Crazed stalker intensified footy star’s drug addiction
Jon Hay sat in a lonely hotel room with only himself and a packet of industrial-strength oxycodone.
Fifteen years after a flirtation with illicit drugs and valium had morphed into a "full blown drug addiction" the ex-AFL star wondered if this would be the end.
A comet who flamed out, the 2001 All Australian had quit a professional football career that promised stardom and riches then vanished with barely a trace from football's landscape.
Now out of the home he shared with wife Atisa and their two sons, the ex-Hawthorn star pondered if "this is going to be the quintessential person who dies in a hotel room".
"With the morphine or oxy tablet you get two trays of 14 and I was prescribed the highest dose you can get. These are for cancer patients and I remember taking a whole tray of 80 milligram doses," Hay told the Sunday Herald Sun this week, breaking his long-held silence about that addiction.
"That's well over 1000 milligrams of morphine, and I was in a hotel room and wasn't sure if I was going to wake up the next day or be in an ambulance. Somehow I woke up.
"I got on Google the next day and had a look at overdoses and there were stories about guys overdosing on 80-100 milligrams and dying. I had taken over 1000 milligrams of morphine. I had the tolerance of an elephant. I wasn't even getting high, I was just taking it to feel normal and that was scary. That was a really dark moment for me."
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Four years after that disturbing moment and nearly 20 years after his drug addiction started, Hay is finally ready to talk.
He is sitting in a back room of South Yarra's Cafe Republic ready to let it all hang out.
About how he got clean because of the love of his children, two boys he is ashamed to say he put in danger too many times because of his addiction.
About how mental illness can spiral into something much darker if triggered by the kind of shock events that saw him stalked for five years by a crazed Hawthorn fan.
About how he is ready to be a "better husband, a better father" and an ambassador for The Male Hug, a mental health awareness organisation giving him a new purpose in life.
And about the secret he kept from the public from 2001 until today.
"It has taken me a long time to admit I was a drug addict," Hay says.
"I was completely in denial. I was continually off my face and passing out and people knew. "You can tell by someone's eyes they are taking drugs and I denied it and denied it, and finally family and friends got around me and said, "You need to do something about this". I finally admitted I had a problem and it was the first step of coming out of this.
"There were times I put my kids lives in danger with my drug use and that was the moment I said, "I am done with this, I don't want to be one of those junkie dads."
"I didn't want to do that, so I am going to get myself right. For me my motivation was my children but I had to get myself right first".
"I was abusing drugs from my early 20s and have only just got my life back together in the last two years. I am coming up two years clean but I feel amazing. I feel like I am high on life now. They are experiences I have never had before."
This could be a story about how football failed Hay.
How Hay had unlimited access to valium and sleeping pills through a medical cabinet at Hawthorn.
How the AFL's illicit drugs policy allowed him to play through 2005 while regularly using ice and accruing two drug strikes.
How Hawthorn was allowed to trade him to North Melbourne for a first-round pick despite that background in a move doomed to backfire.
And how an AFL Players Association at that time ill-equipped to deal with his issues was unable to follow up or intervene when he left the system.
Instead it is about how he is taking control of his life and refusing to blame others for his downfall.
But Hay is determined to take ownership of his mistakes and
"I take responsibility for everything that has happened in my life. I don't pass the buck. I don't blame Hawthorn for anything, I don't blame North Melbourne for anything. If anything I apologise to both of them. Even though some of it was out of my control, I still take responsibility for what happened."
THE EARLY DAYS
Growing up with parents who divorced at six and a history of drug addiction in his family, Kalgoorlie-raised Hay arrived in Melbourne having suffered depression throughout his teens.
The No.36 draft selection in the 1996 national draft, the chiselled cheekbones and athletic gifts hid a lack of self-identity and self-worth.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder by 19 or 20, he was for a time well medicated and getting support from psychiatrist Pat McGorry, who later became Australian of the Year for his work in the youth mental health field.
To the public he was a star on the rise, with pin-up boy good looks and a reputation as a lightning fast full back with a growing list of full forward scalps.
But twin hurdles would combine to see his life spiral out of control.
In 2001 a Hawthorn fan living in his street came into his life as a confidante who later turned into a stalker, bombarding Hay with texts and calls and turning his life into a walking nightmare.
What started as a friendship turned into a five-year ordeal, as the detective assigned to help Hay admitted with few real stalking laws available he could not arrest his stalker.
Hay would wake at 4am aware the stalker was peeping through his windows or with a ring of his doorbell as his stalker had sent around anonymous men sourced from gay websites.
Then came an experiment with muscle relaxant valium which not only helped back and knee issues, it took him away from his daily troubles.
"In 2001 I had an operation on my knees and that's when my drug use really started," he says.
"Hawthorn had a cabinet in the doctor's room and it was full of valium and sleeping tablets and I could walk in there and it was never locked. I don't blame Hawthorn but I would go in and help myself to whatever I wanted. My drug use was daily.
"I would get through training and it would be like a reward to myself, I would get off my face with sleeping tablets and valium.
"That went on for a couple of years and then I went doctor shopping. I understood the lingo of what to say and I had the doctors fooled. And they were giving me what I wanted and that's when I got my hands on endone and morphine and more valium. It was getting out of control. On the weekends I would take recreational drugs. Cocaine and ecstasy but whatever I could get my hands on to change my mind so I didn't have to worry about my stalker, not performing from footy, taking me away from it.
"I definitely had drugs of choice but I would take anything to get off my face."
