April 28th, 2013.
If you search the date mentioned above, you will not notice much going on in the world. Our president was Barack Obama, the FAA ended their furlough, the Spurs beat the Lakers, and like today, the weather was shaping up to be something special with highs in the 60's. But on this day, I received some news that would forever change my life.
Seven years ago I woke up on a Sunday and went to work. I had a few hours of appointments lined up and as the morning progressed, I saw I had a missed call from my mother. This was kind of unusual as it was still early and typically, I didn’t receive calls from her at this hour. I checked the voicemail and she asked that I call her back. As I listened to the message, I knew something was not right. My mind ran through all kinds of options of what could have gone wrong but I tried to refocus my thoughts and get back to work. I trained a few more people and as I was waiting for a childhood friend to arrive, I decided to give her a call back.
As my mother answered the phone, she began to weep. She said "he's gone Chris. Ryan is gone". My older brother was found dead at the age of 29. The cause of death: apparent drug overdose.
A few years prior to receiving this call, my brother had a lot of positive things going on. He received a teaching degree from Penn State University, was coaching wrestling at Saucon Valley, and also taught young kids at an early education center. He was great at working a room so he used these skills to help him excel as a coach and teacher. He made a lot of connections with people and built some great relationships over the years. Things were trending in the right direction for him but only on the surface. Behind closed doors, he was struggling
There are far too many people reading this who have seen loved ones suffer with addiction. If you are one of the few who haven’t, I will give you a small glimpse of what addiction looks like behind closed doors. There are manic swings in mood, falling asleep at random times, crashing vehicles, crying, doing unsavory things for money, checking couch cushions for change, multiple stints in and out of rehab, trips to the emergency room, withdrawal, and this is only a small glimpse. The suffering that the addict goes through is always present. It doesn't go away. The addicted person never imagines that this will be their destiny but for most, this is the reality.
Addiction is- more often than not- totally misunderstood. It is not a weakness in character or discipline that one can just "get over". I remember some guys asking me back when my brother was struggling if I whooped his ass to set him straight. I looked at them and was like "how the hell would that fix anything?" Addiction can stem from a lot of things. Sometimes it is the result of a chemical hook, other times it is the result of feeling like there is no way out. For some, it is the result of both and this is a scary place to be.
In our culture, there is judgment cast upon those who struggle with substance abuse. I ask of you, before casting judgment, imagine their despair. Imagine what it must feel like to believe there is no option. Oftentimes people sit back and say, I wish I would have known. I wish they would have said something. I wish they would have asked for help. But think about what they must be going through. Think about asking for help and how hard it is to do so when things are going well. Now imagine you are a drug addict who feels like they have no worth and are vulnerable and depressed. You think they are going to be willing to open up and ask for assistance?
There are few things sadder in this world than seeing someone you love suffer. There are few things sadder in this world than encountering a person who knows exactly what he or she should do, yet cannot muster enough energy to do so. There is nothing sadder in this world than seeing someone give up on life.
For those readers who may think that this topic will never touch their life- I ask you to think again. Nobody ever envisions that they will suffer from addiction. Nobody ever thinks that a chemical will gain control of them and that they will not be able to escape it. It truly can happen to any of us. But we need to keep one thing in mind: Every addict is a human being, a completely redeemable human being. If we cross paths with someone who is struggling, don’t view them with contempt. View them as someone who might need someone right now in this very moment. Because after all, moments on this earth are never guaranteed. We have to make the most of them when they present themselves before they no longer exist.
Through all our differences, Ryan was one person who was always proud of me. He was always supportive and I miss him. I wish he was around to see so many things that happened over the years but more importantly, to meet my daughter. We named her Emilia Ryan so there will always be a little bit of him in her. I just hope it is not his temper!
As the saying goes, "so long as they speak your name, you shall never die". Today, I will speak my brothers name and hope you will as well!