“I had an unreal Blackjack hand. Everything hit perfectly. In that moment I felt higher than on any drug I’d ever taken,” Ryan N. explains sitting in the BTS Zen Garden. But as with all addiction, the euphoria was fleeting and the crash was catastrophic. But Ryan’s story is not all drinking, shooting up, or seeking that elusive “perfect hand.” Born in San Diego, CA, Ryan experienced a “Jekyll and Hyde” type childhood. So loving and uplifting in so many ways, Ryan recalls, “My mom has been my rock the entire way; always supportive.” Playing clarinet, skateboarding, and learning martial arts also colored his early life. “I was a happy kid and I had a lot of friends,” he states.
That same childhood also included a compulsive gambling father, who emotionally abandoned the family, in favor of his addiction, beginning when Ryan was only 10 years old. That abandonment led to his first addiction–food. Indulged by his mother, Ryan ballooned up to one hundred twenty-five pounds. The anxiety he felt at home only intensified at his family’s Roman Catholic faith: “Every time I went to church I felt incredible anxiety. I just wanted to scream as loud as I could. But I couldn’t. So I’d go home and scream into my pillow,” he painfully recounts.
As he transitioned into his teen years, Ryan grew taller, and the weight shed off. He also discovered wrestling and football. “Sports became my art form and competitiveness my new drug. Winning was like a religion of empty calories. It was the only thing,” he explains. But that drive to compete and win was also a cry for help. “I saw my friends with their dads. Their fathers always told them how proud they were of them. I wanted my dad to tell me that. I craved his approval,” Ryan sorely recalls.
But that competitive drive to win and seek patriarchal approval wasn’t his only new drug. By tenth grade, Ryan had also discovered alcohol and weed. And by age seventeen he had also started gambling. “I was curious to see why [my father] could abandon us for this,” Ryan explains. The next several years saw Ryan turn into a blackout drunk, receive two DUIs by age twenty, and as he recollects, “try just about every drug outside of heroin, including cocaine, all manner of psychedelics, prescription drugs and what turned out to be my true love – crystal meth.”
It wasn’t all drugs and alcohol. In fact, at age twenty-three he gave up meth for a girl. “She told me she was molested by her uncle, and I said I was a meth addict. We stayed together for three years,” he says. But the relationship was extremely toxic and ended two weeks after he proposed to her at a destination wedding in Turks and Caicos, following a crazy run at blackjack, which enabled him to buy her an engagement ring. His life steadily began to unravel at this point.
And at age twenty-seven, he stopped drinking and went exclusively to crystal meth. At this time he also got kicked out of both of his parents’ homes, sold the car he was living out of, and began living on the streets of Oceanside next to Ocean’s Eleven, his favorite casino, for a year. To add gasoline to his already out of control life fire, he also began dealing meth.
But one day he recalls, “I was living behind a power generator next to the bus stop where I caught the bus that took me around the city to sell drugs. I looked up into the sky and thought, ‘What has my life come to?’” Isolated with no family or friends around him, Ryan desperately reached out. “At this point, I asked my dad if I could sleep in his garage. He said no and told me to call my mom. I did. She let me back in but told me I had to get help. And that led me to Beit T’Shuvah for the first time,” he explains.
His first stint lasted from 2015-2017. “After I weathered my detox storm I realized I had hit the jackpot of rehab facilities – pun intended,” he jokingly says. Teachable, kind, and humble, Ryan was an exemplary resident. “I had this fire inside me. My drive to get better was because of the promise I had made to my mother,” he recounts. His athletic training and discipline greatly enabled him to maintain sobriety and strengthen his recovery. “You just got to get the ‘reps’ in. Facing your fears. Dealing with uncomfortable situations. Enduring the growing pains,” he relates. In fact, during his first go-around at BTS, he was never logged for any bad behavior.
Feeling strong and ready to face the real world again, Ryan left BTS and moved into an apartment with three other former residents. But he wasn’t truly ready. As he tells it, “I was sober, but I didn’t have God in my life and so I became my own god.” Inevitably, he relapsed back into gambling and drinking off and on until early 2021. Lovingly welcomed back into the Beit T’Shuvah family, Ryan resolved to make this second turn different. “The biggest difference this time around is the God molecule. It’s like not believing in ghosts and then seeing one. Now I’m a believer,” he explains with a smile.
A member of the Social Distance Marathon team, Ryan finished first in the half marathon run this past June. He’s also a mainstay in the BTS gym working out regularly and also giving back to the community by training other residents and giving them advice on nutrition and developing an overall healthier lifestyle. Inspired by this connection, Ryan is going to school to become a personal trainer. This time he has learned the power of acceptance, letting go, and being comfortable with himself. “I’m extremely optimistic about the future and I am a very grateful member of the BTS family,” he joyfully says. That gratitude is a two-way street. For as much as Ryan has gained during his second stint at BTS, the community that so loves and needs him, feels just as blessed to have that little kid from San Diego in all of our lives and hearts.