Substance abuse will certainly devastate your life and mess up your relationships. But no matter how serious your addiction gets, there will always be a chance for recovery. Celebrity couple Tim Ryan and Jennifer Gimenez-Ryan are a living testament to such a transformation. They managed to leave their old lives riddled with drugs and alcohol to become a beacon of hope for others. Joining Timothy J. Hayes, Psy.D, the two share how they guide addicts on the road to recovery by sharing their experiences through public speaking engagements in Dope to Hope. Tim and Jennifer also present alternative recovery methods, why schools are in dire need of substance abuse counselors, and how to avoid draining yourself when helping other people.
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The Best Ways To Recover From Substance Abuse With Tim Ryan And Jennifer Gimenez-Ryan
My next guests are Tim Ryan and Jennifer Gimenez-Ryan. Tim, famously known as A&E’s Dope Man and a substance abuse interventionist and Jennifer world-renowned actress, model, substance abuse counselor and reality TV star are not your typical celebrity Hollywood couple. Not only are they famous and in active recovery but they’re also both proactive in changing lives. Sometimes even helping to save them. Tim and Jenn speak to audiences all over the world whenever possible. They travel and work together during public speaking engagements. They inspire their audiences to live more fulfilling, passionate, and purposeful lives. You can find out more about them at DopeToHope.com.
Jenn and Tim, thank you for joining us. It’s delightful to see you.
Thank you so much for having us on your show. We’re so excited.
We’re blessed to be here. How are you?
I’m good and excited to know what you have to share with us. I like to start with an opening question. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into the work you’re doing and what drives your passion for it?
This is not something I ever chose to get into. Unfortunately, I grew up in the Northern suburbs of Illinois, a little town by the name of Crystal Lake. In the ’80s and stuff, we’d go up to Wisconsin drinking. The drinking was eighteen. No one was getting DUIs. I made it through high school and I went to college. Unfortunately, addiction took over. I struggled for the next years.
My first time in treatment was in 1990. I stayed sober for about a year but I kept bouncing in and out of Twelve-Step based programs. I’d go clean up, suit up, get my life together, go back out and eventually pick up heroin and struggle with the twelve-year heroin habit. On December 16th, 2010, I overdosed while driving. I hit 2 cars and put 4 people in the hospital, one being a 9-month-old baby. By the grace of God, they were all okay but I don’t remember anything because I was dead on the scene. It took five shots of Narcan to bring me back. That was in 2010.
It’s much different now with the fentanyl. 21 months I fought my case and was ultimately sentenced to 7 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections at 44 years old. When I walked in, I was done. I had huge alcohol, cocaine and opiate addiction. By the grace of God, I detoxed in a prison cell. It was horrific. I would not recommend it but that’s what I needed. Through the grace of God, I was able to get into Sheridan Correctional Center in Illinois. There are 28 prisons and 2 of them have therapeutic drug treatment programs. I got into Sheridan and plugged into recovery.
My cellmate and I went through the Twelve-Step. We read hundreds of books and wrote a couple of business plans. All I did was recover in prison. My wife divorced me and lost our home in foreclosure which displaced my four kids and my wife. They moved into my mother-in-law’s. My worst fear in prison was my oldest son was going to die from an overdose because he was an active addict and we were using it prior to me going to prison. He had been to treatment twice.
I walked out of prison on December 16th, 2013. I ended up only doing 13.5 months but for the 1st time in my life, I am 13.5 months sober. I made it home in Naperville, Illinois. I started some family support groups where I had the parents come with the loved one that was struggling because this is a family disease. Let’s bring everyone together. I set up a nonprofit. I had indirect and indigent people into treatment and pay for them to get into sober living.
I stumbled into working for a for-profit treatment center. They had allotted me the opportunity to do the nonprofit, never take a salary and then on my 21-month sobriety date, my 20-year-old son passed away from an accidental drug overdose. I went to a Twelve-Step base and never looked back. That catapulted me into what I do.
Since then, I’ve grown in treatment centers and nonprofits. I’ve written a book called From Dope to Hope: A Man in Recovery. It’s my life story. I had a documentary on A&E called Dope Man. I’ve done two TED Talks. I’ve done probably 5,000 speaking events. My wife and I ultimately partnered up to speak and do interventions and maybe open a treatment center.
I flew to Florida to meet Jenn for business and when I met her, it was love at first sight. We were engaged a few months later, got married that year and moved out to California. Now, we run DopeToHope.com or From Dope To Hope, which is our corporate name. We do sober coaching, life coaching, intervention and speaking events. We run a podcast called The Tim and Jenn Show. We consult with law enforcement and the DA on the mental health and substance abuse pandemic and are trying to be part of the solution. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it, Tim.
I was taking a moment to pause because the emotions were hitting me when you were talking about the car accident and then racing through and getting to the part about losing your son. I have gratitude for people like you who are out there trying to make their lives better. By extension, you’re one of those people that my father would call a multiplier because you’re going out not just making your life better but actively working to help other people’s lives. Thank you for that.
Thank you. I like that, a multiplier. Kudos to your father. I’ve never heard that before and used the way you used it in that context. It makes a lot of sense.
Jen, how did you get hooked up?
