200 Days Alcohol Free

Life has taken a turn in directions I never expected.

Growing up, I was not a very good student. School didn’t come naturally, and I struggled up until my very last year in high school. Between kindergarten and 1st grade, I had to take a transition class for one year because of my reading and math comprehension weaknesses. I remember being given special attention and one-on-one teaching during this period. That transition period helped me regain the skills to keep moving forward. But, I still struggled and had to re-take geometry during my high school senior year.

While everyone else was getting out early from classes, I was there from 7am — 4pm Monday — Friday. Right after class, I would go home, take a quick shower, and get ready for work. I worked at a local restaurant cleaning dishes until 11pm. I was up by 5:30am and walking on the school campus by 6:45am.

My mother had to drive me every day because the house we lived in was sold out from under us when my grandfather died. The house was in his name, and my aunt didn’t have any desire to allow us to stay. So, we moved across town, about 30 minutes away from where we lived. I didn’t want to be forced to switch schools during the last semester, and the daily grind of going to school, and working at night, was hard and exhausting. But it didn’t stop me from pressing forward to achieve the goal of a high school diploma. The hard work paid off, and I did succeed in this goal.

You see, during the summer in high school, I would work with my father on construction sites and often on the weekends when school was in session. My parents instilled the need to work hard from a very early age, and I gained a considerable amount of appreciation from that early push. Working hard, not always finishing first, is part of life’s adventures. So many times throughout my life, I remember having to do things more than once. That never-giving-up attitude instilled in me broke down the fear of failure at an early age.

Failure is not the end; instead, a new beginning. If you haven’t experienced failure in your class, personal, or professional life, you will eventually and should take it as a valuable lesson to continue pushing forward.

I served in the military from 2003–2007. I was deployed to Iraq twice during this time and saw things that made me realize just how valuable every last breath we take is. There is no freedom without a fight, and no freedom should be taken for granted. In the military, I experienced pervasive bullying because of who I was, a gay man. This went on for most of the time I was in. It didn’t discourage me, instead made me a stronger person. The bullying didn’t stop me from pushing forward; instead, it fueled my desire to fight back even harder. This is why I joined the Phoenix Pride board of directors and currently serve as the Vice President. If you want to make a change, be part of it. Like I said, there is no freedom without a fight.

When I got out of the military, I struggled with severe PTSD and addiction. It took many years of hard work, determination, and love from my partner of almost 14 years to overcome it. I worked tirelessly to finish my bachelor’s, master’s, and more recently, a doctorate degree.

In the midst of a recent personal achievement, humanity is challenged with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that has taken so many lives. All of us know someone affected by COVID-19, which is a testament to how interconnected we are. Failures of leadership brought the global economy to a near screeching halt. Instead of looking to science for answers, we had a reality T.V. star offering baseless opinions and recklessly disregarded human life in the process. A breakdown in leadership can result in severe consequences.

I believe leadership is an iterative process. The leaders of tomorrow are desperately needed today. We need leaders that recognize the importance of building bridges, coalitions and are willing to fight for equal justice under the law. Let’s not kid ourselves; there is a lot of unequal justice being unleashed in our society today. It doesn’t have to be that way; you can change it, we can all change it, we as a society must change. Today we witness racial injustice, economic inequality, and partisan divisions unlike anything in our history. If you want to make a difference, be willing to take a risk.

I took a considerable risk last year by running for State Senate in Arizona. I didn’t win the primary (this time), but I still put one hell of a fight in trying! Like I said before, sometimes things take more than one attempt before you achieve your goal. Don’t be discouraged by failure; instead, let it drive your next try towards success! Now, I’m not suggesting that you run for public office; in fact, I would advise talking with a professional therapist first to prepare yourself.

The bridge to a new way of life is made when you build it. Keep in mind that solving problems is easy; it’s finding problems to solve that’s hard. Something I’ve said many times in the past and use as a guiding principle in my own life is:

Only the people who say it can’t be done will be the reason why it can’t get done.

I stopped drinking alcohol 200 days ago because it was impacting my ability to be a good leader that can keep fighting for our community. To me, this is a reflection of good leadership, not a weakness of it. Opening up to those around you shows strength, gives others who may be struggling with similar issues hope, and can change lives.

I leave you with this famous quote from the late civil rights leader, John Lewis:

Nothing can stop the power of committed and determined people to make a difference in our society. Why? Because human beings are the most dynamic link to the divine on this planet.

One Day At A Time.

Dr. Ryan A. Starzyk

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The official publication for Dr. Ryan A. Starzyk.

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Dr. Ryan A. Starzyk

Dr. Ryan A. Starzyk

Progressive Democrat, Military Veteran, Community Leader, LGBTQIA+ Lifetime Member, Small Business Owner (he/him/his)

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