Usually when people find out I’m a recovering drug addict, their initial reaction is the blank stare of disbelief. That’s because I’ve spent the last seven years transforming my life from what was once a blend of A&E’s Intervention and pretty much any Augusten Burroughs novel, to something much different. It took a long time, but I found a balance that served me as both a man, husband, and now, father.
First, some background. For the first 27 years of my life, I was a boy who craved the spotlight – someone destined for greatness. It was either become a world-famous actor or cease to exist. This was a self-imposed prophecy that set the stage for failure. An only child in a predominately Jewish household, I had my family’s hopes high and expectations great. There was never a shortage of love but guilt was always there.
By finding balance in my life, I’ve not only been a husband and father who is present for my family, but a man filled with love — or at least some semblance of what I believe is love.
On the outside, I had an enviable childhood. I was raised in an upper-middle-class area of South Florida and supported by an ever-present family. But in truth, from a very early age I knew something was different. I carried a constant weight, a lump in my heart that never seemed to lift, one that grew more prominent and isolating as I got older.
I didn’t realize I was gay until I realized what gay was. People often ask when I knew, but it doesn’t happen that way. I mean, when do people know they’re straight? It’s just a fact that’s always with you but doesn’t become clear until you’re able to put it into context. An easy target at school, I was bullied for my sexuality before I even understood what it was. So I spent much of my adolescence withdrawn from peers, filled with budding shame and self-hate.
I say all this backstory not to pluck for pity, but to paint a portrait; you’ll probably need to hear a few of those fragments to see the full picture.
Years of sexual exploration and drug experimentation paved a path to addiction. The more I tried to fill the void I felt with drugs, sex, or whatever was accessible, the greater the void became. What I didn’t know then, nor was capable of understanding, is the intensity of addiction is in direct opposition to the intensity of self-love. In other words: the more I hated myself, the deeper my addiction became.
High school, college, and most of my 20s were filled with a darkness one can only understand by walking through it. In AA, they say untreated addiction will lead to jails, institutions, or death. In my case, I was arrested and also overdosed on separate occasions. One might think both instances would be enough to stop the cycle of chaos, but it never was because the true problem wasn’t the addiction: it was me. No matter where I went or what circumstances were presented, I was always stuck with the same asshole who beat me up more than anyone: me.
In the end, the balance of mind, body, and spirit is the same for everyone — it’s universal. However, each person’s approach will be completely personal.
It wasn’t until my then boyfriend (my now husband) and family gave an ultimatum: get help or be cut from their lives. I went to rehab, therapy, and worked in Twelve Step programs to find new perspective and, most importantly, find myself. In the past I thought I did what I wanted to be happy – bought anything, took anything, drank anything. Like I was serving myself by some form of angst-fueled rebellion, not realizing it did the opposite.
In the last seven years as a recovering addict, I’ve learned the key to personal well-being is balance: balance of mind, balance of body, and balance of spirit. It’s cliché, yes, but there is often truth to clichés, because they come from a place of experience. It has by no means been an easy road.
But an honest, blind navigation through life is what makes it rewarding. And by finding balance in my life, I’ve not only been a husband and father who is present for my family, but a man filled with love — or at least some semblance of what I believe is love.
When I first began to learn how to find balance, it was presented as a checklist. I was told to list all the things that make me happy, whatever it is I like to do – whether I actually practice it or not – that is just for me and me alone. This list in itself proved challenging, but it started with basics: art, writing, movies, reading books, listening to music. I’m talking the most basic, bare bones crap that took a shameful amount of time to come up with. But it’s as simple as that.
Identify the things you love, what makes you feel good – the stuff you probably wish you did more of but never make time for. Identify those things and carve out some time for them. If we spent nearly half our time focused on what we love, on what fills us with esteem, as we do on those that distract us, then life would quickly change.
In the end, the balance of mind, body, and spirit is the same for everyone — it’s universal. However, each person’s approach is unique to themselves. I can, however, speak only from my own experience and what helped — and continues to help — me stay balanced. Here it is:
Feed your head. Do whatever excites that little brain, whatever piques its curiosity. After years of neglect, I began to write again – something I loved as a kid but stopped when I stopped caring about myself. A year into sobriety, I wrote short journal entries to get my thoughts out. Those journal entries turned into a blog, which eventually turned into a book, which turned into me writing these words you’re reading.
Once I made time to nurture my mind, it opened doors. I began to read for the first time in years. Reading fueled my writing and today the two are a harmonious pair. More recently, I’ve found spiritual lectures and art exhibits to attend, activities I can share with my husband. And hopefully soon with my children.
Filling the spirit has infinite forms. What started as a connection with the Twelve Steps of recovery, learning tools for living life sober, grew to an interest in spirituality and personal development. What was once the most neglected aspect of my personal balance has become the most cherished. I opened myself to new practices and teachings, finding guidance from mentors and books. The way of spirit takes many forms, but it simply means to do you. Find a way to connect – to others, to the universe, to yourself.
While I’ve worked on developing spiritual practices, creative outlets, maintaining sobriety, I’ve done very little to ensure my body is well maintained. Moderate efforts served me up to this point: massage, acupuncture, two days training, occasional outdoor activity with my husband who, unlike me, is always eager to jump on a paddleboard or street bike. But it wasn’t enough.
So I made a commitment to ensure my body is cared for as much as my mind and spirit. It could be taking the dogs for a walk, riding a bike around the neighborhood, or walking the beach with our kids. Or maybe actually going on the paddleboard with my husband. Maybe.
Now, in order for me to be the example from which I want my kids to learn, this sometimes means I have to be selfish. It does. I have to make sure to do the best for me so I can be the best for them.
Sometimes in life, we have these little revelations. Whether it’s to get sober, to quit your shitty job, or ask your partner to get married. Moments where we become certain of the path ahead. When I became a father, many things that were hazy became clear. I knew with certainty I have to be the best version of myself to ensure I’m the best father to my kids, the best spouse to my husband. There is no going back, no teetering the line between rebellious addict and loving provider. The two do not coexist.
Now, in order for me to be the example from which I want my kids to learn, this sometimes means I have to be selfish. It does. I have to make sure to do the best for me so I can be the best for them. It’s like the flight attendant instructing to put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else. I’m no good to anyone if I neglect my personal balance. I’m guessing neither are you. It’s a continuous work in progress, but worth every minute – and surprisingly more productive than sitting around wishing shit would change then wondering why it never does. Nothing changes if nothing changes.
Ryan Michael Sirois lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband and two children. He is the author of the memoir King of Stars, which chronicles his battle with addition.