers
Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, our podcast series produced and delivered to you by Hazelden Betty Ford. I'm your host, William C. Moyers, thank you for joining us today. Joining us for a story of hope, a story of healing, a story featuring Mike Hauerman, who stepped from the shadow of his own struggle with substances into the bright light of recovery and who stands up and speaks out today as a beacon of hope for others. Mike, welcome.

0:00:43 Mike H.
Thank you, William. It's absolutely a pleasure to be here. So thank you and thank everybody who makes this work. It's truly an honor to be back here with you and just a blessing all around to be still associated with Hazelden, which truly gave me my life back. So again, it's a blessing so thank you.

0:01:05 William Moyers
Well, you're welcome. I remember the first time I ever met you and how impressed I was. We were with the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. Jerome Adams. And you were there as one of our young advocates. And I was just very impressed, candidly, by your well how tall you are for one thing. [Mike laughs] And just your presence, your poise, and your conviction, your passion. Tell us a little bit about your story, Mike.

0:01:34 Mike H.
Well thank you, thank you very much, William. And thank you for saying that. And I greatly and vividly remember that day to this day. It was a wonderful day. And it was filled with a lot of hope and a lot of joy all around. But yeah, regarding me, I went to inpatient treatment almost coming up on five years ago at the Plymouth location. In other words, in a way, the right hand of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. And I actually drove myself from the University of Notre Dame to where I'm currently at right now. Just off campus. And I drove eight, roughly eight and a half hours overnight and then checked into treatment the next day. It kinda was my last whim to go get help and change my life, save my life. Because I knew I was not in a place of decency to move forward. So yeah, I was there in Minnesota for about a year and a half. I did everything that my counselors and everybody suggested. And I just truly to this day feel like I couldn't be well obviously more thankful, but I always wanna be involved in anything that I possibly can. Because I know there are a lot of people like myself out there that either are still actively struggling or have a loved one and truly just—I just know there's a lot of good that can be and that is being done. And it all centers around Hazelden. So, there's a special place in my heart for the Foundation and everybody within it.

0:03:24 William Moyers
Mike, you're at Notre Dame now you said, now you were a student there at the time that you drove yourself to help. What was the substance you were struggling with as a student athlete?

0:03:40 Mike H.
Yeah so I was a student athlete, I played football at Notre Dame. I had a number of hip surgeries, a number of core surgeries, and therefore I became heavily addicted to opiates and the painkillers I was just naturally prescribed. You know, that come with a lot of surgeries and what not and injuries. And it was kinda one of those things once my brain latched onto that was that disease took place, that it was it just slowly took over everything in my life. But yeah, so I was a student trying to finish my last semester when I actually drove to Minnesota. And I went to it from school, drove to Minnesota, I was supposed to just have a check-in with a counselor. It was a Friday morning at like 10 A.M. And I just laid it all on the line, you know, and kind of opened up and broke down. And thankfully, they were able to get me in. I called my parents like ten minutes later, after they told me they could get me in. And all of the above. And truly, it was a spiritual blessing right there.

0:04:42 William Moyers

0:04:44 Mike H.
But yeah, the moral of the story regarding that—I came back actually after roughly about a year and a half, two years sober, I came back to finish my last semester. So I graduated Class of 2020. The Athletics Department chose to honor my scholarship which was amazing. And I just couldn't be more blessed. And a similar thing with Hazelden where I just wanna be as involved with campus and our excuse me our youth and our student athletes that are still there, and college students that are there. As much as possible. So, but yeah, thank you for asking that.

0:05:22 William Moyers
Yeah. What are you doing exactly now?

0:05:28 Mike H.
So I work—I actually just recently took a position with so it actually it's a story for another day, but I took the position that puts me as the VP of Business Development for two different companies that are associated with the University. And both of them are centered around recovery and sobriety. Which is I think remarkable. And I could not be more excited about it. I was on a few meetings and business calls this morning. And yeah, so again, it's that same centered mentality of helping others and just trying to bring good to those and bring good and awareness to those that are, you know, that have been unfortunately by this disease.

0:06:11 William Moyers

0:06:18 Mike H.
So, yeah, thanks for asking.

