By Tim Ryan
November 1, 2012. Likely just another day for you, but for me it is when I was reborn.
For more than 25 years, I flirted with sobriety without grasping it. My road to recovery could be called “scenic,” if by scenic you mean losing a dozen jobs, spending extended time in the hospital and prison, missing birthdays and holidays with my wife and children, countless arrests, and years in virtual blackouts.
I want to share a few things I’ve learned during the last six years of active recovery, and these practices are ones that I plan to continue as long as I have air to breathe.
Start each day on your knees.
Before I entered recovery, I had morning rituals. After relieving myself in the bathroom, I’d place a lit cigarette in my mouth and cup of coffee in my hands within minutes of waking up. Then I might have a stiff drink to “take the edge off” before the day had a chance to develop an edge. Then I would do a line of coke or snort some heroin to kick me into gear.
Once I entered recovery, that changed. I now start each morning on my knees. I roll out of bed and immediately get on my knees to pray. I ask God to direct my path throughout the day, to use me as He sees fit. I ask Him to lead me to those needing help, and I ask Him for strength to accomplish what He’s called me to do. I thank Him for the life He’s given me—an opportunity to have a life that includes recovery, a beautiful wife, meaningful work, and wonderful children who mean the world to me.
Before recovery, there was a God, and His name was Tim Ryan. I started each day chasing my wants and needs. Throughout the day, I’d seek pleasure and feed my addiction. And I would end most days in various stages of exhaustion, spent from alcohol, drugs, and guilt.
Surround yourself with the right people.
When I was a competitive barefoot water skier, I surrounded myself with other competitive barefoot water skiers. Why? The best strive to learn from the best.
When I entered recovery, I surrounded myself with someone who was 100 percent into recovery. His name was Big Perk. He was a former Chicago gang leader and big as a house. Big Perk made it easy for me to follow the straight and narrow, even when my commitment to recovery waned. That’s because Big Perk wouldn’t let me into the cell we shared in prison unless I, too, was 100 percent into recovery. I’m so grateful for Big Perk’s friendship and guidance during my earliest days of recovery. Without him, I may have been tempted to stray.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.” Who are your closest friends? If you spend time with people who aren’t serious about recovery, your own commitment may waiver until you are strong in long-term recovery. If you hang out with people who are still using, don’t kid yourself into thinking that you can resist temptation. Heck, before I grasped recovery, I did some service work by helping a guy move. When I got to his house, his brother was doing heroin and offered me some. Remember, I was there to do good work—service work! What did I end up doing? Heroin!
Surround yourself with people as strong or stronger than you.
Once you’ve had a spiritual awakening and have some maturity in your recovery, you’ll be strong enough to spend time with people in need without their addiction tempting you to slide. The gift of recovery is free, and we can freely give it to others when we stay strong.
Set goals that depend on your ongoing recovery.
I enjoy water skiing, and I’d love to live on a house by a lake. I’d love a nice car, the license to drive that car, healthy kids, and a good job that provides great income. And I wouldn’t mind having the time to pick up hobbies and follow sports like other people.
The truth is, I had all those things at one time. In addiction, I pissed them away.
But today I invest in things that can’t be lost to fire, thieves, or a bad economy. I set goals that I can only achieve in recovery.
Today, my top goals are to be a good husband and loving father and help those lost in addiction find recovery. I want to make sure that another parent doesn’t have to bury their child. I want to spread the message of Hope and Recovery to as many people for as long as I have strength to do so.
I can’t do that if I slip back into addiction.
My first wife divorced me when I was in prison, and I don’t blame her. I would have divorced me, too. Just because I’m in recovery doesn’t mean I get a do-over with my ex-wife, Shannon. But I can be a good husband to my wife, Kirsten, thanks to recovery.
I lost my son, Nick, to his own drug addiction. Nick watches over me today, but I will never again have a father/son conversation with him. I will never see him marry, have children, or live his best life. Just because I’m clean and sober doesn’t mean I get Nick back. But I can finally be the kind of father I should have been to my other children if I stay in recovery.
What goals do you have that can be achieved only if you stay in active recovery? Think about that. Write them down. Share them with others. And live like you aim to accomplish them.
Keep your eyes on the promises.
It doesn’t matter if you have earned fifty 24-hour chips or have reached 50 plus years of continuous recovery. Recovery is a journey. It has a beginning, but it doesn’t have to have an end.
Regardless if you have just entered recovery, or you’ve been attending and running meetings for half a century, the path requires hard work. Recovery forces you to confront your demons head on and doesn’t come with a guarantee of pain-free living.
But that journey comes with sweet promises, like freedom and happiness, gaining a deeper perspective or renewed purpose or direction in life, acceptance of self and others, selflessness, hope and faith, less fear and worry, and redemption.
My only regret is that I didn’t grasp it sooner.