One thing I have learned is that drugs don’t discriminate. They don’t care who you are. They don’t care about your race, your age, your gender, your religion, how much money you make, what level of education you received, what occupation you have, what family you come from. They will ruin you just the same.
My brother Kyle has been fighting drug addiction since he was a young teenager, progressing from alcohol and marijuana to Xanax and pain meds to cocaine, methamphetamine, and to heroin at 17. As a family, we watched drugs turn this happy, funny, talented, thoughtful, loving boy into a totally different person–a liar, a thief, a criminal…an addict. Kyle went through treatment after treatment–over 15, including in prison–beginning at age 16.
Kyle didn’t want to be an addict, but drugs controlled him. Due to his drug use, he spent time living on the streets, living in his car, in trap houses, in jail, in prison, if he wasn’t in rehab.
He had periods of sobriety, a couple rather substantial, over the last 6 years when he seemed like the old Kyle–happy and peaceful, spending time doing things that he loved like hanging out with family and friends, playing guitar, going to church, working, hunting and fishing. But drugs always pulled him back.
As the family and loved ones of a drug user, we grow to expect The Call. We pray and hope and plead for recovery, but our hearts always beat a little faster every time the phone rings. In late November 2016 shortly following court ordered time in treatment, we got The Call, or Facebook message in this case.
It said, “He is on the way to the hospital. He is breathing though. He overdosed.”
Kyle went into cardiac arrest and was without oxygen for some time. Medics were able to revive him, but he had a severe anoxic brain injury. He was in a coma-like state for about 6 weeks then slowly woke up. He made slow progress over the following months but now requires full time nursing care, as he is not able to communicate or eat or move his body on his own. He now lives in a nursing home.
On National Overdose Awareness Day I wrote, “Today is Overdose Awareness Day, also known as Black Balloon Day. There is something that I have become aware of, that I never imagined would be our reality. And that is this:
Not everyone who overdoses dies; but not everyone who survives an overdose gets to live, either. Some get stuck on this middle ground, wedged somewhere between life and death. Your body is alive and we see glimmers of your spirit and laughter, sometimes we get a thumbs up or a small wave, but you will never be the same.
I beg and I plead and I pray to God every day that you recover, that you are given a second (or third or thirteenth or thirtieth) chance to live a life of happiness and laughter, that you get a chance to walk and talk again.”
God has kept Kyle alive through 6 years of addiction, numerous overdoses and other life threatening situations. We have watched drugs steal the lives of so many young people, so many of Kyle’s friends and our loved ones. To this day I don’t know what the answer may have been for Kyle, for him to stay sober and to live a life free from the bondage of addiction. But I do know that something has to change, and I fully believe that people talking about addiction and mental illness, sharing our stories, is a big first step.
I started a blog shortly after his overdose and wrote my purpose statement, the reason I want to contribute:
I want to open the eyes and hearts of those who have not experienced addiction or watched it demolish the lives of loved ones. I want to provide some form of encouragement to those who struggle with addiction. I want to shine a beacon of hope and community to the families and friends who love an addict.
You are not alone. I may not know you; you may not know me. But somehow, I think all those who read this will realize we know each other much better than we think.
We are not alone.
A local news station did a story about our family last year; here is a link to the article and the video that gives more detail and talks more about Kyle’s and our family’s journey: https://www.komu.com/news/don-t-hide-it-what-the-opioid-crisis-actually-looks-like?fbclid=IwAR3JofeJ5nbA7LOWPe8-RDhHUzCrFm13_FMvDNtsFPyDI8oOvFC8Bgj-23Y
Kyle died on February 7, 2019
Story by Whitney Schneider