Shine a Light on the Dark

Often the story of mental health and substance abuse are found in the darkness. Where people are alone and feel invisible, stuck in a place where it feels as though there is no escape. Other times these stories are public and posted across the news, so was the case for Ryan Leaf.

As a former NFL quarterback, Ryan had the spotlight on him during his career and after his exit from the league. For Ryan, his struggle in mental health and substance abuse was public, “any misstep of mine is a national news story.” Though the spotlight brought negative attention, it also made it easier by holding him accountable. “There are so many like me who struggle in the darkness, and now one ever sees it,” explains Ryan. “A light was cast on me and made me address my problems.”

On his path to recovery and a healthy lifestyle, Ryan found that the way forward was in serving others. “I never thought that if I made it not about me, but about other people unbelievable things would happen for me.” After leaving the treatment facility, he found work as a driver for a sober living organization. It is here that he found encouragement from his boss to share his story. That it would help others who are also struggling. “This is about helping people along through the most difficult journey you will experience and that is life.”

Today, Ryan travels around the country speaking and being an advocate for wellness, mental health, and substance abuse. “What afforded me a platform was playing football. It was something that I disliked greatly after my exit from the NFL. But it has given me a new life.” Because of this platform, new opportunities were available for him to not only share his story, but to also learn about the work being done by others across the country.

It is on this new path that Ryan was introduced to the VOA Oregon Men’s Residential Center (MRC). In speaking with Greg Stone, Program Director, and the residents at MRC, Ryan learned the impact of the program within the Portland community. “What Greg has done in the Portland area, his story, what he has been able to accomplish and build in the city is exceptional. He is the epitome of somebody who is of service to others in hopes that they find new life.”

“When we talk about being of service to others sometimes, we compartmentalize that into donating money, going on a mission, or donating items. But your story has impact.” It is through his story that Ryan can put a spotlight on the issues that many deal with alone. Sharing your story, talking about the struggles many deal with everyday can help remove the stigma of mental illness and substance abuse.

For those who are struggling, “I hope that you find peace,” shares Ryan. “That you find surrender and acceptance. Surrender to the fact that you can’t control this, you can’t do it on your own. Accept help that is available to you. It doesn’t matter where you go or where you look, help is available to you if you choose to accept it.”

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