I got sober this time around. I’m a returnee. I couldn’t stay sober. A lot of people suffer from that. My sponsor got sober once. She’s over 32 to 34 years sober and that was her journey. My journey was different. I finally had my best friend, Brandi Glanville from the Housewives and my mom throws me into treatment. They came to my house and said they couldn’t watch me die like this and that I needed to give myself a shot. At the time, I had a disconnected job, blood dripping down everywhere all over my house from all the drugs I was doing. I snorted cocaine and stuff.
I remember I made a deal with God and said, “Give this, ” I don’t remember exactly what it was and I said, “I’ll give you me.” Ironically, a few weeks later, he gave me what I asked. I said, “I’d go to treatment.” I was going for five days under my terms. I love when addicts and alcoholics say, “I’m going to go under my terms.”
I ended up staying for nine and a half months and where I went was in Pasadena. I went on July 12th of ’05 and on November 2nd or 3rd, I relapsed. It was too real, too raw and too much for me. Things were happening to me and people would say, “How do you feel?” I kept saying, “I don’t know. How do you want me to feel? I wanted you to tell me how to feel and I would feel that.” That’s how I was trained in life.
I suffer from a lot of isms. My first one was people pleasing. If you told me how to act, I do it. This time around they said, “No. We’re going to define what’s going on.” I ended up going to treatment. My counselor in treatment was Bob Forrest. He was on Celebrity Rehab Sober House and all those shows. He’s a big advocate for recovery and he gets us. He’s an incredible human being. I had a doctor there by the name of Dr. Drew Pinsky, who used to be on Celebrity Rehab Sober House and all that.
They had called my mom three different times during my detox. The first time around saying that I may die from alcohol withdrawal and that I was one of those hopeless cases and to get ready to say goodbye. Dr. Drew and the team said, “Let’s go through the motions with her. She’s one of those that need to die for the rest of them to get it.” Ironically, I didn’t die and made it out of treatment. I stayed from January 15th of ’06 as my sobriety date. I checked back into rehab after leaving for those 2 months or 10 weeks. Those 10 weeks felt like 1 long night. That’s all I remember.
All I could think about was everyone in treatment and who was hooking up with whom. Dr. Drew’s little smirk that he does and Bob Forrest’s red hair. Anyone who watched those shows know that’s what they do and have. I was like, “This is a horrible place for a girl like me to be when all I wanted to do was numb myself. All I’m thinking about is you.” It’s bad.
I finally went to my mom’s house and said, “Take me to treatment.” The first time I went to treatment, I went with four tote bags. I change in between in every group. I thought it was a fashion show. That day when I asked my mom to take me back to treatment, I went with the clothes on my back and that was it. I wanted nothing. I knew I couldn’t live or die. They tested me when I got there. I was buying cocaine that I thought over a day and my dealer laced me with horse tranquilizer and rat poison. Name it and it was in there. I was a full-fledged heroin addict. It was bad.
My main doctor told me that I needed to go into the psych ward to detox off of the narcotics and opiates. They needed to put me in treatment and I went. I remember that day vividly going up in the elevator and the door slamming. A tech is holding me up. All of a sudden, these two big doors open and they slam shut. That echo still lives with me.
I remember of friends and family couldn’t cross. My mom’s crying behind me. I see this person running down the hallway naked. This other girl was fighting herself. I see this guy in a wheelchair and his eyes rolling back as I’m walking to my room. It was the last room on the left. He was drooling. I went, “I, of all people, could get here. How did I get here?” All I wanted was that relief when I was twelve years old. I wanted to feel like they did.
My family’s from Argentina. I used to say drinking equated to happiness because that’s how it was in my family in Argentina but it wasn’t like that here in the States for me. The tech went to go get my assessment papers. I went to the restroom and realized in psych wards they take shoelaces, plastic and sharp objects away from you. The idiots forgot the belt. I got up and there are no doors connecting the bedroom to the bathroom. I saw objects on the ceiling. I went and put my belt through there. I secured it, put my head through there and hung myself that day.
The last thing I remember was on January 15th when my feet were dangling and everything went dark. When I came to, I was so upset. I couldn’t live and die correctly. I was stuck in this hell of a vessel called me. With the fixation, I had a lot of complications. I couldn’t speak. It took me three months to form sentences. Sometimes I still get confused with words here and there. I shook profusely. It took nine months in my hands and my feet to go and build down.
I had no control over my bodily functions. I was dependent on what I like to call diapers. I was in a wheelchair. I would lay on my bed and my brain worked perfectly. That was the scariest part but I couldn’t connect anything. I remember leaning on the bed and going, “Jen, put your right foot down, then your left,” and I did and collapsed. I couldn’t walk because of the fixation. I was in a wheelchair, a walker, then a cane and then freely learned to walk again. That took about six months to get that going.
I remember sitting in that psych ward. They had me on a two-week hold. There were meetings. It was on the second floor at the place where I went to Los Encinos. I remember going to the window and they had frosted windows with bars. You could crack it like a quarter of an inch. It took me a while to try to open it because I could hear people. People were laughing. Someone was telling a joke and someone far away was yelling at someone. They were all smoking and doing this. Open meetings were going on there. All of a sudden, I said in my head to God, “God, is it humanly possible for a girl like me to ever feel whatever it is they’re feeling up there? If so, I’ll go to any lanes.”
