Ryan’s Story: From Sleeping on the Beach to Living at the Beach

By The Fix staff 04/04/18
I made a decision that I could not be trusted to make my own decisions, so I just gave up and let others make my decisions for a while. That was my surrender.
Man drinking coffee at window.

Some people hit bottom before they lose everything. For others, it takes several years and complete devastation to pave the way for recovery. We recently spoke to Ryan, who tried several rehabs without staying sober. Finally, in late 2014, he enrolled in the program at Ocean Hills Recovery, based in the beachside community of San Juan Capistrano, California. This is his story:

I spent the night of September 8th, 2014 in a psychiatric ward—my sobriety date is September 9. I had been drinking for years, but things really began to fall apart in 2012 when my wife left. I came home from work one day and she was gone. She had packed everything and left her keys on the kitchen counter. I was blindsided. Sure, I knew I was a miserable alcoholic and a terrible husband, but it was still a shock. We had good credit, our bills were paid, I drove a Mercedes; we lived in Newport Beach!

Early Days

I started drinking in eighth grade. Looking back, I think I was an alcoholic from the get-go. I was never satisfied with the drink in my hand, always thinking three or four drinks ahead. Until then I was a pretty good kid, top grades, never in trouble, but that year my family moved to Tokyo, Japan, for my Dad’s job. I enrolled in an international school and the other guys in my class were really wild—smoking, stealing and staying out all night. We figured out pretty quickly that rich white kids could get into any bar in Tokyo—so we all started drinking. At one point, during that year I woke up in the hospital after a night out with my friends. I had passed out in a taxi and they couldn’t get me to wake up because I had slipped into an alcohol-induced coma. I was 13 years old.

I’m the youngest of three brothers and my oldest brother was always in trouble. I mean a gnarly fuck-up. When we were kids, he got sent to a lock-down boarding school for troubled teens in Utah. I think my parents were worn out after what they went through with him. After watching him, I learned to be sneaky and I got away with a lot. I played along with my parents’ expectations. I graduated from high school, went to an excellent college back east and started a career. By the time I was 22, I was physically addicted to alcohol.

Beginning of the End

I had a good job and plenty of nice stuff, so it was easy to justify my drinking. I did a 30-day stint in rehab in 2004 and stayed sober for about six weeks. I just didn’t want to give up my lifestyle. One time, a buddy of mine from college came out to California to visit me. As soon as we got to my house, at about ten in the morning, I cracked a beer. He was like, “Do you always drink like this?” and I remember looking at him without hesitation and saying, “Yeah. I’m an alcoholic.” He laughed, but I wasn't joking.

I spent a lot of time in my 20s and early 30s traveling around the world, partying and surfing in exotic places. I got a DUI in 2010, but it was no biggie. I met my wife in this type of party atmosphere while we were both traveling. She left her home in Canada, moved to California to be with me and we got married. Then she realized that, for me, the party never ended. When she left me in August 2012, I was devastated. My “normal” façade was starting to crack. I took a leave of absence from my job because I thought I needed to get my head together. Instead, I just spent every day alone in my empty house, drinking.

I gave my dad the set of house keys my wife left behind. Thank God he had them because one day, when he couldn’t get me on the phone, he came and let himself into my house. He found me lying naked and unconscious in a pool of blood. They rushed me to the hospital and learned I had experienced an esophageal hemorrhage while in an alcohol-induced coma. The doctor told us I was about an hour from bleeding to death. He also said if I drank again, it would probably kill me.

Hitting Bottom

Following my hospitalization in September of 2012, I went to rehab for 40 days. When I got out, I stayed sober for about an hour. In December 2012, I went into another program and stayed 90 days—I was sober for 80. I spent the next two years drinking my entire life away. I lost my job, my house, my car and it got to the point where my family was so exasperated they just didn’t want anything to do with me. I was living in motels until the money ran out. Then I started sleeping on the beach.

Eventually, I ended up at a homeless shelter and they helped me get back on my feet—sort of. I got a job and rented a room, but I never quit drinking. I told myself that, as long as I only drank beer, I was fine. I was promoted pretty quickly at my job, but somebody noticed that I always smelled like alcohol and reported me. The managers didn’t know what to do because my work was really great. They finally decided to ignore the fact that I smelled like a brewery as long as I stayed away from the other employees and the customers.

I was miserable. Once again, I was just living to drink. I had a casual girlfriend and one day she came to my room. I was drinking in the middle of the day, as usual, and she just lost it. She said she was sick of watching me waste my life and tired of sitting in that shitty room with me. She asked me if I was happy—if that was how I wanted to spend my entire life. She told me to put down the beer, go get in the shower, put on some clean clothes and go out and do something. In that moment, I realized I was 38 years old and on my way to dying drunk and alone unless something changed.

The Turning Point

Shortly after that, I ended up in the psych ward after a particularly depressing bender. I called around, trying to find another rehab that would take me and I ended up on the phone with Ocean Hills. The guy sounded like he genuinely cared. He told me they had a bed for me and I could come straight from the hospital. When I got there, they placed me in a nice house with guys around my age. Right away, that was a big difference from my other experiences in rehab. Living in a home-like environment was comfortable and being surrounded with peers who were serious about recovery made the adjustment easier. I was pretty closed off for the first few weeks, but everybody was gentle with me. It was like they sensed that I was really broken and they shouldn’t push me too hard.

I was compliant, but doing the bare minimum. I badly wanted to stop hurting, but I wasn’t sure I trusted the solutions they were offering. Then, one day they took us to a men’s stag 12-step meeting and I heard two men share my story. It gave me so much hope to hear people who were sober and happy talking about exactly the things I had experienced. It was a turning point for me. After that, I started putting in effort, reaching out and building relationships in the house and with the counselors at Ocean Hills. I made a decision that I could not be trusted to make my own decisions, so I just gave up and let others make my decisions for a while. That was my surrender.

A New Beginning

Ocean Hills was different from the other rehabs I had been to because they taught me how to live the principles of recovery, not just talk about them. I learned to apply honesty, humility and accountability into my daily life. I developed a great support group and many of those people are still part of my life today. I stayed at Ocean Hills for 100 days. They helped me find a sober living home when I left treatment and I decided I wanted to work in the recovery field. I called Ocean Hills every day asking for a job. After about six months, they told me they had an opening for a house manager on the overnight shift. I took it.

For the next eight months, I worked two jobs—sometimes 100 hours a week. I made recovery my entire life. I attended meetings, worked with a sponsor and stayed tight with my rehab friends. I saved my money and slowly began to rebuild my life. This time, the principles of gratitude, honesty and humility were guiding me. I found a townhouse close to the beach, not as fancy as my old house, but still a great place. I got a new car, not a Mercedes, but a nice, new car. I love my friends, I get to surf all the time—life is good.

Today, with three and a half years sober, I feel better than ever. I have made my amends and learned to own my part in the destructive patterns in my life. I have rebuilt relationships with my family again and I’m truly happy with the person I am. Life can really be simple if I take it one day at a time and stay grateful. I have an app on my phone; it tells me exactly how many years, months, days, hours and minutes I’ve been sober. When my app hit three and a half years, I texted a screenshot to my ex-wife. She said she was so proud of me, which felt good. I replied, thanking her for leaving me because it ended up saving my life. She wrote back, “I know.”

Want to learn more about Ocean Hills Recovery? Reach Ocean Hills Recovery by phone at (844) 854-3754. Find Ocean Hills Recovery on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

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