Mia St. John: Keep Getting Back Up

September is National Recovery Month, as well as Suicide Awareness Month. This week’s Addiction Talk guest, Mia St. John, a five-time World Boxing Champion, has lived through the exceptional loss of her son to suicide and her ex-husband (and best friend) to alcohol addiction. Mia returned to alcohol use to cope and drown her grief. She fought back to tell her story and help end the stigma and shame of mental illness and addiction.

Mia St. John’s Path to Addiction

Mia St. John’s path to addiction began early in her life. Her father struggled with alcohol addiction, and St. John had her first drink by the time she was ten.“I couldn’t understand what alcohol did for [my father] because he couldn’t give it up.” To try to put herself in her father’s shoes, she broke into the liquor cabinet and, as she said, “I took my first drink, and I just knew it. Everything about me was okay.”

St. John is a first-generation Mexican American, making her a frequent target for bullying and harassment at school. Alcohol helped St. John cope with the bullying. It helped her overcome her debilitating shyness, but it eventually progressed to the point where she was getting in fights, and, as she said, “alcohol makes you a mean person, and all of a sudden, you’re not fun to be with.”

A Mother’s Love and Rock Bottom

Mia St. John’s mother knew something was going on with her daughter. “She was tough as nails and would do anything to help her kids,” said St. John. Her mother’s vigilance was the first step on the road to recovery, though it didn’t stick at first. Her mother first introduced St. John to AA — though she wasn’t ready to stop drinking.

It took a near miss to make St. John take sobriety seriously. One night, she crashed her truck into a phone booth, and it was a wake-up call. The next day, she walked into her first AA meeting — and kept returning for the next 30 years.

Love, Family, and Being a Champion

At an AA meeting, Mia met the love of her life and future husband, Kristoff. “I went to a meeting, and it was one you see a lot of celebrities at,” said Mia. “I used to watch Charlie & Co regularly and was infatuated with [Kristoff].” She continued, “And I didn’t know how I was going to get his attention. I was so cocky back then, so I thought I’m just going to walk by him, and of course he’s going to hit on me…”

St. John credits her kids and boxing career with helping her maintain her sobriety, even when Kristoff relapsed. “I think having my kids helped a lot because there was one thing I always said to myself. I will never do what my father did to me. Never. And my kids will never see me drunk.” She added, “And then when I got my career, I would’ve done anything to be a champion. So I never even thought about touching alcohol.”

 From On Top of the World to Rock Bottom… Again

In 2014, after struggling for over a decade with depression and schizophrenia, St. John’s son, Julian, died by suicide. St. John was also hanging up her boxing gloves and struggling with the end of her career. “Retiring from boxing was like a death. It was very difficult for me,” she said. “… I didn’t handle it that well, and then, on top of it, my son dies. So all of a sudden, I’m suffering the loss of my career and then the loss of my son. I hung on as long as I could.”

Despite their divorce, Mia and Kristoff St. John were still very close. “He was my best friend,” said St. John. She even built her house next door to Kristoff’s so the children could go back and forth as they wanted. And it was Kristoff’s death in 2018 that proved to be her tipping point. “To lose my best friend, the man I grew up with, the love of my life, and on top of it, our son, it just became too much.”

A sip of her boyfriend’s margarita at dinner one night led to the next four years so deep in addiction that St. John began experiencing delirium tremens when she wasn’t drinking. “Four years of misery. I suffered the worst anxiety, the worst panic. And it just got worse and worse. I’m ashamed of what I became.”

When You Get Knocked Down, Keep Getting Up

St. John said her relapse taught her how fragile sobriety can be and that you must choose to live a life of recovery every day. “I have to stay on top of my mental health every day. I take my meds [for panic and anxiety disorders] every day. I go to AA meetings. I go to grief therapy,” she said. “For me, to stay sober every day is a miracle. It is a miracle! It is a gift!”

She may have retired from boxing, but Mia St. John is still fighting. “My fight is against alcoholism. My fight is against the stigma. It’s against the media making alcohol this… a fun thing to do. [Alcohol] kills more people every year than any other drug on the planet.” She hopes that in telling her story, more people will know there is no shame in getting help.

St. John hopes that more celebrities will come forward with their stories of addiction to help people know there’s no shame in getting help. “I’m a five-time World Boxing Champion, and I’m an alcoholic. So when I see people coming out and admitting that, I love that because it’s showing that you don’t have to hide anymore. It’s okay. It’s okay to get help. We don’t have to live in secrecy.”

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