For me, that’s my day of surrender. I didn’t know what that entailed when I said that. I left on April 30th and it was time. I needed to get my life going. I needed to go back to LA and all this stuff. When I got to LA, I had no game left in me. All I did was contemplate suicide and using every day because treatment helped me.
I am so grateful for the treatment. I needed that watch. I needed people to tell me when to get up, when to eat, what to do, take these pills, act like this and this is what that’s feeling. For me, I needed that watch. The real work started when I walked out of treatment. I didn’t know how much I was going to have to dig and dig deep. At nine months sober, I was done talking about dying again. She said, “I can’t do it your way but if you’re willing to do the program, I’ll go to any lengths to help you.” I said, “What does that look like?”
It was a plethora of things I had to do. I had to take commitments so I took over Los Encinos where I went to their big meeting. I became secretary there and then started bringing all my friends because I’ve been trying to get sober since I’m 21. I’ve got over sixteen years. I was in my late twenties and getting sober.
What was your career like? You never mentioned that.
I got discovered modeling when I was thirteen years old at Santa Monica Pier by a man named Bruce Weber. He’s still one of the biggest photographers in the world. I was his girl for about five months. I went from growing up in Buenos Aires, Argentina where there are dirt roads and donkeys all over to becoming a supermodel overnight. I’ve been on every magazine cover all over the world. I’ve done every catwalk all over the world. I’ve done campaigns all over the world and billboards in New York Times Square, music videos with Tupac, Babyface, Lionel Richie, Mick Jagger, Prince and the list goes on.
One of the things I did was Bruce Weber, when I was his girl, was a movie called Let’s Get Lost. It was a documentary on Chet Baker. I didn’t know until quite some years later that it was nominated for Best Documentary at the Oscars. My first movie is an Oscar-nominated movie. It won the Cannes Film Festival Venice, Sundance and everything. You name it.
Blow is my second movie as an actress. I then do another movie, Vanilla Sky with Tom Cruise, Charlie’s Angels, Sweetest Thing, Corky Romano and the list goes on. I am everywhere. I’m the new It Girl. I’m back in Vogue, Maxim’s Hot 100, Esquire, Women of the world and Most Beautiful Women in the World. I’m doing everything. Oscars, red carpets and at 21 years old, I got sober. I got sober at the beginning of Blow and not at the end.
I couldn’t stay sober to save my life. I had no foundation. People are like, “How did you do that? You were at the top of your game.” I’ve done no deep work on myself. In treatment, I took over the meeting, brought all my high-profile friends for fun and was free to come to speak there. That place changed overnight and it became a huge sensation. Dr. Drew started giving me his high-profile clients for fun and free to sponsor. They were doing a show called Celebrity Rehab.
Mind you, I had called Hollywood a chapter. I had moved out of LA and said it was Egypt but it was only an hour and a half away. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. My sponsor told me it was time for me to take action at two and a half years sober. I applied at Target and Starbucks and I didn’t get those two jobs.
Faith without works is dead. My sponsor said, “Why don’t you write down whom you want to be and what you want to do?” I wrote down 85 things because I was still trying to prove you wrong. I was going to prove to you that this doesn’t work. Out of those 85 things, 49 of them have come true. I still have those two sheets. I look at them every January 15th to see what’s come true. It was things like I wanted to make a difference, be a businesswoman, back on TV and it all came true.
I always tell people, “Be careful what you asked for because it will come. You may have to do some work but it will come.” Drew came to me and said, “We’re doing a spinoff show called Sober House. Can you run the house?” My sponsor said, “You’re going to have to go to any lane to get sober.” I ended up going to the rooms where she got sober in Crenshaw and 96. It was in the hood in Compton and that became my home base. Those people rebirth me and gave me so much love. I’m internally grateful for that.Be careful what you ask for. You may have to do some work, but it will come. Click To Tweet
What happened was I did this show sober House and then did another season of Sober House and everybody was relating. We had no idea what the show was going to do to people. What I found out by those shows coming out on a worldly scale, because it’s been all over the world, is that there’s not one person out there that’s not affected by an alcoholic, addict or someone that suffers from mental disorders or it is them. We’re all suffering in this together.
I ended up doing Celebrity Rehab and going on CNN. I started talking about my trials and tribulations like my mental health, eating disorders and being anorexic and obese. I talked about what happened in Hollywood. Hollywood didn’t do to me. I allowed it to happen. I take full responsibility for my life. I was underage for much of it. Addicts and alcoholics speak about being victimized so much that I got tired of speaking that. I wanted to take action and be in control of my life. By doing that and speaking publicly about my trials and tribulations, I started and created this whole new thing that happened. There are so many of us out there doing this.
It’s incredible when we’re supporting each other. Let me be very clear on that though because I got to tell you, I’m in Hollywood. I still do movies, acting and modeling. I have never been in an industry where it has been the least supportive industry as the recovery industry. I’m sorry to say that I’m not trying to be negative. There are phenomenal people out there like you and my husband. I’m grateful for the more positive than the negative but, sadly, we’re all trying to help people. That’s all we’re trying to do.
What was the last point you were making? You’ve never been in an industry where there was less support for?
The treatment industry. I feel like we should be more supportive instead of people going, “I’m going to take that person or that person.” I see these people and people are going to be very scared of this industry.
