6 Years Sober: 4 Recovery Rules I Live By

By Tim Ryan

November 1, 2012. Likely just another day for you, but for me it is when I was reborn.

For more than 25 years, I flirted with sobriety without grasping it. My road to recovery could be called “scenic,” if by scenic you mean losing a dozen jobs, spending extended time in the hospital and prison, missing birthdays and holidays with my wife and children, countless arrests, and years in virtual blackouts.

I want to share a few things I’ve learned during the last six years of active recovery, and these practices are ones that I plan to continue as long as I have air to breathe.

  1. Start each day on your knees.

Before I entered recovery, I had morning rituals. After relieving myself in the bathroom, I’d place a lit cigarette in my mouth and cup of coffee in my hands within minutes of waking up. Then I might have a stiff drink to “take the edge off” before the day had a chance to develop an edge. Then I would do a line of coke or snort some heroin to kick me into gear.

Once I entered recovery, that changed. I now start each morning on my knees. I roll out of bed and immediately get on my knees to pray. I ask God to direct my path throughout the day, to use me as He sees fit. I ask Him to lead me to those needing help, and I ask Him for strength to accomplish what He’s called me to do. I thank Him for the life He’s given me—an opportunity to have a life that includes recovery, a beautiful wife, meaningful work, and wonderful children who mean the world to me.

Before recovery, there was a God, and His name was Tim Ryan. I started each day chasing my wants and needs. Throughout the day, I’d seek pleasure and feed my addiction. And I would end most days in various stages of exhaustion, spent from alcohol, drugs, and guilt.

  1. Surround yourself with the right people.

When I was a competitive barefoot water skier, I surrounded myself with other competitive barefoot water skiers. Why? The best strive to learn from the best.

When I entered recovery, I surrounded myself with someone who was 100 percent into recovery. His name was Big Perk. He was a former Chicago gang leader and big as a house. Big Perk made it easy for me to follow the straight and narrow, even when my commitment to recovery waned. That’s because Big Perk wouldn’t let me into the cell we shared in prison unless I, too, was 100 percent into recovery. I’m so grateful for Big Perk’s friendship and guidance during my earliest days of recovery. Without him, I may have been tempted to stray.

You’ve probably heard the saying, “If you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas.” Who are your closest friends? If you spend time with people who aren’t serious about recovery, your own commitment may waiver until you are strong in long-term recovery. If you hang out with people who are still using, don’t kid yourself into thinking that you can resist temptation. Heck, before I grasped recovery, I did some service work by helping a guy move. When I got to his house, his brother was doing heroin and offered me some. Remember, I was there to do good work—service work! What did I end up doing? Heroin!

Surround yourself with people as strong or stronger than you.

Once you’ve had a spiritual awakening and have some maturity in your recovery, you’ll be strong enough to spend time with people in need without their addiction tempting you to slide. The gift of recovery is free, and we can freely give it to others when we stay strong.

  1. Set goals that depend on your ongoing recovery.

I enjoy water skiing, and I’d love to live on a house by a lake. I’d love a nice car, the license to drive that car, healthy kids, and a good job that provides great income. And I wouldn’t mind having the time to pick up hobbies and follow sports like other people.

The truth is, I had all those things at one time. In addiction, I pissed them away.

But today I invest in things that can’t be lost to fire, thieves, or a bad economy. I set goals that I can only achieve in recovery.

Today, my top goals are to be a good husband and loving father and help those lost in addiction find recovery. I want to make sure that another parent doesn’t have to bury their child. I want to spread the message of Hope and Recovery to as many people for as long as I have strength to do so.

I can’t do that if I slip back into addiction.

My first wife divorced me when I was in prison, and I don’t blame her. I would have divorced me, too. Just because I’m in recovery doesn’t mean I get a do-over with my ex-wife, Shannon. But I can be a good husband to my wife, Kirsten, thanks to recovery.

I lost my son, Nick, to his own drug addiction. Nick watches over me today, but I will never again have a father/son conversation with him. I will never see him marry, have children, or live his best life. Just because I’m clean and sober doesn’t mean I get Nick back. But I can finally be the kind of father I should have been to my other children if I stay in recovery.

What goals do you have that can be achieved only if you stay in active recovery? Think about that. Write them down. Share them with others. And live like you aim to accomplish them.

  1. Keep your eyes on the promises.

It doesn’t matter if you have earned fifty 24-hour chips or have reached 50 plus years of continuous recovery. Recovery is a journey. It has a beginning, but it doesn’t have to have an end.

