Here is a story about Ryan. He tried everything - religion, sports, hobbies, moving, school, work, self-control, white-knuckling, relationships, sober living, detox and treatment - to get sober. No matter what he tried to change around him, nothing worked until he learned to change within himself.
Ryan was born and raised in Dallas, Texas where his father is a successful real estate attorney and his mother is a retired college professor. He went to private school, lived in a beautiful house on the lake, and was exposed to having faith in God at an early age. Ryan recalls being a happy child and can only remember being bothered by having to take ADD medication after a diagnosis in the fourth grade. Ryan had a large circle of friends, was passionate about cars and racing, and was an avid baseball player. Always a straight-A student, Ryan did not have his first beer until he was 16. In his junior year of high school, he started hanging out with older kids and drinking. He remembers ‘drinking to get drunk’ and weekend parties with blackouts, but always managed to keep his drinking from his parents. Ryan was recruited to play ball for the University of Kansas but ended up quitting sports during his senior year and decided to attend Texas A&M University. The summer before college was spent drinking, smoking weed, boating on the lake and spending time with girls.
This was the time that Ryan tried pot for the first time and recalls ‘loving the feeling of calm he never felt before in his life’.
Away from home for the first time, Ryan lived in the college dorms and continued to drink, smoke and soon experimented with LSD, mushrooms and cocaine. Ryan had blackouts and one major incident with the campus police when we was really high. Ryan says that he rarely went to class and dropped out after one semester. He soon moved back home to live with his parents and enrolled in community college. Things were ‘okay’ and Ryan managed to stay clean for a few months as his parents required him to be tested to ensure he stayed clean. This period was short lived as Ryan started smoking synthetic marijuana, which is much stronger than regular marijuana and at that time, it did not show up on drug tests. During this time, synthetic drugs were a dangerous epidemic affecting the entire Dallas area. The stories in the news scared Ryan, so he switched back to drinking and smoking regular marijuana. Around this time, Ryan was in a serious relationship with a very codependent female. She expressed concern over his drug use, but never insisted that he stop.
The cycle of switching from regular marijuana to synthetics continued and Ryan said he never had any thoughts about quitting.
Various friends came into his life and they were not always the best influence on his using. After a possession charge, Ryan’s father confronted him and suggested a geographical change would help. A fresh start appealed to Ryan and he moved to a small ski resort town in Winter Park, Colorado. He bummed around for the winter season with a few jobs, and found his way to drinking at bars even though he was only 20 and underage. He could be described as ‘adequately functioning’ with daily drinking and blackouts, but managed to show up for work everyday. After the winter season, Ryan moved back to Texas to live at home, where he returned to his using cycle of smoking synthetics, all the while mentally convincing himself that “it must be okay since it is legal”. This is when his health started to take a serious decline with chest pains, chronic heartburn and excessive vomiting. With a weakened immune system, Ryan was taken to a doctor for extreme flu symptoms. Ryan remembers getting out of the car and telling his father for the first time, “I am an addict. I really need some help.” Ryan says this was his first moment of ‘clarity’ that he had a problem and was an addict. Ryan went to a 45 day program in West Texas.
While he felt better physically and gained some happiness, it felt like he was just going through the motions. He did not really accept the fact that staying sober meant complete abstinence. Ryan thought he “could learn how to control his drinking and drug use”.
As part of his discharge plan, Ryan was encouraged to move to Orange County, California to continue his aftercare treatment. He completed three months but was still not doing any of the suggested 12-step work for his recovery. Ryan soon moved to a sober living environment and he recalls it being a good summer while he was working and hanging out with sober friends. His ‘white-knuckle’ approach to sobriety soon led to a relapse on whippets that influenced a negative attitude that eventually got him kicked out of the sober living home.
Ryan soon returned to Texas and managed to get a job at a treatment center in West Texas after lying about having a year of sobriety. This job lasted a few short weeks and Ryan started drinking. Again, thinking that another geographical location change would be the solution, Ryan returned to the Dallas area where he continued with the never ending cycle of new jobs, new sober living homes and new relationships. Ryan managed to stay clean for a few months until a simple stop at a convenience store led him to buying a beer instead of his usual soda for the commute back home. This quickly transitioned to drinking high alcohol content beverages such as Four Lokos as the combination of alcohol and caffeine allowed Ryan to work many hours and drive the long distance to work everyday.
Eventually his father found out about his drinking and offered to send him back to treatment. Ryan remembers thinking that he needed a break and going back would be like a vacation. He completed 30 days of treatment, became involved with a female whom he met in rehab and moved yet again to another sober living home in Austin, Texas. While in sober living, he reconnected with his girlfriend and friends he met at his prior treatment center. Ryan stayed clean for a while, but ended up smoking marijuana and drinking, which eventually led to him smoking heroin for the first time.
Soon after, Ryan moved to El Paso with his girlfriend to care for her sick mother where he continued drinking and heavy drug use. Ryan remembers how quickly his health deteriorated so he tried to quit on his own. He experienced extreme detox symptoms including seizures and hallucinations that were so bad that he decided to return to his previous treatment center.
Feeling so ill and beaten down, Ryan decided to do things differently and got involved with the 12-step program during his stay at treatment.
After completing the in-patient program, Ryan moved to an extended care in Carbondale, Colorado. Even though he had a sponsor and was going to 12-step meetings, he was still doing it ‘his way’ by placing work above his recovery. Ryan continued his same cycle of moving, getting new jobs, relapsing and getting clean again for the next several years. Though his primary drugs of choice were alcohol, marijuana and psychedelics, it was during this time that Ryan started snorting meth – something he told himself that he would never do.
Ryan continued with his ‘self-controlled’ using (alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, meth and heroin) and returned to Texas A&M. After losing a close friend to a heroin overdose in March of 2018, Ryan stopped using heroin but was still drinking. He left school just a few credits shy of graduating to care for his mother whom underwent a heart transplant. After she was well, Ryan decided to return again to Costa Mesa, California for treatment. Ryan remembers that his phone was taken away so he had nothing to do except read the Big Book and this was the first time he ever read the basic text of Alcoholics Anonymous. Ryan stayed at this treatment center for about a month and decided to abruptly leave.
With no place to go, Ryan says that this was a pivotal point in his recovery. He was homeless in Orange County, eager to stay sober and actively praying for help.
Ryan walked to a church that he had attended in the past hoping to find someone to help him. When he got to the church, he spoke to a few guys. One of the men that he spoke with told Ryan that he worked at Coastline. He then asked Ryan if he was ready and willing to do anything that was required of him to stay clean.
Within a few hours, Ryan had a pre-admission call with a counselor and was admitted to the men’s treatment program at Coastline that afternoon. Ryan was willing to do anything to maintain sobriety at this point. For him, this included fully participating in the program, meeting with his therapist and case manager, following the rules at the house, getting a sponsor, going to meetings and working the 12 steps. For the first time in his life, Ryan was willing and honest to accept that he was an alcoholic and addict.
Today Ryan has been sober for over 8 months and this is the longest time in his life that he has been clean.
His higher power and recovery are his number one priority from the moment he wakes up to the time he goes to bed at night. Ryan focuses on maintaining spiritual growth and working an active 3rd step daily. He works with other addicts and alcoholics and sponsors men in the program. No longer just going through the motions, he gets his hand up in meetings and participates in his recovery everyday. It has been a long, long road for Ryan. He tried everything - religion, sports, hobbies, moving, school, work, self-control, white-knuckling and relationships to get sober, but no matter what he tried to change around him, he had to change within himself.