Ryan Leaf Visit: A message of hope to those struggling with addiction
November 24, 2022
WORLAND – Ryan Leaf gave a presentation of his life story and his battle with addiction at the Worland High School gym on the morning of Nov. 18.
Leaf, the second overall draft pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, played quarterback in the NFL for four years before retiring. Following his retirement, he struggled with an addiction to prescription drugs that caused him legal trouble beginning in 2010, ultimately resulting in a 32-month prison sentence which ended in 2014.
During his prison sentence he became an advocate for supporting those who deal with addiction and has since striven to share his message to audiences across the United States. At the time of his presentation in Worland, Leaf is 10 years and seven months sober and proclaims himself as an addict in recovery.
Leaf told students that getting sober was the hardest thing he had ever done. It was so hard that no matter how hard he tried, he could not do it on his own. It took the intervention of law enforcement to stop him going down his path of active addiction. He claimed that going to prison is the best thing that ever happened to him.
In his active addiction, Leaf had lied to and stolen from members of his community and his own family. When asked by an audience member how he righted these wrongs, he said that he has made amends with all those who he wronged in his addiction as part of his recovery. He could not speak on whether he had earned back the trust of his parents, but he shared that they do not care whether their son is an NFL player or not so long as he is at peace, a wish that he believes he fulfills today.
When asked what students could do for peers in similar situations with mental health or addiction, Leaf said that the best thing to do in the situation is to talk to them about the issue and encourage them to take action. If they are not receptive to this, but you think the issue is serious enough that it needs to be addressed, Leaf recommends to tell somebody else that can help them.
Following the presentation, Leaf spoke with the Northern Wyoming News about his recovery and public service.
On his battle with addiction, Leaf said that he had gone through rehabilitation programs three times and had six month periods of sobriety following the first two. He said the reason he was unsuccessful in his these attempts at sobriety because his reasons to be in recovery were not for himself; he wanted to get sober for the sake of public perception and to appease people in his life. Being in recovery for his own sake gives him a better chance, he said.
In addition to his intentions, Leaf attributed his continued success to service through events such as the presentation at the high school. He said that "service gets him outside of himself," and it continues to remind him that he is not alone in his addiction.
Aside from presentations, Leaf also works as a sports broadcaster, has both radio and YouTube shows and is a Program Ambassador for Transcend Recovery Community, a group of sober living communities in Los Angeles, Houston and New York City.
He said that he balances all of this work with his own recovery by always putting his recovery first. He attends recovery-based meetings, meets with a counselor and has a support system of people that help to keep him accountable. He said "Having idol hands for me is when I get in my own head. To balance it, for me, is to have the understanding that if I don't have the foundation based in my recovery and being of service then I don't get to do all those cool things. Working in my career is a reward for working in my recovery."
Leaf claims that instead of getting his life before drug addiction back, sobriety has given him a new life. He makes the distinction because he said that due to having the disease of addiction, even before he was addicted to substances his thoughts and actions were still those of an addicted person. His continued treatment of his disease has given him a life that is altogether new and improved. He said "I've got a new life, and ironically it's the life of my dreams. What I thought I wanted before was being a professional athlete and being rich and famous, but it wasn't really what I wanted. What I get to live now is the life of my dreams."
Having grown up in a Great Falls, Montana, Leaf is familiar with the impact that addiction can have on communities such as Worland. As he flew from Los Angeles, California, to Billings, Montana, his wife sent him a message that reminded him of the importance of his mission. She said "Hopefully being proactive will get at least someone to realize they can stop using."
Leaf believes that for the problem of addiction to see any improvement, the stigma surrounding it has to end. In light of recent deaths due to opioid overdoses in Worland, he said "This community has been what could be considered decimated by the opioid epidemic, because of the sheer numbers of people that are overdosing and that we're losing. It's just a continuation of shining a light on something that a lot of people don't want to bring out of the darkness because they're uncomfortable with it."
He believes that acknowledging the issue as a community is the best approach, and that openness to his message is a good start. He said "We are responsible for one another as a community. This is a step in the right direction toward understanding and dealing with addiction. It's imperative that the members of the community pick up the mantle and run with it."
A main theme of Leaf's presentation was that you should "do the next right thing." Whether in recovery or not, you are faced with choices every day, and each choice carries consequences. It is daunting to think about always doing the right thing, whether in recovering from addiction or in daily life; but as long as you continue to try to make a good decision on the choice in front of you, you can find success.