Zac Guildford opens up about his addictions, mental health and rebuilding his life

Warning: This story discusses drug use, addiction and suicide.

A fall from grace can happen to anyone - just ask former All Black Zac Guildford.

He's risen, fallen, risen, then fallen even further, time and time again. It's been public and brutal.

Six months ago he hit rock bottom after he was convicted of fraud for stealing $41,000 from his grandfather and defrauding a mate of $60,000 to fund his gambling addiction.

Nobody expected he would fall from the heights of being a young and talented rugby player.

"I'm either going to end up in jail where I don't want to be, or dead, or I get my life together. And I thought well, I don't want to die yet, I don't want to end up in jail, and this is the only option left," Guildford told Newshub.

It's taken him 33 years to reach this point. He's been battling addictions, convictions and a very public fall from grace along the way - from getting naked and punching strangers in a bar in Rarotonga, to assaulting a woman in a taxi in Hamilton.

He's now broke and has been broken.

"It shows how powerful addiction is. It takes no prisoners, it takes everything off you, strips your value, your worth, everything you were before and leaves you standing naked by yourself. It's a pretty hard place to come back from," he said.

The former All Black star said he doesn't expect sympathy or pity. Rather, he said he just wants to tell his story in case anyone else out there is walking the same dark road and needs to know they're not alone.

Guildford is currently on home detention at his house in Christchurch.

"I am sober. The last time I touched alcohol was March 16, class A drugs a bit before that, so early March, and gambling I broke that off on April 17," he said.

Of his many addictions, it's the gambling that's been the most problematic and expensive for him - even worse than cocaine and methamphetamine.

He admits he once spent $25,000 on one bet alone and estimates he's lost "probably everything" he has earned throughout his life, amounting to "a couple of million".

Guildford grew up around gambling and from a young age it became his own daily habit - he'd bet on anything and everything.

"I didn't want anyone to know I was a gambler, the brokest All Black of all time, so I hid that pretty well," he said.

Then when his stellar rugby career stalled and the paychecks stopped rolling in, Guildford became desperate for money to feed his addiction.

First, he sold his Rugby World Cup gold medal for a couple of grand. Then he targeted his granddad, who he lived with and who'd become a father figure after his dad died suddenly 13 years ago in the grandstand, moments after Guildford scored two tries for the Junior All Blacks to win the World Cup.

"My dad wasn't here to tell me what to do. He was the voice within our family, so when he died that's when the handbrake came off and all my impulsiveness in. I was hurt and as they say, hurt people hurt people, and I was starting to hurt others," Guildford said.

Without consent, Guildford transferred a total of $41,000 from his granddad's account to his own and blew it all gambling.

"It was tough. It was definitely one of the hardest moments of my life. I didn't know what to do, I let my granddad down," he said.

Guildford was arrested - his family had called the police.

"At first I had a lot of hate. How could my granddad, how could my family do this to me? And then I stopped being the victim and put my hand up, I made a mistake here, I have to own my shit and I'm sorry."

But not before he tried to end his life.

"I knew the court was coming up and the country was going to know every single demon that I had. That was too much for me to handle. I'd had enough, a gutsful, couldn't see any way out," Guildford said.

Zac Guildford.
Zac Guildford. Photo credit: Newshub.

He spent three nights in hospital, but the drugs, drinking and gambling continued until March this year.

That's when he was convicted of two counts of fraud, one for stealing his granddad's money and the other for defrauding a mate of $60,000.

"As an addict and a gambler, my idea was that I would double the money, keep a little bit for myself, and give him back some interest. But it didn't work. I'm a pretty shit gambler," he said.

He was sentenced to nine months of home detention. He hit rock bottom face first.

Guildford said getting his home detention ankle monitor was a relief since it meant he wasn't going to jail, but he also knew it was a chance for him to "finally" get his life together. That meant facing up to his granddad and saying sorry.

"I couldn't talk, I was just crying. We were on the phone for about 15 minutes and said I will call you back when I get my shit together a bit more," Guildford said.

So he headed to Christchurch, moved in with reformed criminal and mental health advocate Jacob Skilling, and started working with the Broken Movement Trust, which aims to give the broken a break.

He's run for I am Hope, spoken at mental health events, and has confirmed to Newshub that he will coach and play for Woodend Rugby Club next year.

"Being in this good headspace now, where I'm putting my hand up instead of out, that allows me to not only give back to myself but also the community," Guildford said.

But his appointment has ruffled feathers - it's been reported that club committee members and a sponsor have resigned.

"That's hard. This country is ruthless. It's a tough place to get well," he said.

Guildford was recently diagnosed with ADHD. He said it's not an excuse but gives him a better understanding of his impulsive behaviour.

He said his dad would be "heavily disappointed" in what's happened to him, but also thinks he would respect the steps he's taking to become a better person.

He's determined to earn back trust and mana.

"I'm not here pleading with anyone for another chance, I'm not here for an ulterior motive - just to share my story, that's all I can do," Guildford said.

"If my story can hold me accountable and help someone else along the way, that's even better."

Guildford added the New Zealand Rugby Union did offer support, he said it just wasn't relatable to him.

Where to find help and support: