Turning Weakness into Strength

by Ryan B. Jackson, Ed.D

I am addicted to helping people. I have come to this conclusion. I thrive, feed off participating in the growth and development of other people. All people. Through my work in education, it’s students and teachers—even the community where I serve. Through Fit Leaders, it’s the sea of people in various leadership roles looking to synergize their personal and professional lives into something greater. But I didn’t start here. In fact, nowhere near here. I started in weakness. My Point A on the journey to helping others was confronting this weakness. Wrestling with it. Training alongside it. Then, finally, like a Matador, learning to bend this terrifying weakness to my will, using its once dominant, crippling power to my advantage—transforming it into a strength. Turning weakness into strength—say what? Utilizing a crippling disease to not only better myself but, in turn, inspire and change the lives of others? Sounds like something the great Stan Lee would have used as one of the origins for one of the X-Men: A wayward soul on the brink of self-destruction grips at life’s one-last-hope of redemption and finds his weakness is actually his greatest…strength. (RIP Stan. Bill Maher was wrong. Comics can be life-changing)

Below is the opening of a book I have told myself I need to write. Maybe it’ll happen in 2019. For now, it’s a fitting segue that highlights the biggest turning-point in my life. I hope it helps someone…

I am an alcoholic. That felt good to say. Not that being an alcoholic is something I am proud of, or that my genetic predisposition towards alcoholism is something I would wish upon anyone. I have simply learned that nothing in life changes until it is confronted. And it took me a very long time to confront this. My alcoholism. However, as of January 1, 2019, I am six years sober. Six years. I can now count the number of years sober on two hands! Let me add a little perspective. My son Rafael, who turns five in April, has never seen his father take a drink of alcohol. He has never seen his father drunk. He has never suffered from the fringe-effects that haunt active alcoholics and their families. On days when I struggle with this addiction (and there are plenty of those), these facts keep me motivated. These facts keep me whole.

However, I am one of the fortunate ones. I have never been arrested, received a DUI, assaulted or killed anyone, or lost my job due to my disease. For too many, this disease is beyond pulverizing, beyond damning. I am only fortunate because I privately confronted my disease—with unyielding support from my spouse—and mentally positioned it as a catalyst for my journey towards personal excellence. Of course, there was a tipping-point, a moment in my life where its direction could have gone one of two ways. I have an older, adopted son, Cole, and we were celebrating his 12th birthday. Back then, my version of celebrating was drink until it was all gone. So, as we celebrated his life, I celebrated the seemingly never-ending bowl of homemade punch. Hooch. And, what started as a joyous afternoon of birthday cake and candles, ended with me in a black-out stupor punching the screen out of our front storm door. I had gone too far. My son bore witness to the grips of alcoholic rage. My then girlfriend (now wife) was scared.

The next morning, staring through the intense fog and head-pounding of a merciless hangover, I sat on the edge of my bed and made a decision. I would use the Chinese philosophy of Crisis is danger meets opportunity (my biggest takeaway during my time in Guangzhou). I synthesized my son’s awareness, my girlfriend’s fear, and my inability to control my drinking into the single-most important decision I have ever made: to quit drinking. Cold turkey. Full disclosure, I did not completely quit drinking the day after nearly tearing my door off its hinges, but I reduced it down to a couple of drinks a week and by New Years Eve 2012 my mind was set. Thus, on New Years Day 2013, I fully committed. All in. No excuses. I would never drink another drop of alcohol as long as I lived. Now six years later I am in the best shape of my life, married to the woman of my dreams, have a thriving career in education and am the father of two boys — and alcohol free. 

I contemplated for a long time on how to start this book. Literally, where do I begin? Again, full disclosure: I had been working out, hitting the gym, trying to get “fit,” nearly a full year before I officially committed to sobriety. But it was that night—the infamous door punching night—that provided what Tony Robbins would describe as my “disturbing” moment. Indeed, I was disturbed. I was disgusted. I was ashamed. I was scared. The point is I was moved to take massive action. It was that event, coupled with the possibility of the fragile life I was so desperately hanging on to crashing right before my eyes, that truly inspired my behavioral change.

And that, friends, is the beginning of my book. My story. All of us who gravitate towards the Fit Leaders lifestyle have a story, each unique in its own way. We are compelled to better ourselves by some powerful force. Whatever that force is for you it has drawn you here. And now that we are connected, let’s get great, together. 

Much love and respect!

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