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Why brain damage forced James Graham to write letters to his children; NRL great reveals alcohol fight

NRL great James Graham wrote letter to his children ‘to explain who I was’ after brain injury from footy left him a shell of his former self – as he comes clean about his bout with the bottle

  • James Graham wrote a letter to his children in case he succumbed to dementia
  • NRL great admits to struggling with alcoholism after retiring from footy
  • Graham now takes medication – including medical cannabis for anxiety

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Former football tough James Graham has opened up about his battle with grog and the letter he wrote to his children, whose brain damage from 100 concussions he suffered on the field left him a shadow of his former self.

The former England international played 187 NRL games during an eight-year spell with Canterbury and St George Illawarra, establishing a reputation as one of the toughest props in the competition.

When he retired aged 34 in 2020, Graham had played a combined 423 games in Super League and the NRL.

He believes the more than 18,000 collisions he had while playing have left him “confronting” mental health issues that have had a major impact on his personal life.

James Graham (pictured during the 2014 NRL Grand Final) has opened up about his mental issues as a result of repeated head trauma during his playing career

James Graham (pictured during the 2014 NRL Grand Final) has opened up about his mental issues as a result of repeated head trauma during his playing career

Graham (pictured with his family) says he wrote a letter to his children in case he succumbed to dementia and was unable to communicate with them

Graham (pictured with his family) says he wrote a letter to his children in case he succumbed to dementia and was unable to communicate with them

Graham (pictured with his family) says he wrote a letter to his children in case he succumbed to dementia and was unable to communicate with them

“In the fall of 2015, I wrote a letter to my children to explain who I was if I ever had a cognitive impairment or succumbed to dementia,” he shared. The Australian.

‘I was worried about who I might become.’

Graham says he has now realized he wasn’t feeling well while playing football and that he needed help – and he now feels lucky to have come through a very dark period in his life.

‘I had a slight headache. I was now quite worried about the repeated collisions – and I was consumed with thoughts of protecting my head,’ he explained.

‘I actively avoided situations I once loved on the pitch. I sometimes tried to avoid the big moments of collision.

The NRL great (pictured with wife Taryn at the Dally M Awards) admits he is struggling with alcoholism after retirement.  His struggle with the bottle was particularly tough during lockdown

The NRL great (pictured with wife Taryn at the Dally M Awards) admits he is struggling with alcoholism after retirement.  His struggle with the bottle was particularly tough during lockdown

The NRL great (pictured with wife Taryn at the Dally M Awards) admits he is struggling with alcoholism after retirement. His struggle with the bottle was particularly tough during lockdown

‘Even off the pitch I started to protect my head. So much so that I was really careful to open, for example, a kitchen cupboard, and not get my head in the way.’

When Graham closed the door on his highly decorated career, he didn’t close the door on all the demons that plagued him – and the Covid pandemic made things worse.

“My head has gone into some very dark places,” he admitted.

‘The 2021 lockdown, my first year without footwear, triggered huge anxiety and depression. I felt like my mental health was exposed without the cloak of footwear.

‘I drank too much to quell all the emotions that have come over me, many times just to get away from my whirling mind.

Graham sought help for anxiety and says he now feels like a new person.  He takes anti-depressants, medical cannabis, and sees a therapist regularly

Graham sought help for anxiety and says he now feels like a new person.  He takes anti-depressants, medical cannabis, and sees a therapist regularly

Graham sought help for anxiety and says he now feels like a new person. He takes anti-depressants, medical cannabis, and sees a therapist regularly

Graham found his impulse to drink so difficult to control that he resorted to taking a drug that makes the user feel physically ill if they have alcohol.

When things got too dark, he reached out to Dr. Steffan Eriksson at St George Dragons, who agreed to meet with him the next day.

After less than a week, he was prescribed anti-depressants and Graham says he feels like a new person now. He also regularly sees a therapist and uses medical cannabis to help with his sleep patterns and anxiety.

Graham fears he may have developed CTE - a neurodegenerative disease linked to repetitive head trauma - as a result of over 100 concussions sustained during his playing days

Graham fears he may have developed CTE - a neurodegenerative disease linked to repetitive head trauma - as a result of over 100 concussions sustained during his playing days

Graham fears he may have developed CTE – a neurodegenerative disease linked to repetitive head trauma – as a result of over 100 concussions sustained during his playing days

However, he still wonders why he feels the way he does.

‘All these symptoms; insomnia, mood swings, irritability, alcohol abuse … and my concerns about short-term memory loss,” Graham said.

‘Is concussion to blame? Or was I just receptive anyway?’