Ryan Howard first realized he had a serious problem with addiction the moment he found himself alone in his dingy New York apartment with Dwight Schrute and Michael Scott. He had lied that night, claiming that Troy was the one with the problem. It was only months later in rehab that he came to terms with the bad habit of lying he had honed during the past year of addiction. Sitting in that circle in the unforgivingly bright and sunny room in Florida, he had finally had to take a long and hard look at the man he had become. He wasn't sure how he had made the journey from business school graduate to corporate vice president to prison inmate to cocaine addict. He only knew that the long road had led him there, alone and surrounded by people who didn't give a damn about him. It was a lonely place to find yourself at twenty-six.
His dance with addiction had started innocently enough, just the occasional joint at a party when he was hanging out with his college friends. It wasn't until he had moved to New York that it had become anything more. Most people would assume that it was a result of being in the high-pace environment with the late nights and pretty people, but Ryan's story was very different. He only made friends once he started taking cocaine. He had used the crystal white powder to forget the ghosts that had followed him from Scranton.
I admitted that I was powerless over addiction, that my life had become unmanageable.
He had uttered that sentence at his first Narcotics Anonymous meeting in Fort Lauderdale. The story changed every time he told someone. He had lied to Kelly that afternoon in the annex. One moment he had been kissing her, having everything that he had thought he wanted for months in lock up. And then, he was resorting back to his old ways, panicking as the emotions became real and she grew closer to him. He had thought that he was past all that when he had left prison. He had finally felt ready to let her in. Living for a year without her and seeing her slowly fall in love with another man had made him realize that he still wanted Kelly in his life. Even more than that, he needed her in his life. Knowing that couldn't stop the anxiety, however; if anything, it only made everything feel that much more important.
So, being the coward that he was, Ryan had broken up with her with some stupid lie about going to Thailand with old high school friends or some random kids from a high school. He couldn't really remember what he had said at the time. He had just needed to end it rather than going on living the truth any longer. He was comfortable with the lies. Addicts usually are. It's only when they are forced to deal with reality and look at what their lives had become that they start to worry. It was that anxiety that had sent Ryan to the airport the next morning with the little bit of money she had given him and his most important possessions stashed in a tote bag.
One week faded into two, and before he knew it, Ryan had lost nearly two months in Florida. He couldn't remember most of his days there. He would find himself at a bar, knocking back boilermakers for hours until a pretty girl with caramel skin and silky black hair would catch his eye. He would entertain thoughts of flirting with her until images of Kelly would flash in his mind. As soon as he would think of her, he was out on the streets, trying to find the first statuesque blonde that would take his mind off of her. He'd spend his nights screwing with random skanks and getting high, just doing what he could to survive the darkness. It was a numb and empty life, but it was the one that he deserved.
It was only after one night when he woke up alone in a dingy motel room with his wallet missing and blood dripping from his nose that Ryan finally started to admit that maybe something really was wrong with him. He could still remember crawling on his hands and knees to the bathroom and staring at his ghastly reflection in the cracked mirror above the dirty sink. His hair had been bleached blonde at some point, but he had no clue how it had happened. His eyes were sunken in and lackluster, his skin pale and dry. He knew that he probably smelled, and he couldn't remember the last time he had eaten any real food. As he stared back at a man that he didn't recognize, Ryan finally started to feel again.
He had sat on the floor of that bathroom, alternating between dry heaving as he came down off his high and sobbing uncontrollably as he came to terms with his life. After he finally managed to scrape himself off the dirty tile, he had called his parents collect back in Pennsylvania. When they hadn't answered, he had dialed the only other number he could remember off the top of his head. In fact, he could still remember the phone numbers for her direct extension at work, her apartment and her cell phone. He had spent months wanting to forget, but he had never been able to do it. He had never been able to let go of Kelly.
"Customer service, this is Kelly."
His grip on the telephone receiver as her bubbly tone greeted him warmly from hundreds of miles away. "Kel."
"Oh my gosh," she gasped. He knew that she hadn't been expecting to hear from him. Why should she? The only time he ever called her was when he was completely trashed, but he hadn't called her once since their breakup. "Ryan? Where are you? Are you still in Thailand."
"Kel, I need help," he cried into the phone. The tears had returned with full force, streaming down his hollow cheeks as he bent over on the lumpy mattress. "Kel, I need you."
