Alcohol was my medicine: Ryan’s incredible transformation story

I was born on May 23, 1986 in Brantford, Ontario. I didn’t have any major traumas, experience any abuse or have any defining moments as a child which are often pointed to as a cause for addiction and mental health issues. The only significant issue I can point to as a child was my western social conditioning and deep desire to be liked and accepted. I was liked and accepted, did well in school and excelled in sports until high school.

Come high school my heavy desire to fit in started to involve the use of substances such as marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine, and my all time favourite: King Alcohol. Alcohol gave me everything I needed to feel strong, comfortable, confident and not focus on any insecurity. I loved it. I began to live for the weekend and soon enough waiting for the weekend seemed like a silly concept. More and more alcohol consumed my life, sometimes getting me in trouble, causing me to make a fool out of myself and doing things I regretted, but nothing out of the societal teenage norm for me and my friends.

My life changed when I was 18. I had a panic attack for the first time. It was the most terrifying experience of my life. I soon began having panic attacks often and it crippled my functioning. I saw physicians and took medication, but nothing got rid of a panic attack like alcohol. So I drank. I consumed large amounts of alcohol and I drank often. The problem with alcohol and anxiety is, although it alleviates it temporarily, it brings anxiety back tenfold when you’re not drinking. So I soon found myself drinking all day, every day. I couldn’t complete the simplest life tasks and I became agoraphobic. I was confined to my room and I would only leave if I had consumed enough liquid courage to function. I dropped out of high school and worked, though drinking daily at work came with all sorts of negative consequences. I lived in fear. Fear that I would never be normal. Fear that I could not achieve anything. As I watched peers attend college, get married, and secure good jobs, I lived in fear and a deep sense of impending doom that I would never be normal. This experience only perpetuated my drinking further and further.

At the age of 21, I went through delirium tremens for the first time. It was the first real indication to those around me how serious my drinking was, and it was the first stay of many in the local hospital. Over the next couple years, I would end up in the hospital regularly for the delirium tremens, try to pull my life together unsuccessfully, and secretly begin drinking again to not feel the sense of impending doom which consumed me emotionally. Still, daily, I experienced crippling panic attacks which only, in my mind, could be alleviated with alcohol.

I was no longer working and my days were spent drinking and crying. Drinking and longing. Longing to be “normal” in the way society taught me normal was.

See, alcohol was my medicine. For my loved ones, I could front that I was “okay” despite suffering deeply and drinking constantly keeping myself at a base level of sanity. I want to emphasize that I was surrounded by amazing people such as my family who loved and supported me but alcohol gave me the ability to hide what was actually happening in my life. I believe often times we, as society, blame parents for individuals’ struggles and this was not the case with me.

At the age of 23, after a period of secretly drinking I ended up in the hospital again. This wasn’t like the other stays. This time I woke up in critical care and was informed that I had pancreatitis and had been in critical care for the past 3 weeks. I had nearly died and my vital organs were failing. I spent a total of 10 weeks in the hospital and was consistently told my drinking would kill me. Friends who visited me were shocked. Everybody knew I partied and could be a drunken fool but no one had a clue the extent of my drinking including those closest to me. I was consuming 60 ounces of vodka steadily throughout the day to maintain a level of ease mentally, emotionally, spiritually and especially physically. Clearly, it had taken its toll.

When I left the hospital, everyone who loved me thought I was done. Often friends and family will see an individual hit a bottom and believe surely he will never drink or use again. I told them I wouldn’t. I meant it, and I was wrong. I would return home and I could stay sober for a few days, but I was constantly anxious, constantly fearful and I no longer had the ease of alcohol to alleviate panic attacks. Inevitably, without fail, I would pick up a drink.

My last drink was on January 14, 2010. I was broken. Financially. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually. Physically. Broken. I checked myself into detox where I would spend the next few months of my life moving back and forth between detox and the hospital. The damage done to my pancreas was extensive and it required multiple hospital stays even into sobriety. I’m not sure what was different this time, but I knew for sure that alcohol no longer helped my anxiety and panic. I was done. I was ready to step in to my discomfort. I was ready to attempt to build a life. I wanted professional treatment but due to my pancreas issues I was a medical liability and could not receive support without being stable. I found the support I longed for in peer support. Groups of people living successfully in recovery. Groups of people I could be real with, suffer with and be accepted by despite my near fatal flaws and mental health issues.

I always thought I was un-loveable and didn’t fit in. I was wrong. I didn’t need to be fake and it was OK to not be OK.

My addiction is not about drugs and alcohol, it is a spiritual disease. All my life, western civilization seeped into my consciousness teaching me that who I was wasn’t OK. That I needed to have this or that. That I wasn’t whole and couldn’t be happy without these things. I strongly believe this is where my anxiety developed. The constant pressure to be something I couldn’t live up to. Sobriety offered me the opportunity to see that I am whole. I am perfect. Not to say that I’m not constantly striving to be better, but on a soul level I was and always will be perfect. That although people, places and things (especially substances) could bring me temporary happiness, it would never be real enough to last.

Over the past 10 years I lived the life I longed to live. I went to college. I became employed as an addictions counsellor where I work as a program manager today. I built a successful coaching and speaking business. I developed beautiful loving relationships, made amends, found a happy, loving healthy relationship and had two beautiful daughters. My anxiety and panic did not go away but I learned the skills to successfully manage it.

I’ve done of all this stone cold sober.

All of those things are great and bring me great happiness, but as I explained spiritually, for me, happiness is an inside job. I strive to live a life connecting with the pure unconditional love that I am, and share that with others. To not seek or depend on happiness from people, places and things. To live a life of service and support those who suffer. To love those who feel un-loveable.

I strive to live genuinely. Share my fear. Be transparent. Embrace my flaws and transform them to power. To have a positive impact. Life is hard. I will always have challenges, but I am unstoppable. I am loveable. I am not alone. It is in the challenge of living is where I find my greatest joy. I am whole. I am well. I am loved, and so are you.