OTTAWA — After realizing he was coming to a dead end in his battle with an alcohol problem, Bobby Ryan says asking for help has shown him a way forward.
The Ottawa Senators right-winger met with the media Friday morning for the first time since entering the joint NHL/NHL Players Association assistance program Nov. 20.
Ryan said the alcohol problem is one he’s been battling for a while, and that he attempted to deal with it on his own before realizing he needed more help.
"I was trying the white-knuckle thing and do things the wrong way," Ryan said. "I’d have 20 days of nothing and one real, bad one and you just can’t get better without (help). There’s such a stigma around asking for help and I was trying to do it. I’ve done that for a long time.
"I guess you could call it a panic attack, but it was more a realization that the route that I was going had no good end in sight and that’s not just professionally, that’s personally. I didn’t want to continue to do that. I had a lot of times where I woke up in the mornings overridden with guilt, shame and saying I would do it and do it for 12 days and then messing up again. It had no good end."
The prospect of having to share his battle publicly led Ryan to delay looking for help, but he finally realized it was a necessity.
"I took two weeks agonizing over the fact that it was going to be a media thing for me and I spent months and years before that trying to avoid that with doing it on my own," he said. "I got to a point where I said enough’s enough of this. Of the shame and the guilt and not being the person you need to be for your family.
"I’ve dreaded this day for a better part of three months, but if you’re going to stand here and take time to heal yourself, you’re going to have to face the music."
Ryan has spoke previously of his troubled upbringing. His father was charged with attempted murder after assaulting his mother, then skipped bail. The family reconciled and lived on the run until his father was eventually tracked down, arrested and jailed after he pled guilty to aggravated assault.
Ryan said his past wasn’t a catalyst for his alcohol problem, but it played a part.
"I had a lot of issues surrounding that and I think for a very long time I just kind of put my head down and never dealt with any of it," he said. "Check the metaphorical boxes from the time I was 15 on and I got hit with waves of it the past little while and didn’t deal with any of those waves right for a long period of time and things just continued to escalate for the last three years.
"My therapy is going to continue. It’s not fun, but it’s something I need to be able to let go and put in my past and I’ve started to do that, but I feel great and at peace with a lot of it and I’m still continuing to let go of some more."
Montreal Canadiens forward Nate Thompson, a former teammate of Ryan with the Senators, said he reached out to offer whatever support he could. As a recovering addict himself, he understands the courage it takes to deal with an addiction, but also the loneliness that can come from it.
"He should be proud," Thompson said. "He went out and got help and now he’s being open about it and I think it’s really big of him to do that because it’s going to help somebody else out too. It’s big of him to be able to say I’m going to talk about it with everybody and let everyone know how I’m doing and admit that I needed help. I think that’s the biggest thing is just being brave enough and to me that shows the most courage is just to be able to admit you need help."
Ryan, 32, last played Nov. 16. He has been skating since late December and coach D.J. Smith said he could be back in the Senators lineup in about a week.
Ryan said he feels great physically, and is looking forward to getting back in the lineup as a sort of reset for himself both on and off the ice.
"People have reservations about where I’m at in my career and contract and I understand that," he said. "I’m not saying I’m going to come out of this and play to the $7 million guy that I want to be as much as everybody else does, but this is a chance for me to reset and prove that I still have some years left in this league and I can play and I can contribute. In a sense I hope it’s at home because my wife and kids will be here for that and they’ve earned this as much as I have."