BRISTOL, Pa. (AP) — It was a cold, rainy March day when Brian Kaye stood outside a New Jersey hospital, fixed his eyes on a bus and thought about stepping in front of it.
Most of his family and friends cut ties with him, and he didn’t blame them. His opioid addiction fueled a series of thefts, lies and broken promises that even he felt were hard to forgive. But at that moment, standing directionless in the rain, he wasn’t craving his next fix. He longed for an end.
“I was like a dead man walking,” said Kaye.
Something made him pause and think of his uncle, a man who was in his shoes decades earlier and served at that moment as proof that recovery could happen.
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“Knowing someone else who found recovery gave me hope,” Kaye said. He left the hospital and walked several miles to his uncle’s home, stood at the doorstep and uttered two phrases: “I’m done. I need help.”
“When I saw him, my heart stopped,” Kaye’s uncle Mike said, adding knew that look of pain. “It was me at one time.”
Looking back, Kaye, 42, recalls that turning point in his journey to recovery. That was the beginning, the easy part, he says. Maintaining sobriety over the last four years was the uphill climb, when he said he had to face the consequences of his actions during his addiction.
“I don’t want to make people think that once you find recovery all your problems go away,” he said. “No, they pile up even more. To get out of that worry, I help other people. I still have problems; it’s called life.”
Today, Kaye spends most of his days helping others rebuild their lives in recovery. As a certified recovery specialist with one of the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania Recovery Training Centers, Kaye offers guidance on resumes, connects people with job training and education programs, and leads support group meetings.
Today, like his uncle, he is also evidence that recovery happens.
How recovery happens is different for everyone, Kaye said, but for him the path was paved with a series of people and steps that guided him. First, Kaye said, he had to accept that he had a problem and reach for help — even when it wasn’t readily available.
Unable to find a bed at a rehabilitation center, Kaye had to detox on his uncle’s couch, where he suffered the painful effects of withdrawal — body aches, night sweats, vomiting and agony that lasted for days. Every day, his uncle called rehabilitation centers, only to be told no beds were available.
Finally a bed opened up at Maryville Addiction Treatment Center in Williamstown, New Jersey. Despite shedding the obsession and craving for heroin, he wasn’t sold on “the idea of sober living,” he said.
Then an angel stepped in. At least that’s what he called the no-nonsense counselor at the center who was blunt and direct, reminding him that he had to change the way he lived and where he lived. And that he needed structure.
“She was harsh, but she told me what I needed to hear and I trusted her,” said Kaye, who took her advice and moved to a place out of state that at the time he couldn’t even pinpoint on a map. “It was Levittown, in a recovery house.”
His disability checks covered his rent, leaving him very little after that. The rules and structure in the house provided him with responsibilities, chores and most importantly a network of peers facing similar struggles. Recovery meetings were a necessity to stay in the house, and soon Kaye became part of a “fellowship” that continues to keep him strong today. Even in sobriety, those first two years were “cloudy.”
“It took me two years before my brain started to feel like it was working normally.”
To stay focused, he took the bus nearly every day to a Southern Bucks Recovery Community Center, where he joined support group meetings and eventually began volunteering his time to help others. He also picked up more responsibilities at the house, doing the bookkeeping, collecting rent and upholding rules.
At times he was tested, and once he nearly slipped when a roommate at the house accused him of stealing.
“I was so upset and angry, and thought I could either beat him up or get loaded,” he recalled.
He darted out the back door, but stopped before leaving the backyard.
“I called a friend in my network and he saved me,” Kaye said. He was also reminded of the importance of focusing on others to escape from dwelling on his own problems.
“The worst place for a person in recovery to be is in their own head,” he said. “If I’m sitting in my head, moping and throwing a self-pity party — I feel I want to numb the pain with any substance I could get my hands on. To get out of that frame of mind, I go and help someone else.”
Like those who helped him, Kaye became a sponsor, “almost a tutor” in the 12-step fellowship, which he says is a group of people who are also “trying to get one more day clean and sober.”
Though the fellowship, he imparts guidance that continues to keep him strong.
For example, he learned that he had to be “that action of change” in his life.
“Action — this isn’t something that happens,” said Kaye, who now lives in a sober-living home in Bristol Township. “Goals, suggestions … You have to make it happen, and hold yourself accountable. You can’t sit there and wait for recovery to happen. Have to be willing.”
Like others, he reaches for a “higher power” for strength and inspiration. That higher power is different for everyone. “Some say that higher power is absolute love, for others it’s God, and for me it’s in my heart.”
His yearning to help others helped him secure a job at the Council of Southeast Pennsylvania as an administrative assistant for recovery support services. He is now off disability and works full time as certified recovery specialist. With a steady paycheck, he’s been able to earn enough money to pay off the debt and fines he incurred during his addiction. Today, he has a license and a car.
“I have options, dreams and things I couldn’t imagine having, even just four years ago,” he said.
In addiction, he lost hope in regaining even the most basic needs in life, including housing, family and transportation.
In 2005, Kaye injured his back on the job, and that began a tailspin that lasted for nine years. He became increasingly hooked on opioid painkillers as he obtained prescriptions for his back and two years later to recover from a gallbladder surgery.
“The prescriptions flipped a switch in my head, telling me I needed those medications to function and survive,” he said.
Soon after, a month’s supply of pain medication would last a week. When his family doctor limited his dosage, Kaye began showing up at hospitals around the region until nearly all of them “blackballed” him, he said.
Though he was on disability from his back injury, he didn’t make enough to support his pill habit. Eventually, as often happens with opioid addiction, Kaye said he began using heroin when he could no longer easily obtain painkillers. The next decade was blurred with experiences of living on the streets, stealing for drugs and getting kicked out of homes of friends who took him in.
Left with no money or home, he wanted his life story to end.
But something and someone didn’t allow him to step in the path of that bus. “Call it divine intervention, I don’t know, but I thought of someone besides myself who got through this.”
Now, more than a decade after standing in the rain at one hospital, he hopes to rescue people, who like himself, once felt lost without direction.
At local hospitals, Kaye extends help to patients coming in after overdoses for the county’s new “warm hand-off program.” He also connects other patients with addiction problems to recovery resources, whether they are there for an overdose or other medical reasons.
“I can be there if a person were to slip up and relapse,” Kaye said. “If someone walks through those hospital doors and has a drug problem, hopefully they remember that I cared and listened. And maybe, they too, will seek help.”
Information from: Bucks County Courier Times, http://www.buckscountycouriertimes.com