Regardless if you have just entered recovery, or you’ve been attending and running meetings for half a century, the path requires hard work. Recovery forces you to confront your demons head on and doesn’t come with a guarantee of pain-free living.

But that journey comes with sweet promises, like freedom and happiness, gaining a deeper perspective or renewed purpose or direction in life, acceptance of self and others, selflessness, hope and faith, less fear and worry, and redemption.

My only regret is that I didn’t grasp it sooner.

If you need help, please contact Transformations Drug & Alcohol Treatment Center, 866-211-5538, or reach out through our contact page today.


Self-Care: Why I Need It, and You Do Too

by Tim Ryan

Sitting in a hospital room with my son and ex-wife in Virginia a few weeks ago, stress flooded me. I had been on the road for what felt like months, doing everything I could to help those still in struggling with addiction to find hope and lasting recovery. When I finally returned home for a long, restful weekend, a family emergency put me right back on a plane halfway across the country.

During those few days, I never felt the urge to use. But I did feel many other things—emotions ranging from sadness to relief, and gratitude to anger.

Image may contain: one or more people, ocean, text, outdoor, water and natureAs the emergency subsided, I had to remind myself of a concept that is at the heart of my recovery: I am not a victim. So I don’t need to act like one.

A victim says to himself, “This isn’t fair!” and “I shouldn’t have to put up with this crap!” Before long, a voice tells the victim, “Things can’t get any worse. Maybe you should get some relief by (insert drug of choice here.)”

But I am not a victim. Circumstances, neither good nor bad, don’t control me and my recovery.

So when I’m temporarily triggered or overwhelmed, I don’t let the situations win. Instead, I use healthy self-care as part of my lasting recovery.

Here’s what you need to know about self-care so you can practice it regularly to stay strong—

Self-care is part of your recovery

I’ve heard some people say—

  • I don’t have time to focus on myself
  • When I step out of the battle, there is no one who will step up for me
  • If I’m not tired all of the time, I’m not giving enough

That’s garbage, nothing more than ego talking. Don’t confuse self-care with selfishness.

For many of us, recovery involves working a 12-step program. Step 12 is all about taking your gift of recovery and paying it forward. Here’s the kicker: you can’t pay forward what you don’t first possess! Unless you prioritize your own recovery, you can never help another person. Self-care is like putting gas in your car. By keeping your tank full, you’re able to help others. After all, helping others starts with you taking care of yourself.

The right people feed your soul

Think back to the people you spent time with when you were active in your addiction. Fellow addicts, right? It’s nearly impossible to get and stay clean when those around you are using.

Tim Ryan Addiction Speaker Self-care
Princess Mac is part of my self-care.

Meaningful self-care requires us to surround ourselves with the right people, those that give more than they take. Two of those people for me are my wife, Kirsten, and my youngest daughter, MacKenzie, who I call Princess Mac. No, I don’t expect them to serve me. Kirsten gives to me by simply sitting and sharing a cup of coffee with me, being my sounding-board, or putting up with my erratic schedule. Princess Mac gives to me by laughing, falling asleep on my lap, or playing on her yard swing.

You know you are surrounded by the right people when you are able to relax, be yourself, and stay in the moment without getting pulled into conflict.

Part of recharging involves unplugging

Our lives are full of incessant noise: social media updates from our friends, 24/7 media coverage, requests for help, phone calls, etc. How can we find a slice of quiet in a noisy world? Unplug.

Tim Ryan addiction speaker
Time at the lake with those I love recharges my soul.

When I returned from Virginia, I called my boss and told him that I would be out for a week. Then I shut off my phones (yes, I have more than one!), turning them on only when I wanted to call someone or take a picture. I kept my focus on two things only: matters requiring urgent attention (like family emergencies) and my family.

Guess what happened? I didn’t miss anything. By taking the time away from all of the noise, I got to invest in my wife, children, parents, loved ones, and closest friends. Instead of being connected to everything and everyone screaming for my attention, I reconnected to those who charge my battery.

No, it’s not always possible to take a day or week off from work to regain your charge. But you can do it in small ways like hitting a meeting, joining a friend first thing in the morning for coffee, or practicing deep breathing. Just make sure you’re phone is off. Stay in the moment. Really be with the people in front of you. Phones have become like new limbs. We’ve become dependent on them to fight boredom, learn new things, and stay connected. Some replace cocaine with a cell phone. Don’t be afraid to disconnect with the virtual world so you can reconnect with the real one.

Every time you get into an airplane, the flight attendants tell you that if the oxygen masks deploys, put your own on first. Why? If you don’t, you become a liability instead of an asset. And if you don’t stay strong, how will you be of any use to anyone else?

