The day my baby daughter, Sadie was born, I was completely intoxicated.
It was July 10th, 1999. I was in Wichita, Kansas and a massive thunderstorm was on the horizon; literally and figuratively. I had met Sadie's mom Andea a few years earlier after joining the Central Hockey League. I was 21 years old. I was a pro hockey player living the life... or so I thought. I spent the afternoon that my daughter was born getting drunk and high with my buddies, all in anticipation of my great act of manhood -- having a kid. I was far gone at one point, I could barely carry on a conversation, but I made sure that the bottles of Cristal and Crown Royale made their way to us in the waiting room. If we could've, we would have probably done drugs there too, but going outside to get high was the only thing that led me to leave the waiting room and the looks of disgust Sadie's mom's side of the family couldn't help but aim like daggers at me. Daggers which, in turn, fueled my arrogant ego, which led me to throw my drinking and drug use in their faces even more.
But something happened when I held her in my arms that day. I actually managed to get it together, at least enough so that when my friend held a video camera to my head, I was able to say, "Sadie, I'm your father, and I will always be there for you, you will be loved..." That's all I really remember, but I do remember it was as if when she was born, some rush of energy made me snap out of my intoxication, and I meant every word I said on camera. She was so tiny. A sense of peace that I'd never felt before overcame my body, mind and spirit. In a flash, my life had changed forever.
There was one catch; the storm clouds hadn't left my life and the other shoe hadn't yet dropped. Thanks to my rockstar level partying, my hockey career was slipping away. I made excuses, but I always kept taking my partying to another level. I was on a downward spiral. But nothing anyone said or did could snap me out of this state of delusion. Besides the moment that happened to me, when I saw my tiny little girl look up at me, when I could actually see inside her eyes my own, I was dead inside.
The following year, I was apprehended on the U.S. side of the border with 100 pounds of high-grade pot in a conspiracy to import. Considered a flight risk, I was detained in a maximum facility and didn't see daylight for over 500 days. I can't describe what that was like. Besides the brutal detox and lack of empathy by any guards for your well-being, you get stuck thinking a lot. The only light in my life during the literal darkness of those days was my memory of holding Sadie.
The fact that I was told I would never be allowed back into the U.S. paralyzed me with fear and depression. I couldn't even begin to think of how I could clean up this mess I'd created.
Upon my release and signing the papers saying I would never re-enter the U.S. again, I was escorted back to Canada in a bulletproof van. As I stared out the window, all I could think about was my little girl. What if I never see her again? I only thought the worst. Her mother and my family, thank God, were pillars of strength, and they made it possible for us to see each other.
There was one other bright spot. After spending the first seven months in pre-sentencing, a Japanese man known as Tojo, short of stature and reminding me of a real-life Buddha in demeanor, banged on my door and pulled me into his cell. He started teaching me about tuning into positive vibrations and the laws of cause and effect. He told me that all would pass and my current situation was only temporary. He instilled the principal in me that it didn't matter where I was, I didn't have to be a prisoner of my own mind. In no time, he had me writing poetry and positive affirmations. He brought out laughter in me in a place driven by fear. He taught me that the most important thing of all was self-love. His words were, "You got to love yourself." his teachings stuck with me. He told me I would never forget him, and he was right. If you can't love yourself, how can you love others? I knew he came into my life for a reason, and even though I got off my path temporarily, not a day goes by that I don't think of the care he took in making me realize that my thoughts were physical -- and powerful at that. He taught me out of the love in his heart because he wanted to pass on his wisdom and make me understand that no matter what anyone does in the past, it is the past. The present moment is all we have, and it's in the powerful now that future events are created through the energy of the thoughts that dominate the human mind. For that I will be eternally grateful.
Tojo became a surrogate father to me in a prison when family and love felt very far away from me aside from the odd weekend visit. I didn't want my parents to see me in that situation out of embarrassment and shame.
But this is a story about love, not loss. In 2012, I was granted access as a humanitarian back to the U.S., a country that I really love. I had become involved with the Somaly Mam Foundation and I started to really focus on doing good in the world and my efforts were reciprocated, to say the least. I found my happiness finally after 12 long years. But it wasn't until I believed with full faith that it would happen that miracles started becoming reality. It just so happened I filmed a documentary called Return to Happiness that documents the adversities in life that I overcame with positive energy. The love of my daughter and the desire to return to the states were major inspirations for the film.
The dynamics of my whole family have changed drastically, as we know now that no matter what, anything is possible. Love and faith in most cases will always find a way. The United States often faces harsh criticism these days for its foreign policy and other issues. I still see it as a beacon of hope in the world that will redeem someone like me (or Tojo) for spreading goodwill in the world. Lead by example and do good in the world -- that's what our kids and this country need.
I decided to use my life to inspire. I found my purpose through my willingness to never accept failure and now, I'm three years sober. I love people and I believe that anything is possible, but in many instances, happiness comes through experiencing adversity, whether it be self-inflicted or fate. We are the ones that create our own destinies through positive faith in ourselves and helping others to see they can do more with their lives than they think they can.
Ryan and Sadie