Addict delivers powerful message
CHRISMAN – Life lessons come hard earned – more so for some people than others.
Tim Ryan shared with the community through multiple presentations Nov. 9 what he has learned on perhaps the hardest road imaginable as he endured alcoholism and drug addiction. He spoke to students from Kansas, Shiloh and Oakland high schools at 8:30 a.m. at Kansas. He was at Chrisman High School at 10:30 a.m., Paris High School in the afternoon and a 6 p.m. public presentation in the Fine Arts Center.
Introducing himself to Chrisman students he included not only his name but also his Illinois Department of Corrections identification number.
“That will follow me for the rest of my life,” said Ryan. “Don’t end up there. It’s not much fun.”
He asked for a show of hands of those who know someone who drinks, smokes cannabis, tried drugs including cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin and committed suicide. Almost everyone had a connection to those questions.
Ryan eschewed the usual just say no drugs are bad approach of some anti-drug speakers. Nor did he caution against the use of cannabis as a gateway drug.
“Ninety percent of weed smoker don’t get addicted,” said Ryan, quickly adding that fact is not his giving them permission to use.
He cautioned the real danger to cannabis is it lowers inhibitions and when other more addictive substances are at a party cannabis users are more prone to experiment in those conditions.
“If I locked the doors and we all spent a week in here drinking alcohol and smoking weed, this half of the room would be addicted,” said Ryan. “If I locked the doors and we all spent a week in here doing opioids, every single one of use would be an addict.”
He did not chastise those who admitted cannabis use, but he didn’t excuse them either. “We need to ask what’s really going on in your life that you need to alter your mind,” he said.
Ryan explained his background and how substance abuse became part of his life. He grew up in affluent Crystal Lake, and his parents were hardworking and successful people. All of the children in the family were adopted. His younger brother and sister are Chippewa, and they were subjected to racism at school.
“I defended by little brother and sister with my mouth and my fists,” he said.
On the other side was an emotionally disturbed older brother who liked to beat on Ryan.
As a student with learning disabilities, Ryan was placed in special education classes and taunted as dumb.
“Mean people suck,” said Ryan, adding it is never OK to bully because it is impossible to know the pain the victim is dealing with at home or in life.
“Everyone’s unique. They’ve just got tap into their talents,” he said. “What I tapped into in high school was alcohol.”
He was a binge drinker who consumed to get drunk, and he discovered cocaine at a party when he was 15.
Ryan told the students while they may not realize it now, all actions come with consequences. He asked how many enjoy having a license to drive and emphasized that is a privilege and not a right.
“I’m 49 years old and I haven’t had a license for 16 years,” he said.
He first lost his license for driving under the influence. It was later revoked for driving while suspended and his second prison term was the result of experiencing an overdose while driving revoked, causing a crash and sending four people to the hospital.
“If you are in your friend’s car and they have weed or other drugs and you get stopped, you both get arrested,” he said. “If it is a felony, you can kiss away any hope of going to college or enlisting.”
Then he cautioned the students about associations.
“The five people you associate with the most is what you will end up like,” said Ryan, noting being around people who lead positive lives and do good things leads others to emulate such behavior. Associating with people who drink to excess, steal and abuse drugs has undesirable results.
“Consequences will come, I promise,” said Ryan, giving a nod toward Edgar County Sheriff Jeff Wood and Chrisman Police Chief Toby Krabel, who were in the audience.
Ryan does not fit the typical drug abuser stereotype of someone in poverty, without a job and barely eking out an existence. He was a successful businessman and at one point owned the third largest cable-marketing firm in the country. That business finally collapsed under the excesses of his drinking and drug use. The aftermath left deep debt, the IRS after him for back taxes and devastating changes for the 60 employees, and their families, when the jobs disappeared.
Still, he managed to bounce back and at age 26 was working for a Chicago-area management company earning a base salary of $250,000, plus bonuses. There were periods of sobriety, but he was not able to maintain.
The downfall came when he tried heroin. That led to a $500 a day habit, multiple overdoses, two heart attacks and being clinically dead on more than one occasion. He also introduced his oldest son to drug use.
During the second prison term, his wife divorced him and he lost their home to foreclosure. That stay in prison turned him around and he committed to sobriety. After his release, he tried to help his son who was going in and out of treatment programs and jail. The young man died of a heroin overdose.
“I helped kill my own son,” said Ryan.
He told the students drug addiction is an all-consuming experience. Stealing is wrong but it doesn’t matter if it acquires more drugs. Lying to and hurting the people who love you is wrong, but the addict will step on whoever is in the way without regret to get the next fix. Forced drug treatment does not work.
“Until you’ve had enough pain, you aren’t going to change,” he said.
Today, Ryan heads a foundation From Dope to Hope that helps addicts find treatment.
He left the students with three thoughts:
“All you got to do is put up your hand and say, ‘I need help.’”
“Quit trying to be someone else, be true to yourself.”
“You better have some goals, write them down. You can’t achieve anything without goals.”