I came out of the technology industry and I thought that was chaotic. I didn’t ever want to do healthcare. When I got into it, I brought the first true treatment center where we had housing and PHP IOP into Naperville. I had some solid clinicians I worked with. I then had this nonprofit that I had started but I stumbled into working in treatment so I thought I’d raise all this money and save the world but it gave us the opportunity.
For a couple of years, we gave away $1.5 million which was all predominantly raised by myself, Facebook birthdays, getting donations and speaking events. We paid for people to get into peer-driven programs or sober living but then when people started turning on me and calling me a body broker, human trafficker and in it for the money, they expect me to do everything for free.
I lived in Naperville. I ran a support group Monday night in Dixon, Illinois. Tuesday night in Streator, Illinois. Wednesday night in Princeton, Illinois. Thursday night we had Crystal Lake and Naperville and Friday, I did DeKalb. Plus, I ran my nonprofit, started doing speaking events, wrote a book and had this. I had three cell phones and all I did was help people but then people turn on me and say, “You don’t have credentials. You have no business helping people.” I was trained by people that help write the DSM-5. There are some great people in this industry but then there are also people that want the money. The treatment centers are making hundreds of millions but they won’t help any of the indigent people. I’m baffled by it but I could talk about it forever.
One of the things that I want to say is that it’s crazy where we’re at. Tim and I have been speaking on the local news, doing all these things out here in California and seeing these kids in school with fentanyl. I never want to be too jaded to lose sight of what’s going on in life. We didn’t have these conversations when I was a kid. Life has advanced extremely fast.
After the pandemic, it’s even gotten faster and accelerated. We are in a crisis. I said when the pandemic started that we are in a pandemic within a pandemic. Mental health is going to be on the rise. I said this to my husband on day 4 or 3 of our lockdown. He looked at me like I was crazy but I said, “This is going to be a crucial time after we get out through this.”
What is it that the two of you have found works best for people? We understand that if you treat things in a strictly medical model and turn people through a system that doesn’t work. What have you found that does work?
The good thing about Jenn and I is she’s traveled the country for several years speaking all over. We’ve probably stepped foot in 3,000 different types of treatment programs from RCOs to peer-driven to nonprofit to for-profit to Medicare and Medicaid. It’s not one size fits all. I can’t take a 45-year-old supermodel actress and put her in with a bunch of 22-year-old fentanyl addicts. It’s not going to work. I hate to do this but when somebody calls for help, I have to ask them, “Do you have any insurance? Do you have state insurance? No insurance, HMO or PPO? Are you in the position of cash payment?”
It matters where I’m going to be able to guide and direct you to get the help you need because here in California or anywhere, there are high-end programs that I’ve seen as high as $250,000 a month on average, $75,000 to $100,000. The average treatment program is about $30,000 a month. That’s one part. Treatment is the beginning. Jenny will say, “A lot of people don’t need treatment. They need a good therapist, good sponsor and accountability circle, the people guide in direct them.”
I’ve implemented many things throughout my years. All I say is I have a lot of yesterday’s put together and today is a new experience. I’ve been going through trials and tribulations and I get through it. I ask for help and I have a group of people. I have all that secured in my circle on what I need to do. I feel that a lot of people don’t necessarily need to go and be in treatment. There are some that we thought should do and some that don’t. They just need to deal with their problems.
When you say to be in treatment, are you talking about an inpatient X number of days or weeks of treatment like a residential facility?
That’s what’s so different too. If you go to Illinois, you’ve got big inpatient residential programs. If you go to California, it might be a six-bed house overlooking the ocean. What do I look for in clinical care? What type of clinical director do you have? Do you have an addictionologist? What type of psychiatry do you have? People can get the best help for themselves but it’s changing so rapidly. Things are changed so quickly.
At Hollywood High School, we had 7 kids who overdosed and 1 of them is dead, a 15-year-old and it’s all from fentanyl. In another school, two more kids died. Another, three more. This is everywhere. We’re on top of the LA school systems and the superintendent trying to meet them and their answer is, “We’re going to put Narcan in the schools.” That’s great. Narcan should be everywhere. Who’s going to educate the kids on what Fentanyl is? If they’re going to party smoking a little weed because they’re 15 or 16 experimenting, have a few drinks and somebody comes up and says, “Try this pill. Snort this line,” they do it and if it’s fentanyl, they’re dead.
They would’ve never tried it in the first place if they weren’t smoking weed or drinking. Why are they trying to do it? It’s so difficult to get into the school systems to educate our youth and they want to do it during Red Ribbon week or power puff week and come in for an hour a year and speak. That’s it? We need a curriculum in schools. All schools should have a substance abuse counselor and mental health counselor. Half the schools we walk into don’t even have a school nurse, guidance counselors or budget. How are we supposed to educate our youth about where it all starts if we can’t even get in to talk to them?All schools should have substance abuse or mental health counselor. Without them, educating the youth about drug abuse will be challenging. Click To Tweet
I want to make it clear. If a kid that’s 18 or 19 years old who gets caught once smoking weed doesn’t need to go to treatment. People are like, “My kid needs to go.” Your kid needs therapy. You need to talk and have an open communicative relationship with your kid. If you can’t do it, give them somebody who can. That’s our job to parent younger kids and make sure that they’re well and good. I have so much passion for what’s going on and it is a pandemic that’s going on.
