On May 14, my brother Kyle died of a heroin overdose at 29 years old. I have been struggling with how to write this article, to bring light to the constant struggles of those with mental illness and addiction, while at the same time honoring his memory, because he was so much more than his illnesses.
In her blog A Mothership Down, Liz reflects on the loss of her mom with these words “The sum of my mother’s life was so much more than the hand that cancer dealt her in her last difficult years. The sum of all of us extends beyond the hard edges of our tragedies.” Liz’s words really spoke to me, because as much I wanted to scream from the rooftops that heroin killed my brother, I also wanted to portray the amazing human being that Kyle was.
Kyle was a lover. He loved his family and friends with all his heart and was not afraid to express it. At 29, he had lived through so much stress and tragedy, he knew that life was short and you need to tell people you love them. My husband reflected that the words “I Love You” were never heard so much in our home as the year Kyle lived with us. He was also hilarious, that dry sense of humor that just made him a person you wanted to be around. This is probably why my husband and Kyle, who had always been friends, got so close this past year – two comedians in the house made for some fun times!
Kyle’s addiction story is like many others, it started with legal prescriptions of opiates for pain from injuries as a teenager. Looking back with what we know now, he was probably self-medicating against the symptoms of early bipolar disorder, which our father also suffered from. He spent many years working on his recovery; detoxes, rehabs, sober houses, and many, many AA meetings. He truly believed in the path of recovery, was a poignant speaker, and helped others along with their path to maintained sobriety. We had hoped his diagnosis of bipolar disorder would finally get him the right treatment and help him maintain his own sobriety. His dual-diagnosis of bipolar disorder and addiction was a very difficult fight. A manic phase would drive him to feel too self-confident, that he had recovery in the bag and didn’t need to spend as much time and energy on it. Then the subsequent depressive phase would leave him feeling hopeless, worthless, and guilty – and his brain would tell him that there was something out there to make him feel better….
Everything took a turn in June 2015. Our dad had been very depressed for some time and after returning home from the psychiatric hospital, died of a heart attack in his sleep that very night. Kyle was living at home at the time and witnessed my mom giving my dad CPR and just not believing what his eyes were seeing. The family came together to grieve and bury our dad, and it was clear that Kyle was in trouble. My husband and I made the decision to bring Kyle to CT with us for a while.
Kyle came to our house on July 5, 2015 – day one of sobriety. It was not easy. It was a test on my husband and my marriage and we all had to work to find a balance in our house with our two young boys, 1 and 4 at the time. We figured it out and Kyle became a loving and helpful part of the family. The boys adored Uncle Kyle, they would run to the door when he came home, and my youngest would often exclaim to me that “Uncle Kyle is here!”, it was like a surprise sleep-over every night! Kyle worked hard on his recovery; he went to “90 meetings in 90 days”. He started a job on July 20 and became an instant asset to his organization (he was a trained RV technician). He made wonderful friends in CT that my husband and I are happy to call our own friends now.
I can’t project to know everything that was going on in Kyle’s head during his relapse. He had just moved into his own apartment on April 1, after he and I worked on his finances, got him out of debt, and he learned he could live on his own. He really wanted independence, to feel “normal”. He wanted to get married and have kids someday. He was grieving our father pretty badly. He had had some slips with alcohol, but vowed never to stick a needle in his arm again. He was looking forward to reaching a year without using illegal substances.
His relapse with heroin to the day of his overdose was less than a week. I was just down the street from his apartment, at yoga, on a Saturday morning when I got a call from his friend and coworker. Kyle hadn’t shown up at work, so his friend drove to the apartment, which was all locked up, and Kyle’s car in the driveway. I got there in minutes and we tried every window and door before I decided it was time to call 911. They banged down the door and found him on the kitchen floor. They did CPR and brought him to the emergency room, but it was all too late. The worst part of the day was having to call my mother to tell her Kyle was gone, not even a year after my losing my dad.
The outpouring of support we received from not only our own family and friends, but Kyle’s friends and coworkers from all over was astonishing. We knew he was a special person and it warmed our hearts to see how he touched so many lives. Those in recovery are burying too many of their friends. Families are being devastated and lives are being cut too short. Addiction is an illness and I encourage you to support anyone in your life who is suffering. Support bills and laws and insurance reforms to get people with this illness the care they need. I will be spending the rest of my life doing just that.