By the way, these concepts apply whether or not you’re an addict. Reach out and raise your hand if you need help.

Prevention: It Starts with Technology

This Wednesday, Tim Ryan spoke with Detective Richard Wistocki, of Besure Consulting, to a crowd of concerned parents and teens. Their presentation, The Cop and Convict, aims to educate viewers on the dangers of addiction and how it can be prevented through technology monitoring.

Some of what they talked about was difficult to listen to. I could not imagine being a parent and going through my child’s phone to see what they had gotten in to. Just being in high school 5-8 years ago and experiencing what I did, I cannot imagine what the next generations of highschoolers will witness with their pocket computers.

But I could also accept the necessity of parents being more involved in their child’s technological life.

Shouldn’t my Life Be Private?

Det. Wistocki repeated throughout the presentation, “There is no such thing as privacy (regarding technology) for a child.” This was difficult for me to swallow. I like my privacy. I enjoy thinking that my conversations with friends are just between us. But, what if these conversations were harmful to me?

What if these conversations between friends were malicious without me knowing? What if these conversations were leading me down the path to addiction, and I did not even know it?

It was powerful to listen to some attendees in recovery talk about how they obtained drugs. One hundred percent of the methods they described involved some form of phone technology.

When I looked at the issue through this lens, it was easier for me to understand why parents should go through their children’s phones. However, it did not take away the cringe-factor of Det. Wistocki pulling up his child’s phone activity at that minute in front of complete strangers.

The Revelation

But that is when it hit me.

The activity on our phones should be innocent enough to be projected on a TV screen. Why should it be cringey to watch your phone activity in front of hundreds of people if you have nothing to hide?

I then realized what was making me uncomfortable.

An Extension of Myself

My phone has become an extension of myself. Just the thought of showing my phone activity feels like exposing what is going on inside my head. It was not just a violation of privacy, it felt like a violation of my being.

This thought frightened me, but I realized this was the purpose of this talk. No matter if we are 14, or 22, we should be using our phones in a way that would make our loved ones proud.

A Change of Heart

By the end of the presentation, my perception of children’s phone privacy had completely changed. And by children, I mean ages 18 and under. I saw first hand the dangers of having the key to world at such a young age, and how it can have horrific effects on our children.

When we look at the opiate epidemic as a whole, it can feel hopeless. However, The Cop and The Convict showed people on Wednesday night what they can do in their own homes to fight. What Tim Ryan has experienced in his lifetime due to drugs and alcohol is unfathomable, but as Det. Wistocki said, this does not have to happen, and we have the power to make it stop.

Check out our New Website!

The majority of AMIRF’s efforts have migrated to Here we will post blogs, update you on where and when Tim is speaking, and his recent media appearances.

This website is also a great way to reach out to Tim if you are looking for him to speak at one of your events.

Feel free to explore the new website and let us know what you think. We are excited to see what is in store.






Tim Ryan Talks Opiate Pandemic on “The Doctors” TV Show

Grab your remotes and hop onto the couch, Thursday, Dec. 7,  Tim Ryan will appear on popular TV show, “The Doctors” to discuss America’s opiate epidemic.


Ryan has been traveling across the United States speaking to individuals about the deadly realities of the opiate epidemic and how we, as a national community, can combat it’s effects.

Tune in on Thursday to hear Tim tell his story, and learn how to arm yourself for the fight against addiction.






Tired of the tug-of-war? Drop the rope.

Have you ever been in a tug of war?

Your friends are surrounding you. The enemy is on the other side. There is a white ribbon fluttering in the wind as you use every muscle in your body to drag it across a line etched in dirt.

The rope cuts into your hands as an equal and opposing force uses all of its might to swing the ribbon in the other direction.

Feet dug into the dirt, it can feel like every effort you make is powerless over the strength of the opposing team.

Until everything changes.

Something gives, and you feel the weight of everyone’s effort force you back onto your teammates.

Laughing, wiping your hands on your legs, you realize … You won.

Sometimes, when we are knee deep in our struggles, it is difficult to see how our own actions can contribute to the pain we are feeling.

It can feel as if we are in this never-ending tug of war with our addiction/anxiety/depression etc. We are constantly fighting the inevitable waves of emotion and it is difficult not to feel helpless.

Until we realize that we can drop the rope.

We have the power to end this game if we allow ourselves the reprieve of just letting go.

Accepting that we are powerless over our addiction is the first step for a reason.  It is impossible to win this fight if we continue to hold on to the rope, never allowing ourselves to take control of our lives.