What is the program and website that you run?
Our website is DopeToHope.com. We dissolved Man in Recovery Foundation. We ran it for seven-plus years before coming out to California. Jenny and I are shifting and doing other things. We speak nationwide to junior highs, high schools, colleges and corporations. We talk about addiction and mental health in the workplace, how to spot it and how to look for it. We train law enforcement.
We speak all over. We run a podcast called The Tim and Jenn Show on Spotify and all the platforms. We do interventions and life coaching. Jenny still acts and models. I still do field. I get 10 to 15 phone calls a day from people asking for help. A lot of them are still from the Midwest because that’s where my home base was and they’re flipping them into Haymarket or Lutheran Social Services because the majority of these people don’t have resources. They have no insurance and these are the only places that will take them. That’s what we do.
The question that comes up for me is, what was happening with a Man in Recovery that you felt had run its cycle? What’s the difference? What was happening with Man in Recovery and what is happening with Dope to Hope?
I did everything with Man in Recovery. It’s not easy running a nonprofit when your board of directors isn’t leveraging any money. For the first three years, we funded the nonprofit from all my speaking events that I got paid for. I had every dollar go to the foundation. It got to a point where my accountant and lawyer pulled me aside and said, “Tim, you work 100-plus hours a week. You can’t save everyone and keep giving away all your money. You need to make a living too.” Granted, I had a salary from that but times changed. I was burned out.
I’ve been to 150 funerals in a few years and the first one was for my son. I carry his ashes in there. When I’m getting phone calls at 6:00 in the morning on Easter with a family that has no resources, that I’ve probably put their kid into treatment, paid for him to get into three different programs called me saying, “You need to be at my house. My kid OD’ed again.” “No, I don’t need to be at your house. I’ve helped you. You don’t take suggestions. My daughter’s going to get up and go get Easter eggs. That’s what I’m going to do.” What this lady taught me is self-care and how to say no. The most important aspect of my life is self-care. I am many years clean and sober. I have a life beyond my wildest dreams. We want to get out and help people.
The big shift from a Man in Recovery, which was very successful by a lot of different standards and helped a lot of people to Dope to Hope is what?
Man in Recovery was a 501(c) non for profit,more a for-profit business. I ran it for 7 years and it took about 80% of my time. I never took a salary. I put up my money about $700,000 into it. I got out of prison, got into another relationship and had a beautiful daughter but the relationship was awful. All I did was work. I’m doing all these speaking events and I was doing 30 to 40 a month, 2 to 3 a day but what was happening, I was having women like Jenn, a high school girl, a college student or a lady at work come up and want to spew all their trauma. I’m like, “Hold on, I’m not a therapist. I don’t have a clinical background. I’m a guy in recovery who knows a little bit about a little bit but I can guide and direct you.”
It started making me feel uncomfortable so I wanted to partner with a female. Jenn and I had been following each other. I messaged her one day and said, “Would you consider wanting to speak with me and do this?” She said, “I’m going to Florida.” I said, “I’ll be there this weekend.” We’re supposed to get breakfast, lunch or dinner. I got busy and never called her. I got that message, “Jerk, thanks for breakfast, lunch or dinner.” We talked for about 5 or 6 weeks. Jenny got to the point and said, “Tim, you’re a nice guy.”
You’re talking about you wanted to check your schedule to see when we could meet and I said, “You and your schedule. I’m so over everyone in their schedule.”
That was Tuesday. I said, “I’ll see you Friday.” I booked a flight to Florida to meet her. I’m strictly going in on work. That was it. When she picked me up and gave me a hug, it was love at first sight. We were engaged a few months later and married that year, on December 31st of 2019 at the Justice of the Peace here in Beverly Hills. I packed up and moved to California. I left my work in Illinois that had run its course and I wanted to come out here.
You were in Florida a lot too. I also think that what happened when I came to Man in Recovery was he was the only one doing all the work. There were people on the boards. He has four kids whom he was responsible for at the time, a family and a new wife. It was nonstop and it was just Tim.
I don’t think people understand what it meant. I would get the phone call and buy the bus tickets. It was insane and she saw it.
Let’s not forget. He’s helping all these indigent people all day long. We were traveling the country and driving everywhere. He’s on the phone helping these people and was worn out. He loves addicts and alcoholics. He is an addict and alcoholic. He works with addicts and alcoholics. It becomes too much. I was like, “We need to clear this out a little bit for you so you have some sanity because if not, you’re going to blow your brains out.” That’s what I saw. He was on his way spiraling down and no one was there to support him.
You hit it. You get in this industry. You get a name, start helping people and everybody thinks you should always be there and be at everything. They take your kindness for weakness but nobody ever not once called me and said, “Tim, how are you doing? I see you’re doing a lot. What can we do for you?” Nobody ever. Even when my son died, the next day I’m back helping people. It got to be too much. I don’t regret it because there are plenty of nonprofits we can partner with but it ran its course. I’m on a different trajectory and that’s all there is to it.Everybody thinks you are always available when you help people out as a counselor. They take your kindness for weakness and nobody will check up on you. Click To Tweet
Congratulations on the self-care. It’s needed. I listened to a podcast of We Are the Luckiest. It was about why is this the last podcast. It’s all the things you mentioned. There are all of these practical aspects behind anything we do, even if we love helping people, good results might bring some notoriety and money, if that isn’t balanced out with what it’s giving us, nurturing us or filling us up, if our cup gets empty, we can’t help anybody else. Congratulations on taking that step and for you, Jenn, for helping him recognize he needs to do that. My hunch is it’s a graduate-level program and he’s in third grade.
