Friday, November 02, 2012

Ben Cousins

Recently I read Ben Cousins: My Life Story.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but I sure couldn't put it down.

It is much, much better than the documentary.  It goes into a lot more detail for a start.

If you're a footy fan, it would be hard to approach this book without any sort of bias.  Most people have already formed an opinion on Cousins and if they already think he's a loser, the book probably won't change their minds.  As an Eagles' supporter, I came to it expecting to be quite saddened by what it revealed.  I couldn't help but reflect on all the years his performances brought me such joy, and it is kind of heartbreaking to read the details of what became of him.  Like many photos, I found it hard to look at the photos he includes in the book.  It is hard to believe the cheeky-looking 18-year-old who won the Rising Star award in 1996 went on to live a double life.

It is a fascinating look into how the mind of one addict works.  He is certainly an interesting character.  Organised, driven, and dedicated, he explains how he managed to live two lives for so long.  He would train harder than anyone during the week, put 110% into his matches so he wouldn't let his teammates down, then reward himself with a 'bender' which he timed specifically to avoid the drug testing.   After he'd come down, he'd start the cycle all over again. (Be warned: he goes into very specific detail about his drug-taking.)

I had kind of expected the book to be a sweeping overview of events, rather than a detailed account of this thoughts and feelings.  There I was very, very wrong.  I was surprised about how honest he is about himself, his flaws, his insecurities, and his feelings.  I would have been too embarrassed to put that sort of stuff in a book.

Some people I know who have read the book have criticised him for not revealing who his dealers are, or for painting certain shady figures (i.e. John Kizon) in too positive a light.  To be honest, I can't blame him for not putting that information out there.  His life certainly wouldn't be worth living if he did, although I can understand why people would want him to.  Cousins says he has always taken people as he finds them and doesn't worry about their reputation.   He has a 'I know they're supposed to be dodgy, but they've always been kind to me' attitude.  In fact, he even credits Kizon with trying to get him off crystal meth when he became addicted to it in 2006/07 (what led to him no longer being able to 'control' his addiction).

This is not a book I could come away from thinking I either like or I don't like Ben Cousins.  He does many, many stupid things in the book.  I couldn't help thinking that if I was his girlfriend, I would have left him a long time ago.  But then I thought about how I'd react if Duncan had a drug problem, and I'm really not sure.

But there are a couple of things about him that made me respect him as a person.  Firstly, he never blames anyone else for his addiction.  In a time when people refuse to take responsibility for their actions, he never casts the blame onto his family and upbringing, his football clubs...anyone.  He especially praises his dad who, as his confidante and best mate, has stuck with him, yet always made him face consequences for his actions while growing up.  Even though he was diagnosed with ADHD while in rehab in the US, he never uses it as an excuse for his drug-taking.  He labels himself as a 'self-confessed ratbag'.

Secondly, he showed great respect for the faith of his Christian teammate, Mark Seaby.  It was a tradition at the Eagles for new guys to the club to get up in front of their teammates and say a bit about themselves.  The team would then ask personal questions such as, What's your best sexual experience? and When was the first time you had sex?  When Mark Seaby admitted to being a virgin and Troy Wilson made a wisecrack about it, Cousins describes how Michael Gardiner (another ratbag at the club) went in to bat for Seaby:
But Troy Wilson made a smart-arse comment, something really ordinary.  And then Mickey Gardiner did one of the things that I loved him for.  In his time in Perth, Gardy would manage to upset everyone in the city about three times each.  But he would not tolerate teasing.  He grabbed Wilson by the scruff of his neck and said, "Pull your head in or I'll give you a slap."
I remember leaving the meeting full of new respect for both Gardy and Seaby.  And I was ashamed that I wasn't the one who stood up and grabbed Wilson like that.  I went up to Seaby and said, "For what it's worth, I have a lot of admiration for what you did, because I know myself that if I was in that situation I wouldn't have the balls, or the courage, or the dash, to stand up and say I haven't had sex.  Mate, I admire that.  You have a rare quality that virtually none of us do, and I hope you're proud of it."
A football club is a tough place to be different.  They've improved a bit since then, but the mentality is still there.  It never sat well with me that a bloke couldn't feel safe standing up and saying who he was.....And what Seaby said made me think back to how I'd been in such a hurry to do things only because I'd felt inadequate.  When I saw his sturdiness of character, I regretted my own rush as an adolescent... (pages 135-36)

I liked the way the book was written.  Authorship is credited to Cousins and Malcolm Knox.  It is written very much as if he were speaking to you, telling his story.  The 'voice' is very Aussie male.  There is a fair bit of swearing (be warned) in the book but that's because it's written much the way many young Aussie blokes speak.  It felt like we were sitting down somewhere and he was having a yarn to me about his life.

I came away from reading this book feeling even more sceptical about the media.  I also felt sad because I was reading the book in hindsight.  It was published in 2010 and gives you some hope that he was on the right track.  Earlier this year he was arrested for drug possession, and now has a young son to consider.  Knowing this made me realise his battles are far from over, and it cast a different light on the book.

I couldn't say I 'enjoyed' the book because it is a sad story, but it's definitely worth a read if you're an Eagles or Richmond fan.  Even if you don't like Cousins, it's still an interesting story.


Mark Edwards said...

that is an excellent review Sarah, and makes me want to read the book. As a Dockers man, I think this book would be interesting purely from a football point of view.

But perhaps more as a study of human behaviour, the Ben Cousins story has a lot to say to all of us.

Sarah said...

Cheers Mark. :) It's always encouraging to know that a book review you've done has led to someone wanting to read the book.

It is worthwhile reading if you're interested in psychology. Even his counsellors said they'd never met anyone like him.