“I felt like I was in this crazy forest and there was a straight path in front of [me], and it’s like, ‘Dude, just walk the path. You’re totally fine. You don’t have to get distracted by all this,’ but for some reason I got completely lost and I had no clue what I was doing. I just did what was in front of me.'”
My name’s Kyle and I’m an addict. Most of my story begins when I was a really small child. A lot of the experiences I went through before anything were I guess the things that have kind of altered me, or what I would say made me into that black sheep—a lot of things to do with family and certain decisions that I made that affected other people or the things I hold most dear that I go back to and hold a lot of shame.
Not too much really happened. I lived with my grandparents as long as I can remember. My parents were divorced. Dad was crazy in his addiction, and so everyone gets the same answer of, “I’ll tell you when you’re older,” and you never get any answers. I wouldn’t say anything was terribly wrong, or nothing was blatantly horrible, but it just was what it was.
It wasn’t until my mom switched me to go to a Catholic school and this is where everything kind of started. Of course there’s a ton of rebellion in me. I was becoming a teenager, wanted my hair long, wanted to listen to rock-n-roll, and you go to this Catholic school and it’s like, “Hey, you need to be this way. You need to believe this.” And I’m like, “I don’t really believe any of that.” Around that time also my dad also got deeper and deeper in his addiction and kind of completely detached himself from our family—not any of [it] his total choice, but it’s just kind of how it happened.
I went there, of course I hooked up with the bad kids. I started drinking a lot and smoking weed. Teachers definitely caught onto it, and were like, “Hey we need to help fix this kid or help him do this or do that,” and it didn’t necessarily work. I’m pretty sure I had a detention every single week. Around eighth grade was when I started experimenting with other things, like pills. My grandpa had prescriptions, so [I thought], “I might as well just take a couple of these,” and fell in love. It skyrocketed pretty quick. I would take so many that my insides hurt, I’d be up all night, and I’m this little kid.
When I went into high school once again things inclined a lot more. I hooked up with a lot of the older kids and for whatever reason, I totally assimilated into their group and would go to parties with them and I became their guinea pig in a way. They would give me this or that that I would have no clue what it was, and they’d be like, “Just try it. How do you feel? How’s it going? What are you feeling now?” I had no clue what I was taking half the time, but it felt great.
Freshman year, I would say, was the only good time of me using. It’s kind of cool I guess going into the new high school experience like, “Oh man I’m so cool,” and hooking up with all these people. There’s a ton of different groups in high school—a ton of people with different interests. But the only thing I got interested in was drugs.
Around the summer, I ended up hanging out with some of my old friends that were from my childhood, and we all grew up and started using drugs together. I could tell that my mom had no clue at this point and was just like, “Oh, he’s a teenager having fun.” Then for whatever reason I had some stuff in my wallet and she found it and freaked out. That was about the end of everything. I think to her, it was a huge, huge hit to her, just because of what she went through with my dad. And most of her boyfriends for whatever reason were raging alcoholics, so she was like, “My son is not gonna be that person.” And I swore I would not be that person and I would not be my dad.
Sophomore year came around and I started doing a lot of psychedelics. It was the best way to try and hide. It didn’t smell, didn’t do this or whatever. Most of the times it was always the eyes. That was the best way to tell. I think I totally trained my mom to always stare into my eyes. I can never look people in the eyes because of whatever reason, shame, guilt, whatever you want to call it.
So sophomore year was a lot of me just sneaking around, not being able to go out very often, just being grounded. I would always run away—always, always run away and get Ma chasing after me. She knew who I hung out with, she knew where to go, and she would always find me. But I tried every time. There was one time that I ran away, I was so gone and then the police came. I was with two of my friends, they were freaking out, and [the police] were like, “Is he trying to kill himself?” And they both were like, “Yea,” and the cop said, “Get in the car. Let’s go.”
I was in the hospital and it was the first time my mom gave me the phone and she’s like, “Hey, talk to your dad.” I haven’t talked to him in three years and I’m like, “I can’t do that right now.” After that I don’t really remember. After that a lot of dynamics in our family [changed]. I mean, I lived with my grandparents and my mom was trying to hide everything from my grandparents. I was stealing money from my brother, stealing money from my grandparents, and they were going crazy. He had this giant plastic beer bottle and he would put change and money in it, and he had it marked with Sharpie on duct tape and rubber bands, but I would still always go into it, every time thinking that it would be different and it never was. I would always steal his liquor or whatever.