"Tell me where you are," she murmured as she reached for a pen on her desk. He could almost imagine her uncapping the glittery pink gel pen that she always kept in reach. Ryan gave her the address while she scrawled it down. He could hear her shuffling things around on her desk as she shut down her computer. "I'm coming to you, Ryan, just hang in there okay. Don't go anywhere."
Kelly had spoken him all the way to the airport, not even hanging up as she bought a ridiculously expensive ticket for a last minute flight to Florida. She had stayed on the line while she waited to board all the way until the stewardesses had made her shut off her cell phone. The phone in his room had rung the minute she landed, and the conversation didn't end until she showed up at his door. Clutching only her purse and two cups of coffee from a gas station around the corner, Kelly had sat with him for hours as he started to detox. They talked very little. Ryan mostly slept. She feared that he would wake up and change his mind but decided to believe that he had reached his bottom.
When he had finally emerged from a long nap, Kelly had already packed his things back into the duffel bag. There was a taxi waiting for them at the curb. The calls had already been made to his parents and to the rehab center. His parents would pay for everything, and in thirty days, he would get to come home. She had held his hand the entire way to the facility, speaking to him about the little things that used to annoy him but suddenly seemed to matter more than anything.
And then she had walked him to the door and stood on her tiptoes as she kissed him on the cheek. "You can do this, I know it," she whispered in his ear as he held her tightly in the doorway. "You are going to get better and then you are going to come home. To me. I'll be waiting, Ryan. I've never given up on you to this point, I won't start now."
"I'm so scared," he confessed quietly, reaching up to wipe away the tears glittering in her dark eyes. He knew that she was just as scared as he was. "I don't know how to do this. I don't know how I am supposed to get through this."
Kelly didn't have the answers. In fact, she really didn't have much to say. She ignored the nosy nurses and the impatient doctors waiting for her to say her final goodbye. They were not going to take this moment from her. "You just do it, Ryan," she told him gently. He leaned down and pressed his forehead to hers. It was such a small and intimate gesture for a man that usually tried his hardest to keep the distance between them. "I've always believed that you could do anything that you wanted to do. Just think about all the celebrities that survived rehab and you're totally stronger than any of them."
He had to laugh at her comment, remembering all those issues of US Weekly that had littered his apartment for weeks when Lindsay Lohan had been in rehab. Kelly had been obsessively worried about the health of the teen star. However, as much as she had cared about Lindsay, it didn't even start to compare to how much she wanted for Ryan to get better. "Thanks, Kel."
"You got it," she smiled as she reluctantly pulled away from him. She knew that this was the part where she was supposed to say goodbye. She had never really been that good at saying that word. Instead, she decided to leave Ryan the way she had always left him when they were together. "I love you."
"It's totally fine, Ryan, you don't have to say it back," she shrugged nonchalantly. She had gotten used to this part, too, the part where he pretended that he didn't feel exactly the same way that she did. "I'm the one that you called. You don't have to say it for me to know it's true. Maybe after all this is over you'll find the right words. Until then, you just need to work on getting better."
Thirty meetings in thirty days, Ryan had done exactly what he was supposed to do. He had gone to the individual therapy sessions where he was forced to talk about his emotionally unavailable parents, his inability to commit to anything real and all the other issues that had plagued him these past few years. He had shared his insecurities and his fears in group. He had read the books, taken the classes and abstained from anything that he used to consider fun. He'd called his mother every Sunday evening and Kelly almost every night. He had written her letters and even made her a wooden box in a crafts class. He had done everything they had asked him to do in Fort Lauderdale because of those words he had read that first night.
Ryan had spent the year since leaving Scranton in a drug-induced haze. He had become someone incapable of feeling anything, but Kelly had still managed to love him through it. She had gone back to him when he had tried to win her back, and she had stayed by his side even after he'd dyed his hair blonde and nearly overdosed in that motel. His life was unmanageable before that month in rehab. He had become completely powerless.
However, when he stepped off that plane a month later in Philadelphia and walked into his mother's arms, he had regained the tiniest sliver of control over his life. He knew that it would be a long walk out of hell, an even longer one that had brought him there. He would work his way back to the top, though, this much he was sure. He had a different reason for wanting to get ahead. It wasn't about power or money or prestige. Ryan knew that he had to prove that he was worthy. He had to show Kelly that he was worth her love. But first, Ryan had to get through step two.