THE COMET FLAMES
An All Australian in only his fifth season of football, Hay was on the kind of upward football trajectory that would turn fellow defender Alex Rance into a five-time All Australian.
Instead his drug use, constant worries over a stalker that would not abate and weekend habits dulled that keen edge.
"My form in 2003-5 turned from terrible in 2002 to average," he says.
"I was never the same football but I would say I was an average footballer.
"In 2005 I got introduced to methamphetamine. I was out one night and a friend introduced me to it and that was it and for all of 2005 I was smoking methamphetamine and I was rocking up to training and recovery on Sundays off my face."
Of the few smart decisions Hay would make in that period, the decision to break that addiction late in 2005 stands out in his mind.
"You smoke it out of a pipe and I remember going outside and smashing my pipe. It was a symbolic moment for me because I didn't touch it again after that, I am not sure what it was, but it meant something. Something inside me said, "This is going to get really bad if you keep going with this and I don't know why I got addicted to morphine and valium and not meth."
THE MOVE TO NORTH MELBOURNE
As 2005 drew to a close Hay wanted a fresh start and clearly Hawthorn was desperate to ship him for maximum value.
By then he had two illicit drug strikes - a third would have seen him publicly outed and suspended - yet somehow North Melbourne handed over pick 18 (premiership ruckman Max Bailey) in exchange.
To this day a story on the Hawthorn website boasts about that trade being the club's fifth-most successful trade of all time.
Hay lasted only a year at the Roos, dropped early for a fumbly, error-ridden performance then walking away from two years and $700,000 the day before the pre-season competition of 2007.
"Hawthorn knew I had some drug issues and I don't blame Hawthorn for anything here," Hay says.
"I don't think they had the resources or were equipped to deal with that stuff. 2005 I got put up for trade and the drug use had a lot to do with that
"It was well known in footy I was taking drugs but people just thought I was a party boy, they didn't realise I was just trying to escape from my life. If this is what football was bringing, it wasn't worth it.
"I wouldn't say Hawthorn (exploited it). If I was Hawthorn I would have done the same thing. In the end the trade was something we all needed. Hawthorn knew I was going down hill and traded me.
"I wasn't in the right frame of mind to play footy at North Melbourne. I was trying to turn my career around but I just needed to get out. By that time the stalking had stopped but I was a full blown drug addict by then."
Hay would cry in his car for 20 minutes before training until finally summoning the reserves to walk into Arden St, even contemplating injuring himself so he wouldn't have to play.
"Eventually I had a meeting with North and told them I was out. I didn't want any money. I was aware of what I had done to them in the first place. I was aware people had lost their jobs because of me. And some of them had really fought to get me, recruiters and other football staff and I still feel bad for that."
THE POST-FOOTBALL DESCENT
If valium gave Hay a sense of relaxed calm, morphine gave him a happy high and "the sensation that nothing really matters".
Post-football, Hay turned to personal training for a decade and then two years of an exercise science degree before three more years of a medical imaging degree.
"That's when things got even worse because of my drug taking because I didn't have to go to training. I was doctor-shopping, getting morphine, oxycontin, endone, valium and I was a mess. I would like to think I was a functional addict but I wasn't," he says.
"There were so many times I would pass out at my computer, be off my face in lectures. It was just non-conducive to anything."
Atisa gave birth to sons Arun, now five, and Arlo, 3, and Hay was on track to continue the family cycle that saw him with no father figure.
Finally at rock bottom and after those scary moments involving his precious sons, he found himself at Delmont Private Hospital, a psychiatric and mental health facility.
One stint was for "psychiatric reasons", two for substance abuse, but finally he is clean.
"I started learning what my values were, what my vulnerabilities were, how to communicate better, how to take responsibility for my behaviours. You don't just go in for rehab, they teach you about yourself.
"As a drug addict you carry around a ton of shame about how you have hurt people. The damage has been done with my wife and we ended up separating, which is OK.
"I don't get to put my kids to bed and wake up with them in the morning but I am healthy and really happy. Every day through the tools I have learnt at Delmont I work on being a better man, a better person, a better father."
He practices mindfulness and meditation twice a day, centering himself instead of "fantasising too much about the terrible behaviour you have done in the past because it can destroy you".
When those drug urges threaten to overwhelm him, he "plays the tape" in his mind.
"So I would go and get drugs. I might be high for a couple of hours and then I am going to hate myself for what I did and then that's going to destroy me. So I play the tape out and it's a bad story and I am not going to do it."
Did his stalker simply trigger issues that would emerged anyway?
"I have wondered the same thing and I don't know. Drug-use can be genetic or environmental and I was pre-disposed to drugs anyway. Would I have been triggered by something else? I can't change it so it doesn't matter."
THE MALE HUG
Hay has in recent months signed on with the Male Hug, a non-for-profit organisation committed to raising awareness of men's mental health for professional males.
He hopes his story can be an inspiration that no matter how dire the circumstance, people can turn around their lives.
"I love what I have done. I love the person I have become through this process. I feel I like I have grown, like I am a better man.
"I want to help other men who might be going through the same things I have been through. "It's all about raising awareness and providing support for a safe space for men to chat to us. Part of my role is to tell my story and hopefully get other men to talk about their story. I am not ashamed of my story, it's just my story and it doesn't matter how big or little men think their problems are, if they are struggling they need to talk."
For more information about The Male Hug - https://themalehug.com.au/
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Originally published as Crazed stalker intensified ex-AFL star's drug addiction