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From Heroin Addict to Entrepreneur, Hunter, and Father: Ryan’s Story

When you’re up in the wilderness by yourself hunting, wandering around the woods with no cell phone, no communication with anybody, it does make you really stop and take in just the stillness of every day. The quiet time that I can have to unwind and not feel the...

When you’re up in the wilderness by yourself hunting, wandering around the woods with no cell phone, no communication with anybody, it does make you really stop and take in just the stillness of every day. The quiet time that I can have to unwind and not feel the pressures of all the commitments of every day allows me to recharge. With family commitments I get to do this trip once a year: six days hiking 10 miles into the wilderness to hunt elk. There’s an adrenaline rush that can happen as you’re hunting. Sometimes the elk is running straight at you, and you don’t know whether it’s going to stop.

Having my own electrical company makes me feel alive. I get to be an entrepreneur, and solve problems, do things I didn’t think possible. It give me a lot of satisfaction to plan something, to see it come to life, and to have it work efficiently.

I always wanted to have an electrical company even when I was really into drugs, but I never thought it would actually work out. It was more of a distant dream than a close reality. I can’t believe my life has all these things that seemed impossible. A wife, a kid, we bought a house, I started my own company, and 7 years ago I was sleeping in my truck, stealing groceries, shooting heroin.

I struggled with a pills and heroin addiction for years.  For the longest time, I thought that that day would never come where I could just wake up and feel normal. … I didn’t think it would ever be possible for me to wake up and not being completely consumed with finding heroin, doing heroin, getting drugs.

My parents got a divorce when I was 9 years old. Both of my parents had addiction problems with drugs and alcohol, even though I wasn’t really aware of it when I was a kid. My dad would say that he was gonna pick us up from school for my birthday with some friends and go to the skate park and he’d show up 2 hours late. He would be super drunk and drive us around and scare us. My sisters and I felt like we were abandoned as kids.

So I was constantly searching for a place where I would feel like I belonged or people accepted me or people wanted me. I would party and do what I could to fit in. Being good at sports helped. I got hooked on pain killers when I was a junior in high school, after I got injured playing football. Doctors prescribed painkillers, and I realized that I’d like taking them. I liked how they made me feel.  So I kept going back to the doctors for more and more.

In high school, where I felt the most needed or valued was actually at parties. People would be glad to see me, because I had drugs and I had a fake I.D. so we could buy beer. But pretty soon I realized that it wasn’t fun anymore. I was stuck. I was hooked on OxyContin and I couldn’t go a day without it and I couldn’t go half a a day without it. I couldn’t function or get through my day without them, but they weren’t giving me the high that I had sought. When I first started using them, nobody ever told me, “Hey, these are addictive and you’re gonna come to a point where if you don’t take them you will get sick.”

Somehow I managed to get a job as an electrician after I graduated high school. Someone took me on as an apprentice. I continued with that job for about a year and a half but the whole time just using drugs, painkillers, every day. I had to in order to function. It got to a point where it was so expensive that heroin was the best option. The same high but cheaper. So, running out of money, me and my friends decided to start doing heroin.  And that took us to a whole other low.

For the next 6 years, I would go through periods of using off and on. For a year and a half of using, to clean for a couple months, to using again. I tried doing treatment, but it didn’t seem to work for me. I did inpatient twice, and outpatient three times. Most of those programs I got kicked out of because I was not compliant. I didn’t want to learn, I didn’t want to listen. I tried moving to escape the addiction, from from Seattle to Kansas to California to Arizona. I couldn’t trust other people. My whole life growing up, I didn’t establish trust in people because I had been let down so many times.

I eventually came to a rock bottom place in my life when I got kicked out of a clean and sober house. I was stealing groceries, sleeping in my car, had no money, got fired from my job. My parents, who had been making progress in their own recovery, offered to take me in, and help find help. But when they left, I actually stole my mom’s company checkbook and wrote a check to myself and passed her when I was leaving town and she saw me.  When I came back I was super high. I’d  spent all the money on the drugs and the cops were there.

I didn’t have insurance.  I didn’t have any money, of course.  And my parents weren’t gonna spend five, ten, fifteen-thousand dollars for me to go to in-patient treatment. So I ended up going to a yearlong program in Portland, where you work for you stay.

I was in a world of hurt. I carried so much burden of all the disappointment and lies and stealing to my family and to friends and felt like I would never be a member of society that people would want or like or need things from or contribute to.  Being in the program, at first, was a really hard commitment.  As crazy as it sounds, for me — somebody who’s had a heroin addiction for 5 or 6 years, has nothing going for them — I had convinced myself that I could not give up a year of my life to get help. When I was at the treatment facility there were countless times where I wanted to leave. Eventually, one of the leader’s sat me down and said, “If you complete this program it will put you in place to have momentum to go from this peak to another peak to another peak. And you’ll slowly climb in your life, knowing that you can accomplish things.” This was a key moment for me.

It took me about 3 to 4 months before I was finally able to submit and surrender and be, like, “You know what?  I’m supposed to be here.  This is exactly where I need to be right now in my life.  There’s no better place for me.” Things began to change inside of me. I began to experience hope and connection. In those early recovery moments, it was really freeing to know that I might be addicted at that point, and that I might have had only the two months of treatment clean and not have a ton to offer, but that the addiction was not who I was. It was not who I am. I’m really glad that I stuck around and completed the program because it’s something that changed my life.

In early recovery, something that was very hard for me was to have fun doing activities or doing hobbies. I was so used to getting high as the only thing that was fun. It was a process, as my brain was healing. But, over time, I was able to play football or golf, or go fishing or swimming and have a lot of fun with people. It helped me experience and realize that sobriety was worth it. Without a welcoming community after I graduated the program, staying clean and sober would’ve been really difficult. My sister and her husband took me in, and let me sleep on their floor as I looked for work and started at electrician job. For me, it took a long time before I started having confidence in myself and realizing that the people in my new community actually wanted me around. That they liked me, that they thought I was fun.

I am proud of who I am today.  And, you know, that I’m a good dad and a good husband and a good boss to people.  And so along this journey I would say I’ve learned that there’s always areas to grow from but there’s always areas that you’ve conquered. It’s easy to see things that we still need to work on, but it’s a lot more beneficial, to me, to look at how far you’ve come. To look at how much your life has changed.  And what’s amazing to me is that since I came from having nothing, from sleeping on my sister’s floor on a twin blow-up mattress for 8 months to where I am now,  I’m still thankful that I have money to put in my gas tank.  Or to buy food. It’s the little things.

I get the most joy and happiness when I get to do fun things with Paxton (my son).  Whether we go outside and me and him get to spend one on one time and it’s diggin’ for worms in the dirt or taking him fishing, or play pretending a construction site, I light up. It puts things in perspective. When he says, “I wanna be just like Dadda…” It brings me a lot of satisfaction in life that he can look to me as a role model, as somebody to look up to, as somebody that’s always there for him.

I definitely still have steps to take on the journey. I realize that it’s a growing process throughout life, where I feel like I can learn continually.  But I get to celebrate the growth and the progress. I was addicted to heroin 8 years ago but, today, I’m not a heroin addict. I’m a business owner and a father and a husband and a good friend.

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