When Kyle speaks to middle-school students and church groups about his opioid addiction, he says, his audience expects a guy with ripped jeans and tattoos — “total grunge.” So, they’re pretty surprised when he shows up in a three-piece suit, carrying a briefcase.
“I look like a funeral director,” says Kyle, 53, an Ideal Option patient.
“Some of them can’t believe this guy in front of them was snorting heroin just a short time ago.”
Kyle, an accomplished car salesman with a wife and two sons, can’t quite believe it, either.
Even into his thirties, he had no history of drug or alcohol use, let alone addiction. He’s never liked the taste of alcohol and still hasn’t tried marijuana. “I’d have a little chewing tobacco when I’d go duck hunting or fishing,” he says. “That’s all.”
Kyle enjoyed his family life — gopher hunting with his boys, miniature golfing and out to the movies with his wife.
But everything changed when Kyle developed peripheral neuropathy, a diabetes-related condition that triggered piercing leg pain and forced him to quit his job at a Ford dealership.
A doctor prescribed him oxycodone.
Kyle felt so much better he went back to car sales, this time at a Chevrolet dealership. At first, he took pills before work and on his coffee break but managed to abstain for most of the workday.
“I never wanted to take a family for a test drive of a Suburban while high as a kite,” he says.
Still, he had one thing in mind all day: I can’t wait to get home and take my pills.
Before long, he was popping pills from 5 p.m. until midnight, blowing through a month’s prescription in 10 days
“I’d grab a chair and a bottle of Mountain Dew and nod out in front of the TV, like I was on vacation,” Kyle recalls.
When his prescription ran out, he bought pain pills on the street. Soon he was spending one-third of his paycheck on drugs and burning through his savings.
To save money, he turned to heroin, snorting it in the bathroom at work.
“You try that stuff one time, and I don’t care who you are, you think: That was phenomenal. I’ve got to do that one more time. You can’t explain it.”
From that point on, Kyle’s happiness at work was directly related to the quality of his heroin.
“I had my little Altoid container with a chunk of heroin, and a little straw. If I was having a good day sales-wise, I wouldn’t think that much about it. But when I had a down day, you could just as well tape the straw to your nose.”
His home life deteriorated.
“My boys resented me because I didn’t want to do anything. We used to go fishing and camping. Now I was passed out in the recliner. I was the world’s worst father.”
By Kyle’s account, he wasn’t much of a husband, either.
A trained chef, he’d always done most of the cooking. “I’d always whip something up, like garlic crème sauces with red wine and a little bit of basil and rosemary.”
Not only did he stop cooking, but he also stopped eating.
“Heroin lasted longer on an empty stomach,” he says. “A bag of chips, a Mountain Dew, and a snort of heroin, and I was good.”
Six-foot-one and a solid 220 pounds since his football days, Kyle dropped to 150 pounds. He has a photo from that time that he pulls out every once in a while as a reminder.
“I look like a dead guy — pasty white, with my cheeks all sucked in and my clothes hanging off.”
For years, Kyle figured no one knew about his addiction. In fact, all his loved ones had caught on.
Kyle’s reckoning came one morning at 8 o’clock, when the boys were at school and Kyle, enjoying his day off from work, was slumped in his recliner watching Westerns on TV
“I was happier than anything,” he recalls. “I knew I had all day to be high.”
There was a knock at the door, and his wife answered. In walked “everybody” — 22 of his relatives and friends, including his pastor. The intervention had been organized by his wife and sisters.
They told him: You’re going to inpatient treatment on Monday, and hospital detox until then.
“I want my husband back,” his wife told him.
At first, Kyle recalls, “I was a little pissy.” But he quickly agreed to the plan. “It was like: You know what? I’m ready to get my life back.”
At the treatment center, he was prescribed Suboxone. In less than an hour, he felt hopeful.
“I couldn’t believe how well it worked,” he says. “I thought: I can make it on this. This is OK. I felt human again.”
For the first time in years, he didn’t crave drugs.
At the treatment center, he learned wasn’t alone in his predicament. “I realized there were so many people with my problem. With some of the people, it was like looking in a mirror.”
After 30 days, he returned home, continuing with outpatient treatment and 12-step meetings.
He repaired his relationship with wife and sons. They all started having fun together again, sampling the new food trucks in town, fishing for walleye on weekends.
“My wife was rock solid,” Kyle says. “She’s the biggest reason I’m here today — because she stuck with me.”
Kyle started cooking again, too. “The other day we had cajun shrimp linguini with cream garlic sauce and asparagus.”
In recovery for 7 years now, Kyle feels confident he’ll never go back to using. He accepts every opportunity to talk to students about his addiction, wearing his “funeral director” suit.
“I want people to know this could happen to anyone,” he says. “But the most important thing is for people to know they have a support system. I was scared, and I didn’t think I had one, but everyone does.”