From Addiction to Advocacy
By Bridget Whitfield
The only thing Ryan Barone cared about, had hope in, and looked forward to was crack cocaine. Once an aspiring actor, substance abuse had caused Ryan to become an empty shell of the man he used to be. He had morphed into a person his family didn’t recognize.
Now, years later, Ryan is happily married, raising a child and working as community engagement coordinator at ACR Health. In August, he celebrated seven years clean from drugs and alcohol.
“You don’t always see an individual who’s so honest and open about their experiences,” said Daniel Reed, ACR Health senior prevention health advocate. “And I think that has made him to be this beacon in ACR Health, because he’s a wealth of knowledge on so many different levels.”
Ryan relapsed in September. Leaving his home in the morning, he spent the next 10 hours using. After, he returned home, and he’s been clean since.
The humbling experience — one of the toughest moments of his life — reminded him he will always be in recovery, he said.
“My ego started to come into play again, and I thought I had it all figured out,” Ryan said. “It was hard, and it came with a lot of guilt and shame losing seven years.”
Ryan’s first contact with drugs was during high school, when he experimented with marijuana. It eventually became an everyday hobby. After his mother discovered the habit and urged him to stop, he backed away from the drug and graduated.
But on his first night of college at SUNY Brockport, where he went to study theater, he was tempted again. With the hope of fitting in, he started smoking marijuana. By the following year, he was introduced to psychedelic drugs like ecstasy and acid. He eventually was expelled, with a .008 GPA.
Ryan moved home, and made a living selling drugs and bouncing between entry level jobs. A coworker who had been recently released from prison introduced him to crack cocaine, and he was hooked.
“I almost knew I was addicted after that first hit,” Ryan remembered.
The next few years were filled with crime, violence, jail time and stealing from those closest to him.
Ryan’s mother had no idea about his drug abuse, and was devastated when he admitted to her he was battling addiction.
“It was the most difficult seven or eight years of my life,” she remembered. “I told him I used to pray to whoever was there to take me and save him. That’s how painful it was and I just wanted him to be OK.”
In 2009, Ryan went to treatment court, and spent 30 days in jail. He decided to turn his life around, spending time in rehab and then a half-way house.
Ryan wanted to get a job in public health. When someone suggested ACR Health, he knew he’d found a place where sharing his experiences could help others struggling with drug addiction.
Ryan was hired as the community engagement coordinator, and was recently promoted to oversee a new program relating to HIV testing and education throughout Onondaga County.
He works with the peer education program at ACR Health. Peer educator Tracie Adams said she greatly appreciates Ryan’s counsel. After Tracie had served two years in prison, Ryan helped her readjust to life in society.
“When I came home from prison, I went to talk to him and he gave me his honest opinion,” Tracie said. “He was a great listener and he helped me out a lot.”
Ryan admits he’s not a model of perfection. His peers and clients appreciate that. It makes him a role model they can approach in both moments of triumph and moments of weakness.
Knowing he helps people save their own lives is “more than fulfilling,” he said.
“It’s one of the most amazing feelings,” Ryan said. SWM
For more information on ACR Health, visit acrhealth.org.