Aubrey Huff hadn't reached rock bottom during a succession of losing seasons with the Rays and Orioles. He hadn't touched down through his drug addiction and divorce proceedings. There was only the clawing that hastens a man's descent.
It wasn't until Huff retreated to his closet again, dropped to his knees and put a gun to his head that he had truly gotten there.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter often punctuates an amusing anecdote by saying, "It will all be in the book one day." Huff, the former outfielder, first baseman and world-class jokester, is now an author who's going public with his pain.
Huff warned me that "Baseball Junkie: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of a World Series Champion" isn't "a Christian book by any means," though he later found religion. He says it with a laugh while revealing that more tears flowed as he revisited a period of his life that almost killed him.
The book, written with close friend Stephen Cassar, details how Huff first experimented and became hooked on Adderall while playing for the Orioles. How he drank heavily and tried to hide his depression and anxiety, leading a double life of sorts. How he learned coping skills that bring more relief than any medication.
Putting it all into words has been cathartic. It's also forced him back into a dark place as he attempts to enlighten his readers.
"I've got to be honest with you, even talking about this stuff now, it's hard to talk about because I'm baring my soul," Huff said. "As I wrote this book, it was like therapy for me. I can't tell you how many times I cried. It was unbelievable getting all this down on paper. Even talking about it. But I feel like it's important to let it all out, to talk about it, not be ashamed of it and acknowledge it. And the more you do, the easier it is and the more it goes away."
"I was diagnosed with full-on anxiety with the Giants in 2012. I basically jumped ship in New York in midseason at 3 a.m. I woke up in the hotel, went to the bathroom and felt like I was having a heart attack. Never felt this in my life. I had no clue what was going on. My mind starting freaking out. The only thing that came reasonable to me at the time was to pack my bags, so I went to JFK and got in a plane to Tampa, to go home and see my family.
"This entire flight, I'm freaking out. I didn't know it was a panic attack at the time. I didn't know what was going on with me. We started to land and I'm calming down, then I realized, 'What the hell just happened?' So I called my trainers and they sent me to a therapist and I was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder and put on Xanax the rest of the 2012 season."
The Giants won their second World Series in three years, both with Huff on the roster, but he spent most of his time on the bench after rejoining the club, appearing in only 52 games.
"We were celebrating a championship and I didn't give a (crap)," Huff said. "I didn't care. Walked away, retired right then and there. Anxiety had chased me into my retirement."
And straight into a horror that many of us cannot fathom.
"I struggled not only with the transition of baseball to retirement, but anxiety came with it and that led to full-blown depression," he said. "So I was suffering with daily panic attacks for a year and a half, two years straight, and I would cry myself to sleep at night."
Huff now lives in San Diego with his wife Baubi and their two sons. The marriage, like the man, was saved. But it was a long road and the distance almost ended his life.
"You've got to keep in mind here I've made $60-plus million in baseball, I've got a beautiful wife, two healthy and happy kids, won two World Series championships. I should be living the high life, right?" he said. "I retired at the age of 36. And I was miserable.
"In October 2014, I was having a panic attack around dinnertime. My wife was cooking, my kids are playing in the pool. I retreated to my closet, grabbed my .357 magnum, got on my knees, put my gun to my head and stared at myself in the full-length mirror, and I almost pulled the trigger. Right then and there, I don't know why or what happened, I got so pissed off. I was so close to doing it, man. I just thought life would be better without me here. Not only for my wife and kids, but I didn't want to feel this pain anymore.
"Just this little voice inside me told me to put the gun down. I put it down and right there in the closet I started praying. I prayed to God and from that moment on, I let Him back in my life. I was a kid from Texas. You believe in God, but you never really lived it. Day by day, the last two years, my life has gotten better and better and better and I've stopped living that selfish lifestyle I used to live."
A lifestyle that spun out of control during the 2009 season with the Orioles before they traded him to the Tigers in August. He signed as a free agent in 2007 and hit for the cycle against the Angels, and he won a Silver Slugger Award the following year. But that's not what he remembers.
"I barely drink anymore," he said. "I was hopped up ... In 2009, it really started when I was with the Orioles. I drank a lot in my career, which is what most athletes do, but I took my first Adderall pill with Baltimore. We were in Chicago for a day game and I had never felt so free, so loose and so invincible in my life. That day I got hooked on Adderall and I took it from 2009 to 2011, for three years playing baseball. And I was a train wreck, man.