So then finally, my mom was like, “We need to move out of here. We can’t be here. This is not working obviously,” thinking that changing some physical place would change everything. We moved out here and things really, really changed. I tried to bring a ton of stuff with me, but they checked my bags, and were like, “You can’t bring this here,” and so I was kind of forced to detox a little bit with everything. I was doing a lot of pills still at the time and [it] was brutal.
We came here and I was forced to be clean for a month just because I had nowhere to go. I didn’t have a car—I had nothing. We didn’t even have internet. So I was just literally in a house by myself for a month and that was one of the biggest turning points within myself. I didn’t really know exactly what was going on. The best way to explain it was I felt like I was in this crazy forest and there was a straight path in front of [me], and it’s like, “Dude, just walk the path. You’re totally fine. You don’t have to get distracted by all this,” but for some reason I got completely lost and I had no clue what I was doing. I just did what was in front of me. Every bone in my body was begging to feel something different. Something different. Not good, not bad, just something different. That’s all it was. A lot of the times, people are like, “Oh, we just found happiness in something wrong.” That was simply it. I just wanted to be happy, but I was so, so miserable.
We moved out here and I instantly—I think it took two days at my school—for me to find, “Oh, these are the people that I can get something from.” I went to a couple parties and my mom was like, “Oh, he’s fine.” At one of these parties, I met this chick, and it was through her I met everybody else. I went to one of these parties and they brought out heroin and it was like, “Oh hey, just do it. It’s not that big of a deal. Just snort it.” They talked about it as this drug that wasn’t what everyone else said. [I said], “Absolutely.” [They said], “Just snort it,” and [I said], “Just shoot me up.”
Even seeing the look on people that did it, their face, like, “Dude, no.” And I’m like, “No, do it,” and they did it for me. That was the end. I did that for about two weeks and that was the most miserable two weeks of my life. I know for a fact that my mom caught on to it, too. What she thought was going to be he fix-all, be-all ended up being the most miserable experience of our lives. And once again, I tried running away, I tried killing myself, and I had cuts all down my arms. Some part of me was begging—begging—for something to change.
I ran away and I came back home and my mom wasn’t home from work. I was in my room just crying for no reason. I had a long-sleeved shirt on before, but then when she got home, I made sure to take it off so she could see the scars on my arms. She saw that, freaked out, and said, “Hey, I don’t know what to do with you,” and then took me to the hospital.
From there they put me in the psych ward. I was there for eight or nine days. I don’t know what it was and I don’t know why I did this at all, and some part of me was fighting it, but some part of me also completely accepted where I was. Like, “Okay, this is where I am. Just work with it.” They were like, “You have to go to a twenty-eight-day program. I was like, “Oh, no. No. I’m not doing that. Let me just go home. Please.” I was begging.
I got in trouble so much there. They’re only allowed to have seven adolescents there and we had nine or something, so we were all messing around and goofing around. I got in so much trouble and I remember I had a meeting there with two of the counselors and my mom was like, “Why do you keep getting in trouble? You’re not on anything, you’re here in this secure environment, and you still get in trouble.” I was like, “I don’t know, it’s just what I do.”
They put me on the phone for an assessment for a rehab, and for whatever reason, I was completely honest with the person and told her exactly what I used, how much I used, how often, all this stuff, and I don’t know why, but I was completely honest. I don’t know if it was some part of my ego like, “Yeah, I did all this stuff. I’m so awesome,” or if some part of me really knew this was going to help me.
I went to this rehab. I remember the whole car ride. I was begging my mom, “Just get me a pack of cigarettes.” That was all I wanted. Kicking the dash, “Just get me a pack of cigarettes.” She never did. I went to rehab and I like to think of it as some intervention or some divine intervention. I had a choice between going to room four or room two. In room four there was a ton of kids that were like, “All we do is mess around. We have a ton of fun.” And in room two there were these couple people that played guitar. I was like, “Okay, they play guitar, I’m gonna go in this room.”
It ended up being what I like to say saved my life. My roommate, we would stay up and talk all night. He was in the program before and relapsed and flat-lined and all this stuff, so he had knowledge of the program and he would talk about it all the time. I was like, “Dude, where did you learn all this secret information?” Some part of it was so attractive to me and I’m like, “How do you know this stuff? We would just stay up and talk, and we had a lot of similar views, and he ended up becoming my best friend.
