Our country is experiencing a drug epidemic. 100 people die a day from drug overdoses. Heroin is taking out entire cities. People are becoming hopelessly addicted to painkillers. Meth labs are everywhere. But all’s not lost. There is hope. There is healing. Today we are sharing with you a story of one of our friends and a graduate of our Mississippi campus Vertava Health Mississippi, Ryan. Ryan’s story is one of consequences and pain, but also hope and inspiration. This may mirror your life. This may mirror the life of your loved one. We want you to know that addiction can be treated and a fulfilling life can be had. Ryan is proof. Read on. –
What is your background? When did you start using?
I was born in Atlanta, but grew up in Knoxville. I had a normal childhood: I played sports, did fairly well in school, I was teased a little in middle school (I’m a redhead and was really into music.) In high school, I played in some bands. By the time I was 15, I was smoking pot and drinking a little bit – kind of a normal high school thing: Friday nights after football games, some friends would come over and drink at my house. When I was 17, I started getting into other stuff. The first time I tried cocaine, I thought, “I found it. I’m good.” One night I got nervous and I woke my parents up and told them I needed help. I quit cocaine after that, but I kept smoking pot. That’s when I started doing mushrooms, psychedelic drugs, ecstasy.
What happened after that?
At 17, my girlfriend got pregnant and had an abortion. My senior year of high school, someone called the school and accused me of selling cocaine. I wasn’t – but I had $700 cash on me, and when my car was searched, they found an ecstasy pill. I wasn’t charged, but I was expelled from school. I went on to get my GED. That summer before college, I was drinking underage at a concert and was arrested – for failure to appear. When I went to college in Orlando, I developed a fear of police. I started smoking more pot and staying home – I was afraid to go to parties. I graduated from college at 21. My girlfriend – who was my fiance by that point – had been doing a long distance relationship with me. We moved in together in Knoxville. I got an internship with my dream company. I was living downtown and able to walk to all of the bars. That’s when drinking really started affecting my life.
How did your addiction progress?
I started my own company as an artist manager in the music industry. I had my dream job at 22, was engaged to the love of my life, and traveling around the country. But, with that lifestyle, there was a lot of drinking – for free. After a series of events, and spending large amounts of money on alcohol, I lost my biggest clients. My fiance found out I’d been shady with some business deals and broke off our engagement. That’s when I really got crazy with alcohol. I was drinking and smoking pot all the time. I went from having everything to nothing – just a lot of addict friends.
What happened after that?
My ex-fiance and I officially ended things, and she moved to New York City – and I decided to move to Los Angeles. Just before I left, I met a lady one night – and got a phone call a few days later: She was pregnant. Then, I got another phone call from my ex-fiance: She was pregnant, too. My ex-fiance decided to terminate the pregnancy, but the woman I barely even knew decided to keep the baby. I struggled to understand why it happened that the woman I had only been with once was having my child – but my ex-fiance wasn’t. So, I moved to L.A., didn’t tell anyone about the pregnancy, and ignored my problems. My “addicted brain” told me if I ignored things, they’d go away. I didn’t have any plans in L.A., so I started working at a Hollywood night club running lights – doing cocaine and ecstasy. I got a job working as a telemarketer for Google Ads and I wanted to die. I hated my job, I had no money and I was living with friends in The Valley. That’s when I started drinking by myself during the day, watching Netflix, walking to Taco Bell, and walking to the liquor store for more booze. I broke down and decided to move home with my parents. My last night in L.A., I wanted to “go out with a bang” – so I stayed up all night drinking and doing Molly. I tried to drive back to Tennessee that night. I barely made it to the state line before I flipped my car twice. I called my daughter’s mom who flew to Vegas and drove me the rest of the way home. Once I got home, I resumed business as usual – drinking all day and going through a series of relationships. When I started working for my dad as an administrative assistant, I’d get off work at 5pm and head straight to the liquor store, drink a bottle and go to sleep. Almost every day. Through another series of events, I moved to New York to be with a girl I was seeing. I started working in music production at festivals and everything was looking up. One of my best friends who had been to treatment for opiates was living with me. But soon, a heroin/crack dealer was living with us, too. Finally, I got on a bus one day to head to a bachelor party back home, and never went back to NYC.
How did you get into Vertava Health Mississippi?
I met a girl with a daughter close in age with mine. We fell in love very quickly and moved in together. Things were going well – but I was still restless, irritable and discontent. A few months later, I got really drunk – and she told me that if I didn’t go to treatment that weekend, it was done. I went to rehab that weekend – for her and for my parents. I knew I had an issue, but I didn’t understand addiction. I continued to justify my decisions: Only drinking beer, instead of liquor – eating before I went out. After I finished the program, it went OK for a while, but I found excuses not to go to meetings, and continued to hide my drinking. Eventually, my girlfriend kicked me out. I called a friend who had gone rehab, and I toughed through the withdrawals. Then one night, my girlfriend asked me to go to dinner. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see her, so I went. She told me everything I didn’t want to hear: “I don’t know when we’ll be OK again… We can’t be together right now… You have to go to rehab for yourself.” When I got home from dinner, I saw on Facebook she had changed her status to single. So I poured myself a bottle. The next morning, I was a quarter of the way through another bottle when I finally realized it. I thought, “Look at me right now. I’m an addict.” I called Vertava Health and talked to Axel, who also spoke with my dad. I was ready. My parents told me I was going to Vertava Health Mississippi – which was fine, I just wanted to go somewhere.
What was it like once you got into Vertava Health Mississippi?
I was scared sh*tless. The first week was rough – but the staff made it so worth it. I really found my groove, and made so many friends while I was there. Something really clicked the first week, and I knew I couldn’t have asked to end up in a better place.
What was the biggest thing you learned about yourself at Vertava Health Mississippi?
I realized how selfish I was for so many years. But you can’t change the past. I’m really blessed. My daughter is still so young, she won’t remember all of this – and I still have the chance to build a relationship with her. We’ve been FaceTiming, and I’m looking forward to seeing her again. Things fall into place when you do the next right thing. –
What keeps you going each day?
Other than my daughter – I feel like a completely different person. I can’t believe I lived the way I did for so long. I’m making up for lost time. Changing my mindset really keeps me going. The skills I learned at Vertava Health Mississippi and the meetings that I continue to attend keep me positive and keep me focused. It’s really the little things that you can do each day that make you better.
What would you tell someone who can identify with your story?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As addicts, we have a false sense of pride. Ask for help, take suggestions. People truly want to help. Anything is possible. In recovery, each day, something happens to make my life more manageable. It’s not always easy. Some days it’s hard. But it’s so worth it.
What would you tell someone about Vertava Health Mississippi?
I’d have to tell them about the people there – and the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) skills. The community and the bonds that are formed there are unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. I still keep up with so many friends from Vertava Health Mississippi on social media.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Treatment is what you make of it. Go with the positive. It’s so worth it. Honestly, that’s pretty much true for everything in life. Treatment for me was about self-discovery and learning to be my best self. It’s always been there, but it was covered up for a long time.