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Former Monster Using Past to Light the Way for Those Caught in Darkness

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Over the years Jake Newton has become an advocate for Mental Health awareness. I emailed and video chatted him to discuss how he’s spreading awareness and why he finds it important to keep the conversation going.

Photo Credit: Jake Newton/Instagram

Jake Newton is a 6’3” defenceman from San Jacinto, California who currently plays professional hockey in Europe. During the 2011-12 season, Newton played 31 games for the Lake Erie Monsters (now Cleveland Monsters). Normally, this is where I would throw in stats and fun facts about his time with the Monsters and the teams he’s been with since playing in Cleveland. However, the teams don’t matter nearly as much as the story of why his hockey career didn’t go as initially planned.

In a guest post last year on Nicole Sorce’s blog, Newton explained just what he had gone through in the earlier stages of his life.

“So, all of the events I don’t remember exactly. I do specifically remember that my cousin made me do things to him that no five-year-old should ever have to experience.” – Jake Newton in his blog post “I Chose Recovery”

Newton is much more than a hockey player. He is a son, brother, father, mental health advocate, and a sexual abuse survivor.

According to the National Sexual Abuse Resource Center, one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old and only 12% of child sexual abuse is ever reported to authorities.

Let that stat marinate for a moment. That means among all victims of child sexual abuse, 88% are not talking about what has happened to them. If they are not talking about it, then they likely are not doing anything about it. In turn, the lack of conversation is probably stunting mental growth in children and adults.

For Newton, this unreported act of sexual abuse sent him down a path of acting out, drinking, and doing drugs at a young age. This ultimately affected his hockey career.

The lucky ones have a moment of clarity right before or when they hit rock bottom. When they realize a change needs to be made. For Newton this moment came while playing for the Allen Americans of the Central Hockey League. It was during his stint there he cheated on his now ex-wife.

“To see the effect that had on her woke me up a little. It made me look at myself and the fact that I was able to cause another person so much pain.”

He was now faced with two different paths he could take in life.

“I had to choose between continuing my self destruction and the destruction of people very close to me. Or the path of recovery and getting at the root of the cause for the decisions I had made in my life up to that point.”

Newton chose the path towards recovery.

During the summer of 2012, Newton and his now ex-wife moved in with her parents and began therapy. Newton and his ex had been to a therapist the season before while playing for the Syracuse Crunch. As good as the time spent with that therapist was it wasn’t what Newton needed. Mostly because he was not in a mental place where he could tear off his mask and kick down the wall which was preventing him from fighting those inner demons.

This time the therapy was more aggressive and intensive. They really dug to get at the root of his problems. In doing so, he unearthed how mentally low he had become over time.

“A lot of crying happened that summer and I view it as the hardest summer of my life. The stuff I went through as a child was decoy rooted in my mind and I never thought about it, nor did I even remember it. Until therapy started.”

Ultimately, it was a bad decision which helped him realize the stressor behind his reckless past. Had Newton not cheated - causing him to make a conscientious change for the better - he may never have dealt with his traumatic childhood. It’s likely the history of sexual abuse would have stayed buried until the most inopportune time- or would have remained buried forever.

The discovery of his past led Newton to contemplate something which is lacking not only in the realm of sports but also the world. The discussion and openness of one’s mental health on a daily basis. Often times mental health is shoved into a closet. It has joined politics, religions, and money as one of the things you don’t dare talk about at the dinner table. Newton has begun to make it his mission in life to shed light upon all the aspects in life which makes us human. This includes pain and suffering as well as happiness.

Newton has been doing this in a variety of different ways over the past few years.

The change with how people perceive mental health begins at an individual level. It all starts with a genuine conversation. Even with people you don’t know. So, while Newton is playing in Europe, he plans on keeping the conversation about mental health awareness going simply by conversing with others.

“At some point while I am here, I will have a conversation with someone. I have something about me, a realness about me, that makes people feel comfortable sharing their stories with me. Telling me things that maybe they have never told anyone else. That in itself, is so powerful and healing. I love connecting with people at the human level, the mental level. So, I will just say consistent in my approach and know that I am helping many people. “

A year ago, Newton began to bring the mental health conversation into the realm of Instagram.

“I only have one form of social media and that’s Instagram. I use that as a platform to help spread awareness, not only for mental health. But for the ability that we all, as a society, have to take back control of our lives. That the external stuff in this world, present as it is, doesn’t have such a significant impact on our mental state.”

On Instagram, Newton posts quotes and videos which help people change their mindset and take ownership of their problems. A lot of his posts focus on getting at the root of what is bothering you. As well as, recognizing how someone treats you is not a direct reflection of who you are as a person. That they may be struggling with something much deeper than anyone knows. Even the person you are dealing with may not know they are being so deeply affected by something in their past. However, what I have learned from Newton is how you choose to react to the situation reflects where you are at both spiritually and mentally. Those are the kind of things Newton talks about on a daily basis on Instagram. The little things he says or does via Instagram tend to be the things which help bring about the change In others. As well as, keep the conversation about Mental Health going by explaining to his followers the joy of having open, honest, and genuine conversations with not only others but with yourself.

Most importantly, he keeps his direct messages open, When Newton says he’s interested in keeping the conversation going it is said in the most literal sense possible. In this case, Newton talks the talk and walks the walk. His actions are equally as loud, if not louder, than his words.

Recently, Newton has paired up with Matt Korthius from Hockey Pro Training to create a Mental Health training program. They collaborated on a six week step-by-step course titled “Mindset and Mental Toughness for Hockey Players”. Their goal is to help young kids achieve their goals and dreams by being honest with themselves about their strengths and weaknesses.

Why the focus on hockey? Well for starters, Newton has seen first hand how mental health can affect your play.

“I understand that inside the locker room area, you want everything to be as professional and businesslike as possible. But imagine if mental health weren’t an issue. Players and coaches were all mentally sound and healthy. How much easier would it be for a player to approach the coach and say anything at all. I know from experience that taking the step to actually talk to the coach can be quite nerve racking.”

Hockey is a rather aggressive sport and often players want to be looked at as “manly”. An unfortunate number of people believe being “manly” means to lay hard hits and keep your feelings to yourself. Unless of course, those feelings involve bashing someone’s face into the ice or celebrating a monumental goal. However, if a person only deals with one type of feeling, the more likely they are to explode or even go into a deep depression. Eventually, they will begin to lose their passion for the game they’ve loved since the moment they could smell fresh cut ice.

“Professional sports are more mental than physical. Most players don’t even know where to begin when it come to the mental game. That in itself is tragic.”

The tragedy of not knowing how to craft your mental game is why the conversations between coaches and players shouldn’t stop at on-ice play. It must extend to life. Imagine how the scape of professional sports would change if athletes could freely talk to teammates and coaches about the off-ice events which invariably effect on-ice play.