The one thing I changed up Tim was a few years ago. What had happened was I moved out here and Jenn and I are starting our lives. We had 85 speaking events booked and COVID hit and shut everything down. She lost two movies and a TV pilot and then we got COVID. We were one of the first people to have it. We had it for ten weeks. I will kick a 500-day heroin habit and 1 gallon of vodka in a prison cell any day of the week over having what we had.
We had long-haul COVID and all these other issues. I was depressed so I got a new sponsor. My sponsor, like Jenn, is 33 years sober. In 33 years, he’s never missed a meeting. When I sat down with my sponsor, he said, “When’s the last time he went through the steps?” I said, “It’s been a while.” He said, “We’re going to go through the steps again. You’ll be at my house Thursday night, be at this in-person meeting Saturday, have at least 2 or 3 commitments, do a gratitude list every day and call at least 15 to 20 other men that are on that gratitude list. If I don’t hear from you two days in a row, I wish you the best of luck. I’m no longer working with you.”
I got into the center of the herd and have never looked back. My recovery and my recovery community are stronger than I’ve ever had. Jenny used to say, “Tim, wait until you come that way. The recovery is different.” It is. I’ve never seen anything like it out here. That’s what I do for self-care and to keep me grounded.
How is it different out there?
Tenfold. I’ve never seen anything like it. I do an online Zoom meeting that we still do because we have people from LA, New York and international but it’s a hardcore group. I’ve never had a sponsor tell me to do a gratitude list. If you don’t have a minimum of two commitments and not calling, you’re accountable.
I can’t explain to you what goes on in the meetings in Los Angeles unless you come here and experience it. It is one of the most magical experiences you will ever have in your life. For normies, addicts or alcoholics, it is life-changing when you go to the right meetings. You get blown away. It’s all in the big book.
What else is different in Illinois or wherever I lived, I never went to men’s stag meetings. That’s all we do here. I can only go to men’s meetings. I only go to co-ed meetings if I’m with my wife or I’m asked to speak. I have no business being in a co-ed meeting as a married man. I stick with the winners. In most of the meetings out here, you can’t get on the podium and speak unless you’re ten years clean and sober. When I do Saturday morning, bread and roses, there are 250 men in person. If somebody gets a year sober, that’s a standing ovation. I have never seen it anywhere. It’s different out here. People are hardcore about it and I love it. I needed it.
That’s structure, commitment and accountability. You mentioned the big book. Some people may not know what that is but if you read and study it, there are all kinds of gems that come from the big book. It sounds like what you’re describing is that the people that you meet in the meetings out there are more committed to their growth and sharing than what you were getting in the meetings back here.
Let me be clear because I don’t want to be a girl that’s about the Twelve Steps. The Twelve Steps saved my life and I continuously do the Twelve Steps. I also implemented many other things. If people can’t relate to a Twelve-Step program, find something that you can relate to. Don’t do this on your own because there’s other outside help and I stress that to people.
I don’t want to be the person that says, “It’s this way. Do the Twelve-Step program way or nothing.” You can go get help in other ways. Therapy saved my life. I still go to therapy and I love it. We do therapy on occasion. We used to do therapy because I had never been married before. He’s been married a few times and they’re not been successful. I wanted to have a successful marriage. That’s what I’ve chosen to do. I thought it was important that we do this together.
You got me seeing a therapist. Jenny goes, “Have you ever seen a therapist?” I said, “Yes. When my kid died and all that. I don’t need it.” She said, “Talk to this guy,” and I did. I’d be like, talking to you, Tim. I’m going to control this. This son of a gun takes me in a different direction and I needed my therapist’s guidance.
I remember the day before we did therapy. We’re laying on the bed about to go and say goodnight and he’s like, “It’s dark. Babe?” I’m like, “Yes.” He’s like, “Are you going to throw me under the bus tomorrow or something?” I said, “No, I would never do that. That’s not my job. The reason why I asked for us to do therapy is that we can enhance ourselves, support each other more and lift each other more.” It’s so important that we do that. Especially if you’re in recovery and a relationship, you got to work twice as hard. “I’m one of them. He’s one of them.” We need to meet halfway. I got to give him his space as he gives me mine.
Tim was saying, “What else?” Therapy is an alternative to the AA, the big book or Twelve Steps. Are there other rational recovery or things that you’ve come across where you’ve seen people have the success that you say, “If this doesn’t work for you, go there?”
Yes. When I talk about my recovery, I’ll use that as an example. I needed to deal with my co-dependency. I needed to deal with knowing that other things could help me like reading books that were not about recovery. Abraham Hicks changed my life. I went through a bad breakup years ago. I cried and cried. I stopped crying one day and was listening to music and it was Cardi B. I was like, “I’m going to beat you up.” That’s what Cardi says. Underneath it’s like, “How to deal with a breakup?”