"I was really good on the field and really bad off the field. I was a piece of (crap), actually. I almost lost my marriage, the whole deal. In 2011, my wife had to file for divorce. I decided to completely get off them in 2012. Drugs, alcohol, everything. She took me back and that's when I had my full-blown panic attack in New York City.
"I'm convinced getting off the Adderall and learning how to deal with life's pressures is what set me off, and I carried that into my retirement. I just now got to the point where my faith has really helped me out. I've spoken to a lot of people, not only the church groups, but kids around the area here about my story and how I was kind of glad I went through the anxiety and depression because it's turned me into the guy I am today. I'm no longer a douchebag. I like myself actually again."
Adderall is used for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and requires an exception from Major League Baseball. Huff didn't wait for it.
"I was a monster," Huff said. "It turned me into a younger version of myself. I just felt amazing. No aches, no pains. Mentally, I felt invincible. I was on top of my game. But the only way to come down from this drug was to drink yourself silly to pass out every night. I'd wake up and do it all again the next day.
"On the field, I was a great, funny teammate. Off the field, I was a complete (jerk) of a husband and a terrible father. This Adderall stuff is so easy to get and it can really ruin your life if you don't need it. I understand the need for it if you have ADHD legitimately, but I didn't. It was just something I took to make me feel good and the minute I got off it, I had to deal with the world's pressures, the game's pressures, and it was hard to really do that.
"Once you get on it, I don't think there's any turning back when you play. But the only way I could save my family and get my wife and kids back was to get off it. It was a slippery slope for me. I had to get off it and I'm glad I did now."
Huff first used Adderall without the exception, unafraid of a failed drug test.
"I had never had a slap on the wrist for a drug test," he said. "You know as well as I do that you get a warning the first time, so I figured what the hell. If I get popped, I get popped. You get a slap on the wrist. I took it and immediately after the game I went to get a TEU (therapeutic exception). It took about two weeks to get it and once I had it, it wasn't a question of if I could get it, it was how much I wanted. It was not hard at all.
"A lot of the book is how I got the anxiety and depression, and how now I've gotten myself ... I'm not going to say out of it because there are times where I feel the anxiety coming on, but I've learned the tools to deal with it and make it go away. It does not control my life anymore. That's what I want people to understand."
Huff views the Xanax as just another pill to mask his real issues.
"I was a kid growing up in Texas and my father was tragically murdered when I was 6 years old," Huff said. "My mom never got remarried, so I grew up without a father. I grew up with little to no confidence, kind of an introvert, if you will. I played sports, but I was very shy, never really had a girlfriend in high school, just a very awkward kid. I found through booze in college that it helped me break out of my shell, and I drank from college all the way throughout my big league career. There wasn't a moment that went by when I wasn't in the bottle. And in 2009, Adderall came around, so it was a perfect storm."
The anxiety and depression that followed again tested Baubi's resiliency, her commitment to their marriage and belief in her husband, but they remained together.
"I think God gave me the strongest woman," Huff said. "She's the only woman on this planet who could take what she's taken. Just some of the things I write about what I did to her is so wrong on so many levels. It's very hard for her to even relive. She's read what I wrote in the book and she's very hurt by a lot of things I've done to her. There's no doubt about that, but we're faithful followers of God.
"She's gone through hell and back with me and she's got one of the strongest hearts, most loving and forgiving hearts out there. I don't think there's a woman out there who would still be with me."
"Baseball Junkie" is now available through an early limited-edition promotion via the Kickstarter campaign. It will be released to the general public through DreamGrinder Press in February 2017.
"We wrote it in the way where it's the kind of language that I would use," Huff said. "By no means are we trying to sound smart in this book. The way I speak, it's got some cursing in it, but it's a very transparent, open read.
"I think it's the story of a guy who has everything, right, but material wealth and success in this world will never buy you happiness. I had to find that out the hard way.
"There's stories in this book where you laugh. I'm very transparent. I talk about my rally-thong in 2010 with the Giants, I talk about walking around naked in front of reporters. It's very transparent. This isn't a Christian book by any means, but there is an element of faith in the end and I believe it's seriously helped me in my transition. It saved my life, to be quite honest with you.
"This isn't just a baseball book, this is a book mainly about everyday life that people go through. Not just in sports and athletes in general, but millions and millions of people in the world today. The stuff we strive for - the success, the money, the fame, all of it - I'm living proof that none of it means (crap). It's not going to bring you happiness if you don't have the right things in front of you."