0:06:19 William Moyers
Mike, how old were you when you sought treatment at Hazelden Betty Ford?

0:06:25 Mike H.
So I was 20—let's see I'm 27 now, so, yeah I was 22, yeah, I think I was 23 right on the dot.

0:06:37 William Moyers
Ah. Uh-huh. [nods]

0:06:38 Mike H.
And that's when I drove myself there. And but yeah, it—I don't know, the last few years of my life though single-handedly has been the best years of my life, hands down. It's the best decision I've ever made. I truly don't think—I truly do not think I would be alive today if it weren't for me finding Hazelden and me getting the help that you guys were able to provide. So, it—I get emotional thinking about it. [Moyers chuckles] 'Cause it's truly there's nothing really to this day that means just about as much as that does.

0:07:25 William Moyers
Mike, so what is your message to young people who are struggling with substances? I mean, it sounds to me like it's possible to find recovery early on and it's possible to have fun and have a fulfilling life without substances as a young person.

0:07:41 Mike H.
Absolutely, absolutely. And I think you hit the nail on the head there. But I guess my message would be kinda just be good to yourself. And recognize that and you know you do learn this and it's much more appreciated kinda in society. But you recognize that addiction is a disease. And that you know it just happens, you know. And it's obviously there's deep science down that path, but what I'm getting at is don't be afraid of one, the disease, don't be afraid of the word addiction or addict, and don't be afraid of rehab. You know? I see treatment as the rehab because I mean I got the treatment, I got the rehab, and I was you know terrified, and then a month in I wanted to stay for another two months! [Moyers smiles, chuckles] And then I went to the Center City location and I was there—supposed to be there for two weeks and stayed for three and a half weeks. And then I went back to St. Paul to do an outpatient at our St. Paul location. And then I was back to Center City again for another two and half weeks. Just 'cause, you know, I loved the environment, the growth and I think that's truly part of it. But yeah.

0:09:09 William Moyers
Mike, I'm intrigued by when we were prepping for this, you emphasized that you wanted to make sure that I did this interview and introduced you by your full name. Not Mike H., but by Mike Hauerman. Why is that?

0:09:25 Mike H.
Because I would say it's truly because it's who I am. And it doesn't matter—I want the world to associate my name with sobriety and with recovery. And that doesn't—it doesn't matter in other words whether I'm doing something here or I'm at the grocery store or on campus, I'm proud to have sobriety—

0:09:54 William Moyers

0:09:54 Mike H.
—And Hazelden and recovery with me and behind me. Regardless of where I am because it's at my core, it's at my identity. And therefore, I think it just—it adds to the whole—it adds to the whole bigger picture of being proud and being, you know, okay with who you are—

0:10:18 William Moyers
Yes. Yes. Yes.

0:10:18 Mike H.
—With what happened to you. Whether it's good or bad. And again, it goes back to kinda the message to just be good to yourself and appreciate kinda who you are and the growth that you, you know are able to do actively. And even through some of the darkest times.

0:10:39 William Moyers
So using your full name means it's easy for people to find you. As you walk the campus or as you walk the community, as you do the advocacy work that you do, what kind of requests, what do people ask you or say to you?

0:10:57 Mike H.
Well, surprisingly I've had a lot of people reach out that whether it's themselves personally that have experienced addiction or a loved one, I've had many people reach out in either, you know, face-to-face encounters or through social media and just share a little bit of a story about how they came across my story and what that kinda meant to see not like my story is all sorts of special but just to see that, you know, it's okay, you know? Like and that there's awareness there and outreach that brings, you know, again a normalcy to the whole addiction state of mind, if you would.

0:11:47 William Moyers

0:11:47 Mike H.
And so yeah, I think it's just—it's remarkable to be able to see some of those things and see—again, it's kind of an up and down thing, but yeah, unfortunately there are a lot of people out there. Almost everybody either themselves or a loved one or a friend has struggled. And to be able to connect with them and I guess in a way share some inspiration, show that there is a path forward and there is a way that they can change their lives. And get the help they need. It's, again, something I would consider as priceless.

