Voices of Recovery: Tyler Paulson

In recovery from alcohol and drugs.

Tyler Paulson struggled with addiction, but is now doing what he loves, and is part of a warm and loving community. — Courtesy Tyler Paulson

You never plan on becoming addicted to something, and you don’t really realize it when you are in the middle of it, even when everyone is telling you that you have this big problem. I started out with a problem drinking. It was kind of socially acceptable on the Island — more so than doing drugs. I started drinking pretty heavily when I was 12 or 13, blacking out and everything. Then I went to college and started doing heroin, and that kind of just took over my life. I lost my best friend in college, and ended up having to drop out because my grades weren’t high enough to get financial aid. It was just miserable. I remember I was driving a taxi here working night shifts, getting out at around 3 am, and just getting f_____ up and doing a bunch of coke. I was so depressed, and I kept telling myself, ‘This is it, this is the best it’s going to get for me.’ My world was so small, especially during the winter.

That’s when a huge depression hit me. I was suicidal because I didn’t see any other way out. I ended up going to rehab for 10 months, and in that time everything changed for me. My hope was restored, and I was finally able to find out who I am. I was caught up with addiction since I was so young, so I didn’t really know anything about myself. I didn’t know what I liked and what I didn’t like because I was too busy getting f_____ up. Not a lot of people struggle with really serious addiction, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s so stigmatized, or if they do it’s not with something that will destroy their lives. Those addictions are still really serious, but you can get by your whole life being addicted to some things and not really having to change. The way I look at addiction is any form of escape, be it video games, pornography, drugs, alcohol, work — it’s when people are unable to manage the idea of what their life is that they retreat inside themselves.

I think a big part of that is feeling apart from people. Not feeling like you fit in, or feeling like people think you are outside of their box. That’s why in order to transition to recovery, during my time in rehab, it was all about creating a community. I was around other people who were dealing with the same thing and had the same goals. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was a part of something. Coming back to the Island, there was such a strong recovery community that I hit a couple meetings and right off the rip, I had people to call and hang out with and ride motorcycles with.

I am grateful for my recovery because I have to continually identify and fix my defects in character and the things that make me feel like I am unlikable and outside of society. Addiction is a symptom of the problem. You can get someone to stop drinking who is an alcoholic, but they are going to be miserable and really prone to drinking again until you dig deep and start getting to the root of it all.

I have done some really messed-up things that I’m not proud of, and I’ve met people who have done the same, but now they are some of the greatest people I have ever met, who have the biggest hearts, and go really far out of their way to help people.

When I first got on a motorcycle I ended up falling in love. It was almost like I was partially addicted to that. Having a loud bike and being able to do burnouts and shit, and having a bike that when it goes by people look at it. Right now I’m doing tree work, and I am really passionate about this, climbing trees and staying active. I really love doing tree work, but I know it’s not sustainable in the later portion of my life. That’s why I went to school to be a certified Harley mechanic — so that I have something to fall back on.

All that is stuff that I would have never dreamed about during my addiction. I thought that there was something wrong with anybody who wasn’t using drugs or drinking everyday, to be able to just go through life without needing some sort of numbing agent. My job heavily depends on my sobriety, I can’t get f_____ up and go up into a tree. And that’s how it goes — people give you opportunities, and you need to prove yourself. The longer you stay clean, the more opportunities you have. I need reasons to get out of bed and stay clean. If I didn’t have that, I probably would relapse, whereas a lot of addicts are afraid of success, and when things start going well, they get scared and start to self-sabotage.

I spent my whole life gaining these friends and surrounding myself with people who were doing the same thing that I did. A lot of those people were like brothers to me, and it was really hard to come back from rehab and not connect on the same level with the people I would have died for and killed for.

It’s almost like karma. You are born at zero, and I had worked so hard into the negative, thinking I was gaining good things, and I did gain very good friendships. But in order to start to get into the positive, you have to get back to zero and have nothing again. That is what a lot of people are scared of. You have to basically cut everyone from that world out of your life and focus on yourself. The thing is, when you start doing the right thing, the right people are attracted to that. Then you start to build that community. Right now, my boss is also my best friend, also in recovery, and we live in the same house. That’s an environment that I rely on, and it’s a support system that has helped me so much.

It’s really hard during COVID. You don’t want to go into a meeting where people are sitting in a room talking. There are people coming in who just got high that morning. People who are way more likely to be in situations where they contract COVID, so going to a meeting can be out of the question for a lot of people.

I place a heavy dependence on a God of my understanding. I think there are things that are impossible in this world, and overcoming addiction is one of them. Addiction is a disease that talks to you in your own voice. It’s not like, Oh, I’m craving potato chips, It’s like I am having a panic attack, I can’t breathe, I am sick, I need this or I am going to die. Eventually you have to admit that you can’t make decisions for yourself because you need a substance to do it for you, and that’s a pretty tough realization because I’m a grown-ass man. For me it was all about surrendering my power. That takes quite a bit of humbleness to accept that I can’t make decisions for myself, I f___ it up every time. I had to place that power in God.

Being able to forgive yourself for all the awful things you’ve done is not an easy step, but it’s the most important one. My mom held me breathless and purple in the face, waiting for paramedics to come. That’s not something I can just let go of — it’s something I have to go through almost every day when I’m taking my inventory.

There is a hole in my soul, and that hole is the shape of God. I just shoved drugs into it, and it got bigger and bigger and bigger until it took over pretty much every aspect of my life. Once I pulled all that stuff out and replaced it with the faith in this higher power, that’s when the community came, and I felt a part of something greater than myself. When I am outspoken about this stuff, it’s helping me more than it’s helping anyone else, because the only way I can stay clean is by helping other people stay clean.

Interview by Lucas Thors.



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