Abraham Hicks is all about vibration, cleansing and cleaning. I do those things like meditating and energy work. It’s amazing. Years ago, I got asked to do a photoshoot in Delray, Florida and I went. At the time, I had a rehab show out and was on Housewives of Beverly Hills for Four Seasons that it was out, had done CNN the night before, get to Delray that morning and everyone’s like, “It’s a capital recovery.” I’m like, “No, I’m a recovery girl.”
I find out it was the Recovery Capital. What happened was I launched a magazine, still going back and forth and found peace and God. I found my God going on dates with me at the ocean. I started spending a lot of time with myself. It’s those quality moments of 1.5, 2, 3 or 4 hours going to the beach. I ended the relationship and said to my sponsor, “The relationship ended.”
It was a few months later and I said, “I’m ready to date.” My sponsor’s like, “What would you want him to do?” I’m like, “I want to take him to a nice restaurant and put pretty clothes on. I want him to buy me flowers. She goes, “Great. That’s what you’re going to do with God. Have fun. Tell me when you’re done with your first date.” I was like, “What?” I took myself out and went to eat. I then went to the beach. All of a sudden, I’m moving and grooving differently because I’m implementing all these other aspects into my recovery.
That’s a great concept. It sounds like you executed it beautifully because some people would try that and then run. When I’m alone with myself for the first time in years, I discover stuff I didn’t want to see.
I cried and was uncomfortable but in the end, I was levitating. I was like Jesus walking on water. You could not touch the fire around me. It took a little bit of time. That’s how I see my sobriety. When I go through trials and tribulations, I know to go back to the basics and the basics always get me one step forward and the next step forward. I’ll even say to Tim, “Babe, what foot forward? Right or left? I need help.” He’s like, “Right, ” and then he goes right. I need that.
Most of us who’ve done any serious work on ourselves realize that if you lose sight of the basics, that’s the first sign that you’re in deep water and you’re not going to be able to tread there very long. You need to get back to the basics.
I have lost the basics in my recovery at times and that’s why I’m saying that because I’ve not lost it now. It’s me losing it and admitting it to this in the world that I at times go, “I forgot my basics. Let’s start again.” I get to start again at any time I want.
What people don’t understand, whether you struggle with mental health, substance misuse, disorder, addiction, alcoholism or call it what you want, you have to quit selling yourself short. I’m the guy that in 1990 was introduced to going to meetings but I’m the guy that had put out my hand and asked for a sponsor, nobody would pick on me and be like, “Yes, I got to wait,” again because I thought I could get sober through osmosis.
Many people want to knock on the Twelve Steps or celebrate recovery but they truly don’t want to do the work. They don’t want to get a sponsor with long-term recovery, be accountable and do all these things to have a better result. Everybody wants a quick fix. “I want to get on Suboxone or methadone. I’ll be fine. I can work it.” They don’t take the time to work on themselves, their mind, body, spirit and everything. As Jenny said, her nutrition, dieting, working out the amount of s*** she has me take, these nutritional vitamins, pills and drinks are all holistic.
When she met me, I drank twelve cups of coffee a day. I drank 4 bottles of water and dropped 50 pounds. I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in because I started taking someone else’s suggestion that had my better interest at heart. I wish more people to support each other and truly work together. We could do so much more but then you get egos, pride and pocketbooks so we need to stay in our lane, do what we do and be the best at what we’re doing daily.
That’s all I can do. I can’t save the world or anyone. I’ll never save anyone. I don’t like people though we’re out saving lives. All I do is a guide in direct and give you some tools. If I give you a rope, you can climb to the top or hang yourself. The choice is yours. I’m giving you an opportunity. I quit chasing people. I used to chase people. I don’t anymore.
I’m sure that feels better.
It does for me.
My phones are turned off at 10:00 or 11:00 PM. It goes to Do Not Disturb. I never did that. I’d answered at 2:00, 3:00 or 4:00 AM. I sleep well. I have my morning routine and get on with my day.
I was blessed in my second job out of college that my boss pulled me aside. I was working at a juvenile secure facility or juvenile hall at the time. He said, “You think it’s your job to save these kids?” He saw me start to get upset when they would come back a year later and I was pretty sure I’d fixed them the year before. He said, “It’s not your job to fix or save anybody.” It was a 24-hour facility. I was part of a 2-person team that was working a shift and there were 3 shifts around the clock.
He said, “You show up and you’re going to be one of the most loving, consistent and firm adults this child has ever interacted with. That’s your gift to them. They can use it now or years from now but it’s not your job to fix them.” If I hadn’t had that in my second job out of college, I wouldn’t have finished 48 years doing therapy. I would’ve burned out a long time ago if I thought it was my job to fix people.
I had that complex. Throughout my lifetime, there was a lot of chaos that happened in my childhood. I felt like if I fixed it, then maybe they want to stay around. It had nothing to do with me. I was just a kid. To answer your original question, I didn’t know that by telling my truth on national TV in front of 7 million people that I had eating disorders or I was sexually assaulted, that I’m one of the MeToo girls, underage, over 18 and doing a TED Talk, I didn’t know what all this would’ve entailed. We were doing a show. We wanted people to know what was going on in the rehab world. I didn’t know what was going to relate to everyone else.