Although in the game of tug-of-war, letting go may signify defeat, in the game of life, letting go is the ultimate power move. Instead of continuing to fight, you are finally allowing life to happen on life’s terms.

So, drop the rope.

Signify that you are not continuing to battle what you have no control over, and welcome the support of those around you. Maybe hand the rope over to someone else for a while?

When we allow ourselves to “Let go and let God (or Higher Power)” we open ourselves up to change. We allow our tired souls to rest, and can drop the burden of whatever we are carrying.

Tired of the war? Drop the rope.



Be Here Now

Being present in today’s society is becoming increasingly difficult.

Whether we are worrying about our next steps in our career, sobriety or family; focusing on the here-and-now can feel virtually impossible.

When we are struggling with addiction, thinking too far into the future can be an exceedingly overwhelming task. The thought of living the rest of our lives substance free is a daunting task.

One of my favorite phrases dealing with this topic is, “Be here now.” It is actually engraved in a ring that I wear on my thumb.

Life comes at us fast, and we feel the need to prepare and stress about what is coming next. But, in this process, we miss so many of the beautiful things in life. We may miss the smile our significant other gives to us when we come home from a stressful work day. Or, we miss the beauty in how the sun hits the trees as it tucks itself behind the horizon before setting.

When we play the tape forward, it takes us out of the present moment and can cause even more anxiety than we already feel.

Whether you are taking your recovery one second, minute, hour, or day at a time, your job is to keep yourself sober for that period of time. And if you can keep yourself from drinking for 10 minutes, try another 10. See how it feels. And give yourself the necessary congratulations when you make it past these goals.

Sobriety can be scary, but it definitely does not suck.

I urge you to “Be Here Now.” Do not sell yourself short by thinking too far ahead.

Mindfulness in stressful times

It has become increasingly difficult for me to go on social media sites due to the impressive amount of negative information.

Between the heroin epidemic and the current political environment, the world definitely feels like a scary place right now.

In times like these, I try to remind myself to practice mindfulness. It is through mindfulness meditation that I am able to center myself and not become overwhelmed by the negativity.

Here is one of my favorite quick exercises. I hope you are able to utilize it as we all go through our daily stresses.

Where are your feet?

In times of panic, sometimes we lose where we are in this world.

We rocket into the future, or delve deep into the past.

It is during these times that we need to focus on where our feet are.

Are they firmly planted on the ground?

Are they dangling from a bus seat or office chair?

How do your feet feel in your shoes?

Do they swish around?

Do they fit snuggly and comfortably?

Is there a spot in the shoe that feels uncomfortable?

If so, sit with the uncomfortableness. Do not judge it.

Move your toes around in your shoes.

Feel your toes the top and the bottom of the shoe.

If you are barefoot, feel the air between your toes

Feel the air above and below your feet.

Feel the texture of the ground beneath your feet.

Slowly bring your awareness back to the rest of your body.

You are present in this very moment of time.

You are okay.

“We Can’t Arrest Ourselves out of This Problem”

Prison Stats.PNG
Screen grab taken from BOP Statistics

If you watched the recent special, “Dope Man” on A&E Network, you might have heard Tim Ryan say, “We can’t arrest ourselves out of this problem.”


But what does that mean?

According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, 46.2% of the current prison population is incarcerated on drug offenses. This percentage is a stark contrast to other populations, with the second highest offense, Weapons Explosives and Arson, following far behind with only 17%.

I want it to sink in that almost half of the US prison population has been convicted on a drug charge. Almost half.

Although addiction may cause individuals to commit acts that warrant consequences, it is saddening to know that close to 80,000 people will not be receiving the treatment they desperately need for their progressive and chronic disease – addiction.

I contribute this mainly to the stigma of addiction. Many people believe addicts need the structure and adversity of prison. While this may work for some people, it is a gross misstep to believe that putting an addict in prison will “heal” them.

As Tim Ryan said in “Dope Man,” If you lock a cancer patient up in a cell would you expect them to be released in a month cancer free?”

We need to start looking at addiction in the same way.

Addiction IS a progressive and chronic disease. Illinois alone saw a 7.6% increase in overdose deaths from 2014-2015, according to the CDC.

We need to urge lawmakers to start looking at addiction in this way, and to stop punishing people for their illness.

I believe if we started actually rehabilitating addicts instead of throwing them into a prison cell, we would save our towns from the crime that go hand-in-hand with addiction.

The war on drugs has largely failed, and it is up to future generations to repair the damage that this mass incarceration of drug addicts has caused.

Addicts need help, not jail cells.