For Brennan Ward, physically detoxing from opiates wasn’t the hardest part of getting clean. It was the battle with his mind.
In the midst of addiction, an invitation to play from his daughter started an inner-monologue that often ended with a pill. Rehab wasn’t the solution, at least then. Nothing seemed to break the hold of the drugs.
“A lot of guys, you run out of dope or money, ‘Let’s go to detox,’” Ward said on The MMA Hour. “They call that doing a ‘spin dry.’ It’s the months after, the year after, where those chemicals in your brain are not back yet. You’re depressed, you’re anxious. I used to think I would have no energy to do anything without it.
“Your brain is telling you that you need it. ‘Get some, get some, you’ll be good.’ And so many times, I did. I would be so high playing with my daughter.”
Ward missed his daughter’s first birthday because he was in rehab, one of an estimated five trips to supervised recovery. He still pulled 12-hour shifts as a union welder, a natural fit to his blue-collar upbringing in Waterford, Conn. And he fought in the cage, carving out a few sparring sessions here and there to get ready. That was when promoters could get ahold of him. He estimates he went through 30 burner phones during his time with drugs.
Ward wanted to fight again and be a champion. He just couldn’t win the argument in his head.
“It takes time, so much time to come back,” he said.
Ward, 34, will not declare himself out of his fight with addiction, even as he soaks in the reward of his second comeback win, a second-round stoppage of Sabah Homasi in the CBS-televised opener of Bellator 290. The only difference now is that he’s sober, he’s present, and his energy is back as he sits on a park bench, his wife and daughter steps away.
In December 2021, almost four years after a submission loss to Fernando Gonzalez left him 1-3 in the Bellator cage, Ward got clear enough to another shot at fulfilling his fighting dreams. He first auditioned himself in the gym.
“If I don’t think I still have it, if I think that I’m losing a step, if I think that I can’t compete with these top guys, I’m not going for it,” he said. “I don’t need to. I love my job that I have. I make a great living for my family. But I can do it.”
Ward took a grappling match with a local promoter, and Bellator saw it. The promotion still wanted him, 10 years after picking up a green, kamikaze brawler looking to make money on the side in college.
One year after stepping back in the Bellator cage, Ward has won three straight fights, all by finish. He is still allergic to judges and cuts highlight reels wherever he goes.
Now, Ward advises others on how to beat the downward spiral of addiction. He answers questions, Instagram DMs, anything from people wanting to know how they can beat their toughest opponent. His answer is always somewhat the same.
“It gets better,” he said. “I promise you it gets better. - I make sure to tell them, ‘I hated it when people said that to me. I hated that. Like, easy for you to say, dude.’ But it does get better. Your brain is telling you it’s not getting better.”
Ward doesn’t mind if he fields questions from reporters and curious fans about his troubles. They’re a part of his history, and they remind him of how far he’s come.
For anyone who might be struggling, Ward advises them to send a DM to him any time. He might not get back right away – his phone lit up after his network TV debut – but he’ll get back.
“This is always going to be a part of who I am,” he said. “This helps to define a lot of things about me. And I want to be a beacon of hope for people who felt that disparity that I felt. So I always want to be accessible to people. ... I also know I’m a good enough fighter that people can also go, ‘And he f**** people up.’”