0:12:27 William Moyers
Do you have tough moments? As a young man in recovery? And I assume that you self-disclose that you recover from opioids and that dynamic of craving in the mind must be a little tricky.

0:12:35 Mike H.
Yes. Yeah.

0:12:39 William Moyers
What's that like?

0:12:41 Mike H.
Absolutely. And that's a great, great question, William. And I appreciate you asking that. Because again, just like anybody and everybody, you know, we all have some days that, you know are better than others. But, I would say that again, it's so—my identity is rooted because I was able to redefine myself. I should say I was able to identify myself when I got clean. And therefore at the core of that is my sobriety. So, it doesn't matter if I'm walking past a bar or somebody, you know, it doesn't matter if something is in the wind and I smell something, the way I see it is it's gotta be something to where like—like the chair that's in the room over there, I can't let that chair dictate kinda how I am and my way of life and what I know is best for me. But yeah, so some days are better than others. But I just I don't know, I love myself, I love the life that I lead every single day. And truly I wouldn't trade that for anything in the world. Even when some days are easier than others, it's not substances or going to use that are on my mind, thankfully. It took a good amount of time to get there. But I would say yeah I'm very thankful to not have to, you know, struggle daily with thoughts to go use. As time goes on, those get a little bit you know less consistent. But again I'm proud of the person I am and I know that my brain with the disease does not respond well to mind-altering chemicals. So, you know, and that's okay with me. And you know, I live a very positive and happy life to where I thankfully do not need substances.

0:14:49 William Moyers

0:14:49 Mike H.
To, you know, get me through. Which is if you would back up five years, and if I could get myself there, I would say no way. [grins, shakes head] You know?

0:15:01 William Moyers
[chuckles] Yeah.

0:15:02 Mike H.
And it just—it's incredible. So.

0:15:06 William Moyers
Last question 'cause we've gotta go—

0:15:08 Mike H.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

0:15:09 William Moyers
But, to leave on the message of hope because yours is indeed a story of hope. What is your counsel, what is your key message, to somebody who might be tuning in today, certainly is tuning in today who is struggling?

0:15:26 Mike H.

0:15:26 William Moyers
And not certain what to do scared to take that first step. What's your message to them, Mike?

0:15:32 Mike H.
I would say yeah, I would say just, you know, breathe and again, be good to yourself. And recognize that you're not gonna come up with all the answers in one night. So, you know, be patient and believe in yourself and just know that there is another path that you can take. And again, don't be scared of some of the—some of the words that are 20, 25 years ago might have worried or scared people. For recovery it's truly as you mentioned it's about hope. And therefore so yeah I would say just trust yourself and trust that part of your brain that is telling you that you need help.

0:16:20 William Moyers

0:16:21 Mike H.
And use that as your lifeline. Just as I did. You know? I tried to tell myself—if I would have waited and driven to Hazelden on a Monday rather than that Friday, I was gonna like 'Oh I'll just drive Monday,' I would have talked myself out of it, something would distract me and I'd have been like, 'Oh I don't really need to go.' [Moyers nods] But yeah, trust that part of your brain and there's no shortage of content out there that you can educate yourself on. Pre- and post-treatment when it comes to recovery. And just like your book, I read your book when I was in treatment. [Moyers chuckles] So thank you, those are all incredible questions, William. And I thank you guys so much for having me here with you. And everybody who makes this work and the whole nine, so thank you.

0:17:16 William Moyers
Well, you're welcome but thank you! For making that first step five years ago and driving yourself on that Friday to the answer, to the solution. Also for standing up and speaking out and being a face and a voice with a first name and a last name. For the advocacy work that's so important and smashing that stigma and promoting a story of hope. Mike, thanks for joining us today.

0:17:42 Mike H.
Thank you. Thank you guys so much.

0:17:45 William Moyers
[to camera] And thanks to all of you for joining us for another edition of Let's Talk. On behalf of our Executive Producer, Lisa Stangl, and the crackerjack crew of Blue Moon Productions in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, I'm glad to be part of that team as well. And I'm glad that you all have joined us for another story of hope. We'll see ya again.

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