Chestnut Hill native John Cawley, CEO of Inspyr, gave this year's Chestnut Hill Community Association's Annual Hoop Madness 11-year-old winners (from left) Grace Walter, Sam Wade, Brooke Edwards and …
by Sue Ann Rybak
This is the fourth article in a series that examines adolescence and addiction. Instead of focusing on the growing problem, it attempts to make the public aware of some the programs that are attempting to address addiction and provide hope for those who struggle with addiction every day.
Chestnut Hill native John Cawley, 52, was just 14 years old when he started drinking alcohol on the weekends with his friends behind the Water Tower Recreation Center.
“I have an addictive personality,” he said. “My grandfather was an alcoholic. My dad was an alcoholic. It wasn’t long before it morphed into more. When you start drinking at an early age and become someone you are ashamed of, it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
The Oreland resident knows firsthand the control addiction can have over your life.
“Addiction for me was such a powerful demon – it had no boundaries of right or wrong,” said Cawley, who grew up on Highland Avenue.
He said he tried to quit several times in the past, but he always went back to drinking.
“I was trying to get better,” he said. “I was praying. At one point, I was 60 days sober. But Addiction is like this demon in the back of your head that says ‘you’ll be back.’ And I kind of knew it was only going to be temporary. I was very disappointed in my life.
“On Feb. 8, 2000, I was at my lowest point. I was drinking every day. My wife was six-months pregnant with our first child. That day my wife, who’s a school teacher, opens the door and looks at me. We were supposed to go get an ultrasound of the baby and I was whacked out of my mind. I said, ‘Are you ready to go?’ And she said, ‘You are not going anywhere. You are a disgrace.’
“She went back out the door and went to the ultrasound without me. That is when my whole life changed. It was incredible. I walked upstairs and looked in the mirror. And all of a sudden, this warm sensation in my head came over me. I felt it sort of enter and then in a blink of an eye, I felt this anxiety lift from my body.
“I knew it was gone. It was lifted from me. And I remember thinking, ‘What will tomorrow be like?’ because it was finally over. I never went to rehab. I never went to one meeting and I never had a relapse and to this day people ask me how I did it.”
My wife came home and she was still angry. She put up with me for seven years of my debauchery because she saw something in me.”
Cawley said he wasn’t afraid to share his story because his past doesn’t equal his future. In fact, it was his personal struggle with addiction that provided him with the skills he needed to start Inspyr.
“I knew in my heart I wanted to give back,” said the father of three children. “I just didn’t know how until 2013.”
While on vacation with his wife in Virginia Beach, he came across “a vulgar scene printed on a T-shirt in the window of a retail store.”
“The T-shirt had an imprint of a Dallas Cowboys’ fan and a New York Giants’ fan and it had these oversized hands giving each other the finger,” he said. “I looked around and saw all these little kids looking at the same thing. I said to my wife, ‘Why don’t we put an entrepreneurial message on these shirts and get kids thinking about being successful and spreading that message to others?’”
After testing the market, he decided to put inspirational messages on the back of socks where people can see them. Over the years, he said there has been a lot of “trials and tribulations,” but he was determined not to give up.
“Inspyr gear is that little reminder to never give up,” he said. “Little things can be powerful reminders to summon inner strength. Words have power.”
And his customers agree.
Ellen Taylor, a customer, said in an email that Inspyr messages “mean so much and make it easier to deal with everything.”
“Two years ago, my left leg became paralyzed,” she wrote. “I worked so hard in PT to still be able to walk with just one leg. Now, I can’t put weight on any of my legs, so I am in my wheelchair … I have one pair and everybody loves [to] compliment on them.”
She added that her inspiring socks “make it easier to cope … so thank you for giving me that.”
Rachael, another customer who preferred not to list her last name wrote:
“You have no idea who I am, but I need you to know the impact you have on my life. I came across your story just recently. It really hit close to home for me … it brings tears to my eyes to know why you started Inspyr. Fitness is huge in my life, and I really lost sight of that passion once I lost control of my drinking due to my addiction. I have been in intensive outpatient treatment for one month and I will continue to fight this battle. I won’t give up! The first pair of socks I bought from you say ‘overcome.’ Your entire business is about more than socks. I truly admire that. Thanks for the hope.”
These are just a few of the personal stories Inspyr’s 20,000 followers on social media have posted or tweeted.
And Inspyr doesn’t just sell socks. They sell headbands, wristbands and sunglasses with motivational messages on them.
Cawley said he hopes his story will inspire others to as the words on Inspyr’s gear states “Over-Come” any obstacles they may face.
For more information about Inspyr or to order its products, go to https://inspyrsocks.com/.
Sue Ann Rybak can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-248-8804