I remember my sponsor one time. I called her, “I’m doing an interview and then I got to go do Good Morning America. It’s going to help people.” She was like, “Hold up, one second. Let’s not get this s*** twisted. It’s going to help no one but you. That’s how f****** sick you are. You needed to break your anonymity on a worldly scale to be accountable.” I went, “That’s true.” All I could do is keep carrying the message but what my girls and boys in Crenshaw 96 told me was sit down, shut the f** up and listen and shout out your sponsor.” I did that and dug deep and these people love me.
I was honest and I told the truth. I started not feeling shameful about the fact that I was sexually assaulted or I have eating disorders. I was no longer feeling shameful and I had dealt with these issues that I was able to talk about it because if you’re not dealing with issues, you don’t talk about them. I was able to.
You mentioned one of the most important things of all and we lose track of it, I do from time to time, it’s this word truth. It’s this deep level of honesty. I read a couple of books in the past few years. One of them was, We Are The Luckiest by Laura McKowen and the other one was Untamed by Glennon Doyle. Both of these books hit me for the part they had about honesty and how well they wrote about how difficult it was to become more honest at deeper levels. Also, how my wanting, to be honest, is the beginning and there’s a real uphill slog for me as I’m going to encounter different resistances within me, to be honest. Congratulations to your sponsor for recognizing that you needed that nudge to understand you’re not helping other people. You’re helping you.
I’ve done a lot of work with parenting and I tell people, “However much your kids learn from you, a minimum of 80% of it is going to come by watching how you live your life.” That makes good sense for parents sometimes but it’s also true for everyone around me. People don’t learn from me through the lectures I give them. They watch how I live my life. If I’m modeling something that works and they say, “How are you getting those results,” I say, “This is how I’m living my life.” They say, “I’ll try that.” It’s up to them to apply that in their lives and make a difference.
It’s hard for people to be honest. The thing is how many people have sold themselves short because they’re not willing to take that little extra bit of help, work and knowledge to benefit and better themselves? Getting sober was easy. Doing the work was easy if you do it. Taking a look at myself was hard because I was a liar and was cheating. I don’t how to communicate without yelling or using immature things. It’s all growth. I’m still working on growing and being a better person. That’s what we’re all doing. A lot of people don’t do it. They cool where they’re at. Those are the difficult cases and the difficult ones but if it’s all easy, everybody would be doing it.
For each of you, what’s a closing comment or maybe some aspect of your work that we haven’t touched on yet or one that we’ve mentioned that you want to go back and highlight?
I don’t think it’s about my work. It’s about reaching someone else and I hope somebody can read this. I didn’t know how the next five minutes going to be. I had no understanding. At times, I’m a little overwhelmed with the next 30 minutes. I have to believe that you believe because that’s what the old timers used to tell me.
To anyone struggling, believe that I believe. I encourage you to try to get to know the person you’re trying to kill before you kill him or her because you might realize that you matter. You are so loved. Your story is not done and it’s up to you how you want to tell your story. If you work right, you’d become whomever you want. I can honestly tell you, sitting here next to my husband because I’ve said this before, that we love you. We expect nothing in return from you, except knowing that you’re trudging with us. That leads us to so much peace. Please don’t give up on yourself.Addicts must know that no matter how broken they are, someone loves them and their story is not done yet. It's up to them how to write their story and become whoever they want. Click To Tweet
The way I look at it, the hardest thing for anyone to do is this. “I need some help. I’m struggling.” Whether it’s financially, spiritually, emotionally, mental health or addiction, it doesn’t matter. The hardest thing to do is tell on yourself. If you got a heartbeat, you got hope. Put up your hand and ask for help, whether it’s through a YouTube video or during a stream event.
One of the neatest things I did was with a stream at Soldiers Field. I get to be a keynote speaker with Elvis Presley’s half-brother and the Founder of a Make-A-Wish Foundation, who unfortunately passed away. I got a beautiful life and it’s securing a message of hope out there. If you need help, call us. If you want to talk, give me a call. I pick up my phone all the time, (844) 611-4673. It rings on my cell phone. It’s as simple as that.
Thank you both so much for being willing to share and give your time to us and help with this project. It is DopeToHope.com. I look forward to following the story, how this new project blossoms and whatever new projects you get into. Thank you so much. It’s a blessing to know you.
Thank you so much. We can’t wait to tell you in the future about some of the projects that will be coming up.
We have some neat things in the works. Tim, we want to thank you for everything you do. We’ll be in touch.
- From Dope to Hope: A Man in Recovery
- The Tim and Jenn Show
- Spotify – The Tim and Jenn Show
- We Are the Luckiest Podcast
- We Are the Luckiest
About Tim Ryan and Jennifer Gimenez-Ryan
Tim Ryan, famously known as A&E’s Dope Man and a substance abuse interventionist, and Jennifer Gimenez-Ryan, world-renowned model, actress, substance abuse counselor, and reality TV star isn’t your typical celebrity couple in Hollywood. Not only are they famous and in active recovery, but they are also both proactive in changing lives. Sometimes, even helping to save them. Tim and Jenn speak to audiences all over the world. Whenever possible, they travel and work together during public speaking engagements. They inspire their audiences to live a more fulfilling, passionate and purposeful life.
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