Talking to Kyle is like diving into Wikipedia. You start with one topic and ten minutes later, you’re talking about something completely different with no comprehension of how you went from point A to point B. A garrulous 30-year-old, Kyle is the kind of man with the ability to strike up a conversation about anyone on any topic and he doesn’t shy away from sensitive and personal subjects like drug addiction and recovery.
“I’m reasonably smart and well-read,” he said. “When I was in high school, I started experimenting and I’ve been an addict for 10 years. I was super productive while I was an addict – I held jobs, I did community service, I ran a non-profit and I held relationships. The last relationship I was in ended badly and I sunk into depression which led me away from my non-profit and my hobbies.”
The heroin epidemic has hit the entire country but South Florida is seeing a particularly prodigious increase in the number of heroin-related hospitalizations and deaths as those addicted to prescription painkillers turn to heroin, seeking a more potent high.
“I can watch the progression of my drug life over the course of ten years. When Roxies (Roxicodone – an opioid analgesic and Schedule II narcotic) were the big thing down here, I was messing around with Percocets. It’s how I got introduced to heroin,” Kyle said. “I have a weird reaction to drugs. I become super focused. I lived under the delusion that I needed drugs to focus and they became a social lubricant for me.
It was this delusion that drove Kyle deeper and deeper down the path of addiction.
“Every day, I’d convince myself I wasn’t an addict. I thought I was an immune cyborg and that I couldn’t get addicted,” he said. “My friends and I would debate about whether we were addicts or not.”
Realizing he had a problem but not knowing what to do or where to go, Kyle checked himself into the Drug Abuse Foundation, a local chemical dependency treatment center, but found that his personality didn’t mesh with the foundation’s objectives.
“I went voluntarily. Most of the other residents are either there because of the Marchman Act (a means of providing an individual in need of substance abuse services with emergency services and temporary detention for substance abuse evaluation and treatment) or they’re with the Department of Corrections,” Kyle said. “There’s a much more institutionalized mindset and it didn’t work for me.”
Knowing that the program wasn’t working for him and intent on sobriety, Kyle knew had to find a program that worked for him without cloistering his individuality. A self-professed geek, he credits movies with sparking his decision to start recovery.
“I didn’t want to overdose before seeing the new Star Wars and Deadpool,” he said. “I got a really crazy feeling in me when watching Star Wars. The first note of music and I thought to myself that I should be dead.”
Kyle heard about Village for Change - Community Partners Substance Abuse Treatment facility – from a friend at DAF and immediately felt more optimistic about his recovery.
“Try being in recovery without a sense of humor,” Kyle said with a wry chuckle. “The staff here take recovery seriously but not in a serious way, if that makes sense. You feel like you’re talking to a friend and out of nowhere, comes a zingy therapy one-liner and you walk away thinking about something.”
Previous treatment programs left Kyle cold. He said that oftentimes after group sessions, he felt bad about himself and the decisions that he had made.
“I would walk out thinking I was awful,” he said. “But here? Here I have stuff to work on. Things to analyze and things to change. The best thing about this place is that there are no one-size-fits-all answers.”
Self-reflection and analysis was a big part of Kyle’s recovery. Despite being outgoing and loquacious, Kyle is an introspective man who reflects deeply and often on spirituality and his place in the universe.
“I did a desert survival course in Utah when I was 18. The most advanced piece of technology I had on me was a knife and I spent 14 days in the wild, building my own shelter, hunting and cooking what I caught,” he said. “Being out there sparked my creativity and thirst for spirituality. This place (Village for Change) took that and ran with it.”
While Village for Change is not faith-based treatment, Kyle credits the program with expanding his concept of spirituality.
“In recovery, spirituality means something different. It’s not about religion as it is about your place in the world and how you interact with it. The people around you, life’s coincidences, some sort of connection to a higher power,” he said. “I truly believe I have one but I don’t know what it is yet.”
“One of the key things is how to be a better human being. When you’re an addict, all you care about your fix. Once that’s taken away, you must replace it,” he said.
Now instead of seeking out just one more hit or one more fleeting high, Kyle seeks out a greater truth and a deeper understanding of himself and the world around him.
“I don’t go to a building and I don’t need it out of a book. I mold it myself,” he said. “For an addict who was powerless against their addiction, that gives me a power. I feel like I am a crafter of my own destiny.”
Remolding his sense of self has given Kyle the drive to mold his future and his plans are as unique as the man himself.
“I’ve got a plan for the next five years,” he said. “I’m going to chase down a dream.”
Growing up in the Acreage, Kyle was no stranger to interacting with Florida’s diverse array of wildlife and twice rescued injured hawks.
“I saw it in the road. It was squawking and trying to fly but it couldn’t. I approached and when it did, it tried to murder me,” he said with a laugh. “But I managed to put a towel over it, it went to sleep and I helped it out. Another time, a red-shouldered hawk flew right in front of my car and smashed right into the hood. I took off my shirt, wrapped it around the bird and saved it as well.”
These encounters coupled with a falconry demonstration at Tampa’s PirateFest kindled a passion within Kyle.
“You have to apprentice for five years before you can do it and you have to have experience working at a wildlife sanctuary or bird rehab,” he explained. “Now that I’m sober, I have a shot to make this happen. An opportunity came up and there are two wildlife centers in Orlando where I can work. Everything’s lining up.”
Not only are Kyle’s stars aligning in a professional capacity but in his personal life as well.
“One of the best things about this program is that it got me to show up. I dropped out of my life and decided to become an addict and this program changed that,” he said.
A few weeks prior to this interview, Kyle got a call from his best friend asking him to be a groomsman at his wedding. Given their strong bond and Kyle’s way with words, this friend also asked him to give a toast at the wedding.
Last week, the same friend called again and made an even more important request. He asked Kyle to serve as the officiant.
“I get to show up for a man I consider a brother,” he said, his face splitting into a wide grin. “It’s something that not a lot of people get to say they’ve done. I got ordained and now, I get to be the staple in one of the most memorable moments of two people’s lives.”
In speaking with Kyle, one cannot help but notice an ebullience of hope. It is tempered with a stark sense of realism but the promise shines through.
“If I look at how drastically my life had changed in seven months, how much could I do in seven years? I want to embrace the mystery and understand that I am the crafter of my destiny and I do have a certain amount of power in the world,” he said. “What’s that they say? The people that are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do?”
Kyle is quick to offer credit to Village for Change for fostering this sense of optimism.
“Coming here, they treat you like an individual. I can look back to when I first walk in the door and to now and I’m astounded by how different they are,” he said. “If you really want to embrace this program, it can change your life. It can give you hope.”