WELLESLEY, Mass. | Erik Ainge glances at his wrists whenever he needs a quick pick-me-up during recovery from his painful past.
Tattooed in black ink on the inside of the New York Jets backup quarterback’s left wrist are a series of comforting letters: O.D.A.T., T.T.S.P. and J.F.T.
“The first is ‘One Day At A Time,’” Ainge explained while sticking out his left hand. “The others are ‘This Too Shall Pass’ and ‘Just For Today.’”
Ainge then showed his right wrist, which has “Romans 3:23” on it - “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” - along with the date 4-1-2009, the first time Ainge tried to beat the addictions that nearly killed him.
“They’re all true,” he said of the tattoos, “and they help me.”
Ainge has been on a tumultuous journey - marked by years of drug and alcohol abuse - that has taken him from high school star in Oregon to big man on campus at the University of Tennessee and all the way to the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick.
But now, he’s here: A recovering drug addict with bipolar disorder and a surgically repaired foot, trying to rebuild his once-shattered life under the roof of his famous uncle, Danny Ainge.
“I’m learning how to be a new person,” said Ainge, who recently met with The Associated Press for a day-long interview in the Boston area. “People who only knew me as the old Erik would be like, ‘Who is this person?’”
The 24-year-old Ainge told the world exactly who he is in a candid first-person account last week for ESPNNewYork.com, opening the nearly 2,000-word piece with the sentence:
“I’m a drug addict.”
Ainge spent last season on the Jets‘ reserve/did not report list while rehabbing his foot. That came two years after being suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league’s policy on steroids and related substances. Ainge detailed his struggle with drugs and alcohol since he was 12. He said he overdosed “several” times and abused prescription medications, cocaine, heroin, marijuana and alcohol. He also revealed he’s dealing with rapid cycling bipolar disorder.
“The first reason I did it was for me,” said Ainge, who has been sober for nearly nine months. “It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders to get everything out there. I also wanted to help people.”
Ainge gets up at 6:15 each morning, jumps into his burgundy 1999 Yukon Denali - the one he’s had since college with nearly 139,000 miles on it - and picks up his sponsor for their 7 a.m. Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
Every day, without fail.
“He’s just displayed a willingness to do what it takes to change the person he was, which is huge,” said Ainge’s sponsor, Jay Punch, a 33-year-old resident of Natick. “It doesn’t matter who you are. This disease wants you dead.