My name is Tim Ryan, and I’m an alcoholic and drug addict. I know addiction better than most,because I lived it for 30 years. You name it, I’ve done it—booze, LSD, angel dust, cocaine, crystal meth, amphetamines, and heroin.
I became addicted to many of them. But heroin quickly became my drug of choice.
Heroin is the drug that killed my son and tried to kill me, too.
This book tells of my battles against the addictions that nearly took everything from me. Heroin caused me to overdose eight times and be pronounced clinically dead three. I’ve had two minor heart attacks. I’ve been arrested more than 10 times. The short of it is, I shouldn’t be here.
Heroin didn’t make me a better person. It stole more than half of my life from me. In fact, I can’t think of a single good thing that came into my life as a result of my heroin use. But I can give you a long list of things and people I’ve lost because of it.
And yet I’m still alive.
The difference is that today I know why I’m still alive: I’m a man on a mission. I’m an alcoholic and drug addict, but today I live to make a positive difference in this world. My entire life revolves around helping others find hope and recovery.
I call my story “a man in recovery.” I’m just one man. Others have danced with the devil and lived to tell about it. Some found paths to recovery that are different from mine. There is no wrong way to get there. “Thank God you got clean,” is what I say to anyone who finds himself on the other side of an addiction like mine.
But this is my story. Besides telling you how I did it and how I do it every day, I’m going to offer you my opinions and insights along the way. I’m going to do my best to faithfully tell my story. I’m going to tell you how I found recovery, how I stay in recovery, and—if you’re an addict, this applies to you—how you can receive the gift of recovery yourself.
Where there is life, there is hope. As long as you have breath, you have hope. If this book is in your hands right now, you have hope. And if you are reading this because a loved one has been caught in the pit of addiction, you need to know that there is hope.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that I’m an expert on addiction. I don’t rely on my Ph.D. or M.D. degrees (I have neither). My expertise comes from real-world experience in the field—the years I spent chasing down heroin until eventually it took over my life. I’m an expert in recovery, because of my time in prison that offered me a clear, simple choice: recover or die.
Read this book, and you’ll better understand when I say that my parents, siblings, friends, and community didn’t make me an addict. I made choices that took me down the road to addiction. But very quickly, the drugs began making choices for me.
You will learn how I made and lost millions. You will read about the women I manipulated throughout my life so I could use them, just as my addictions were using me. You will come with me as I lie, cheat, and steal my way across the country to feed my growing demons. You will rot with me in a state prison cell I shared with gang leaders you’ve read about in the news. You will break down with me as I come face to face with repentance as I finally acknowledged how many lives I harmed. You will rejoice with me when I come to find recovery. And finally, I hope you will join with me on this crusade to help others who struggle between life and death because of their own battles with heroin or other drugs.
Do you think I’m overstating how devastating it is to live with an addiction—and particularly to heroin? I mean, we all know people who abuse drugs for years, and they’re still kicking.
If you smoke cigarettes, you can expect a shortened life expectancy, and you’ll likely die of emphysema, lung cancer, or heart disease. The addiction of smoking will kill you.
An addiction to alcohol will kill you. If you’re an alcoholic, you might wreck your car, maybe killing yourself or innocent people in the process. Or maybe you’ll lose it all, live on the streets, and die from exposure or cirrhosis of the liver.
Living as a heroin addict, and now living to help addicts find recovery, however, I’ve learned the difference between alcohol and heroin. If you lock a hundred people in a room for a week and ply them with large amounts of alcohol, you should expect anywhere from 10-20 percent of them to go on to become full-blown alcoholics. That’s serious and nothing to joke about.
But if you lock a hundred people in a room for a week and ply them with large amounts of heroin (and you can add legally or illegally obtained pain medication, opiates, and benzos like Xanax and Valium), when you open those doors, you should expect that 100 percent of them will be full blown addicts.
How addictive are heroin and other opiates? Once you are addicted, you will find recovery, end up in prison, or die. The draw is that strong. You will steal to support your habit. You will willingly risk every friend, every loved one, and everything that you once cherished just to get high again. And you’ll do it even if it kills you. And too often, it does. Over the last two years, I have attended more than 95 funerals of those who lost their battles to addiction.
How deadly is heroin? Yesterday morning I spoke to a great young man named Cody. I met him after he overdosed on heroin. I begged him to enter recovery. I told him that he was lucky to be alive, and I assured him that if he would give recovery a try, that I would be there for him every step of the way. He told me that he would think about it. He was dead before the sun went down. I hate this drug. I hate how it kills our children, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors, our friends, and our communities. I fucking hate this drug.
It breaks my heart when I hear addicts say, “I’m not stupid. That won’t happen to me.” Until it does. The drug makes them believe they are invincible. The drug lies to them, and they eagerly accept each lie, because it is what they want to believe. Some will overdose, go the brink of death like I did, and come back with an arrogant laugh of “See? I told you! Nothing can kill me!”
I wrote this book to out my shame, as a way of doubling-down on my ongoing commitment to recovery. All addicts bury a lot of pain down under the guilt and blurry memories. That misery will either kill you or drive you to recovery. I wrote this book to tell the truth, even the truths that most people wish they could ignore. This story is the unraveling of my painful story. You may see yourself in my story. You may see none of yourself. My prayer is that either way, you will find hope.
Recovery is healing me, but it’s never over. It’s something I choose to do every day. I choose recovery like it’s a matter of life or death, because it is. I’ve wept over dozens of friends who left recovery to have “one last hurrah” before getting serious about it. All it took is one relapse, and the drug claimed their lives. I fucking hate this drug.
My past serves as my training ground to my battlefield today. Five years ago, I spent every waking moment with one obsessive thought: how do I score the next fix? My battle is no longer about finding the next high. It’s about bringing people to the recovery God gave me to offer. My training ground allows me to walk into a house with a desperate family and walk out with a child two hours later to get him into treatment. The kid usually feels so trapped, that he’s given up. He’s burned through all of his resources. And now he’s just waiting to die. I offer him help. And that help starts with offering him hope.
I have a lot of regrets, but I have to focus on the beauty of my life today. It’s still chaotic like anyone’s—trying to balance everything I do to the best of my abilities—but every day I put my recovery first. I can’t be of service to anyone without it.
Some have called me “the addict whisperer,” “a miracle worker,” or “the general,” because of my zeal in heading the charge to lead others to recovery. It doesn’t go to my head. I’m grateful to God every moment I live because of the greatest gift He’s given me: the gift of recovery. I am able to work with the hopeless, because I was once hopeless.
Today, because of that gift of recovery, I run A Man in Recovery Foundation; speak in schools, prisons, and courthouses, and anywhere else that they’ll have me; work for the Banyan treatment center; and place addicts in facilities all over the country.
As a heroin addict, I shouldn’t be here. Too many of my dear friends and family members are no longer here because of this awful drug. But as a man in recovery, God has other plans for me.
Each day I commit to making a living amends to those I hurt, those I failed, and those I helped lead into addiction. God has me in the thick of it, because He wants me to make a difference in the lives of others.
My hope is that if you are in the throes of addiction, you will hear that still small voice telling you, “You’re story doesn’t have to end here.” My prayer is that after reading my story, you will trust me when I say that recovery doesn’t suck. In fact, my life is fuller now than it’s ever been.And I know that with God’s help, it will get better still.
My name is Tim Ryan, and I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict. But by the grace of God, my Higher Power, I found recovery. And that’s the only reason I’m here today. From dope to hope, and with the continued grace of God, I remain a man in recovery.