For the privacy of myself and my family, I cannot go into the specifics of what I did on the Internet. But in 2017, I opened up to my team about parts of my childhood that have nagged at me and bothered me my whole life. I stayed up one very late night, writing a letter to my team about these demons that have haunted me.
The time was 3:44 AM on a very late October night and we had practice in less than four hours. I had finished writing the letter on an impulse. It took hours, and I knew for certain that I didn't want to read it again, or else I might have second thoughts. I copy and pasted it into our group chat, and then I stopped for a long time, my index finger hovered over the send button. And then I started thinking about what a bad decision it would be, and I started shaking uncontrollably. My closest friends and teammates would never see me the same again.
99 times out of 100, I would have backed out. Deleted the letter entirely and all its traces. Never done it again. But something came over me that night, a mantra that came into my thinking: "Ryan, you're not a kid anymore." I hit the send button, knowing that in the morning, for me, all hell would break loose. Nothing would be the same. I laid in bed for even more time, completely unable to sleep, still shaking, thinking to myself, "what the fuck have you done? Why?" A lot of people would never expect this of me, but at that point, I cried and I couldn't stop.
In the morning, one of my teammates texted me after reading it, giving me his unconditional support and praising me for what I'd done. I tried to hold back the tears. At this point, I knew it wasn't weakness, but the thought of "what the fuck have you done?" still permeated. It was something I'd been taught throughout my life to not talk about and acknowledge. I opened a can of worms that is regarded by society and my family to not be talked about, and I had no idea what was going to happen. I only knew I was still nervous, still shaking.
Several minutes later, I made my way into our locker room. Another teammate hugged me and gave me his support. I cried again. I told my coach what I did and why I got so little sleep the night before and cried again as I coughed out the words. But throughout the entirety of the next several days, everyone on my team rallied my support. I had talked to my coach about this being my goal for the semester. I'm not sure why I did, but I did so on a whim. I had accomplished it. Nothing about it was fun, but every part of it was necessary.
Afterwards, though, I felt a huge weight lifted off of me. I took on absolute vulnerability and at that point, I had nothing left to hide. I was finally at peace and ready to move on.
It was what happened after that surprised me. Moment after moment, some of my teammates went through similar painful processes I did of opening up about things they were hiding, and some people credited me with breaking open the gates and leading a culture where vulnerability was not only acceptable, but the norm. Some of these people even sought my opinions before they did what they had to do. It's not a role or accomplishment I was actively looking for, but it's one that I've learned to embrace from my experience.
Obviously, not everything has magically changed with my one decision: the daily rigors of my life are still overbearing at times. But the process has grown and matured me substantially. I have no regrets and have grown much stronger and deeper bonds with my friends than I did previously. I have been connected to a great minister, Stephen, who I meet with once a month to discuss where to go from here. He suggested a book called "The Healing Path," by Dan Allender, a Christian counselor, which taught me that suffering in life is not a bad thing - that I can use everything I've been through to help lead others through the same.
One quote from the book has struck out to me and to every person who has read the book. In an early part of the book, one woman had her six-year-old son buckled in her front seat, forgotten something in her house, and ran back in the house to get it. When she came back, she was horrified to see that her son had gotten into the driver's seat, started the car, and jumped out. His skull was crushed. The woman would undergo tremendous grief and guilt and would undergo a lengthy process of recovery.
But she had said one thing to Allender in her quest for recovery, "thank you for letting me know it is not wrong to suffer."
Let it be known that I'm not even Christian - but these meetings and everything that has happened have changed my outlook on life significantly. I look back on everything I've gone through, the choices I make and didn't make in my life with no regrets. I look back on my decision to open up that one October night as the best decision I have ever made - not only for myself but for my team, friends, family, and everyone around me.
Where do I really go from here? I don't know. But I'm truly at peace now because I now know I'm finally on the right path.