He went to a halfway house. We had two people come and speak and talk about this halfway house, and they kind of talked about joking around there like, “Yea, you can smoke cigarettes here, you can do this and do that, and we’re all clean.” I was like, “Man, I have to go there. I have to go there.” My roommate ended up going there before me. He actually left on my birthday. I had my birthday in rehab and he left and I’m like, “Man, what an awesome birthday.” I remember talking to my counselor and being like, “Dude, I have to go this halfway house. I have to go.” I remember both him and my mom for whatever reason were like, “You’d be okay to go home.” Some part of me, even though I had no clue what I was doing [or] how to stay clean at all, I knew that I had to go to this halfway house. Some part of my soul, whatever you want to call it, knew that I had to go there. So that’s what ended up happening.
I’m forever grateful that I made that decision. It was the first healthy decision I ever made for my life. It saved my life going there. I would say I was definitely clean and crazy for at least my first six months. I felt like I had a paper bag over my head. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t do anything properly, and I was feeling like I was learning how to live normally. It wasn’t necessarily normal, but just learning how to function as a human being again. Tap into that human side of you. For so long I was a complete animal living some crazy life. A lot of the strange behaviors I guess transcended and are still there when you’re clean. It’s like, “Man, how do I do this?” And you get yelled at. Some part of you is begging to be a better person, but you just don’t know how.
I ended up bouncing from sponsor to sponsor, just because of me getting in trouble, or something with the house that I was at, or he was too hung up on work, and I couldn’t find some type of stability. And that’s all I was looking for, something just medium-level. Level. That’s all I wanted. I ended up finding somebody who had something I wanted. He was just level. His life was pretty simple, nothing too crazy, and he enjoyed life. I ended up working a couple steps with him. Due to the work I did with him I guess it changed me in some way. I feel like that’s the only reason I was able to experience that transition back to home—because of the work I did with him.
Even when I was in that house, it still kind of was a bubble, but when I left it all the things that they taught—it was in my head. I remembered all these little things, I call them pings. It’s like, “Ding, ding, ding.” I remember all this stuff now, when you’re in the moment.
The transition home was one of the strangest times of my life. I wanted to leave this house so bad, and then I left and I was home, and I was like, “Man, I miss all that brotherhood, the unity.” Around six months, I was what they call ‘AWOL.’ I ran away and I was going to go drink or steal a bottle of liquor and try to kill myself. Every single person—I lived with fourteen other people—every single person in that house ran—they didn’t listen to any of the staff—and ran around the whole town looking for me. It was pouring rain and I came home. Three of my best friends, one that was my roommate and a couple other people that I ended up getting close with, I mean they just came back from a choir concert and were all dressed up nice, and ran around this whole place looking for me. It was one of the experiences that taught me, “Hey, these people care about me,” no matter what was in my head.
So when I came out here, I knew I had to find certain people—the winners, whatever you want to call it—just people that were working on themselves. It took me a while and I don’t know why I felt some dedication, some willingness to really look, other than just waiting for something to pop up. I really looked like, “Where can I fit in? Where’s people I can surround myself with?” It was one of the harder things, to find people to be around. It’s really not fun to just be by yourself trying to be clean and trying to work on yourself. When you’re surrounded by other people, or at least have something to do, at least it makes things a lot easier.
I found those people and for the most part they’re all still around me today. It’s one of the coolest things just to watch other people grow up and see myself grow up, too. It’s kind of like losing weight. You don’t really notice it. You’re trying harder to lose weight until someone’s like, “Wow, dude. You look awesome. You’ve lost all this weight.” It’s like, “Oh yea, you’re right.” It’s kind of the same with being clean. I forget that I’ve transformed into someone completely different and really learned to love myself and find my way, I guess, or find my way back on the path and realize I do have good qualities, no matter how bad all this stuff in my head is. It’s like I have something to offer and I know that. It’s an act of believing that and then trying to live it. I feel like that’s the hardest part.
I still have a lot of trickery in my mind that I feel like counteracts stuff. I get really hung up on the monotonous, everyday stuff a lot. As much as I love every day, I always want to be so much further ahead. I want to be doing this or I want to be doing that, and I know it’s totally possible, but just not right now. So it’s this idea of practicing patience every day.
Definitely the coolest part of it all is the family dynamic—rebuilding a relationship with my father, with my mother—definitely holds the most dear to me. The people that I tried to push away for so long are still right here. It’s just really awesome.
Photographs taken at Kyle’s home in Minooka, Illinois.