Recovering addict knows struggle Irsay faces

Jim Ryser became addicted to painkillers after dozens of surgeries for spina bifida.
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A recovering addict says he knows too well the struggle Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay is fighting.

Irsay has a history with addiction to painkillers, seeking treatment 12 years ago. He was arrested early Monday in Carmel for driving while intoxicated and possession of a controlled substance. He voluntarily checked himself into a treatment facility later Monday.

Jim Ryser has also struggled with addiction, fighting hard to control himself everyday. Enjoying nature and hunting get him out of the house and help him restore what he says an 18-year opiate habit stole. His habit started when he sought relief from chronic pain from spina bifida and 55 surgeries.

"I do remember the day that I took a couple of pain pills and it was just like, 'Oh, I haven't felt this good ever," Ryser said.

Percocet and intravenous Demerol were his drugs of choice.

"Believe me, I know what I am capable of. I will roll...I did, I rolled my father to get his pain medications. When he had terminal cancer, I was taking his meds. There is nothing an active addict brain will not do to avoid withdrawal," Ryser said.

Back in the day, he was known as "Jimmy," playing guitar, singing vocals with John Mellencamp and having solo success.

"I played with John, you know, or I did some work with Hall and Oates, or played on Tracy Chapman's record and then, for awhile, you couldn't turn on the radio without hearing, 'Same Old Look,' in this state," he said.

Ryser says there are parallels to the challenges now facing Irsay.

"The drag about being wealthy is that you can surround yourself by 'yes people' and I did a fine job of doing that myself," Ryser said. "Because of who I was, Jimmy Ryser, I was able to get a lot of scripts from a lot of people."

He calls addiction an illness and says no one is immune.

"Billionaires have heart attacks, too. They got diabetes, too. There is nothing wrong with being sick," Ryser said.

The first day, he says, is the hardest part.

Like Irsay, Ryser says he got help, and for 12 years now, has led a six-week intensive pain management program at IU Health, where it is preached the addict brain has no sense of time and is always vulnerable to relapse.

"I've been opiate-free for 15 years and alcohol-free for 15 years and I am one pill, one drink away from the next headline, truly," Ryser said.

He pursues his hobbies vigorously, setting up a target practice range in his basement and turning to music again. It's a distraction and it's working.

"I would not trade anything over the past 15 years for anything, including the $7 million that I had with that record deal. No thank you. No thank you," Ryser said. "It doesn't consume me anymore. Instead of pain having me, I have pain and that is a whole different world."

Ryser says the first step is to seek help and if you can reach out by calling the crisis hotline at 317-251-7575. The hotline is open 24/7.