Youth Pastor Reflects on His Path to Sobriety

At the height of Tyler Barnes’ addiction, he died of a heroin overdose. He stopped breathing long enough for those around him to believe there was no coming back. Tyler regained consciousness with half of his body hanging outside of a window. Another user was in the process of dragging his lifeless body out of his residence so that the cops wouldn’t discover it on his property. Despite the near death experience, Tyler continued using heroin for the next three days even as his body was rejecting food and water due to the harm that the overdose caused.

From a young age, Tyler always had a feeling that he didn’t fit in despite all appearances of a happy, healthy existence. As a high school student, Tyler excelled both academically and athletically, graduating as valedictorian of his class and starting on the football and wrestling teams. However, those successes did not ease a deep-rooted insecurity that he traces back to his biological father leaving his mother before he was born. “My mom was my hero, and I internalized that he left her because of me.” Tyler credits this belief leading to a life where he constantly sought the approval of others. When his friends started having parties in high school, Tyler wanted to be there; and he soon discovered that in his hometown, popularity was directly related to the amount that one could drink.

As a college freshman at the University of Oklahoma, Tyler joined a fraternity and his drinking soon increased exponentially. He found himself drinking immediately after class and as he completed his homework. It wasn’t long before he was drinking every day. Despite the increased regularity of his drinking, he had to this point in his life only experienced positive effects from drinking. In high school, he learned that it made him popular and in college he was accepted and admired by his friends for his ability to drink. The first casualty from alcohol was a girlfriend from back home. Throughout their freshman year, she began to realize that Tyler was changing from the person she knew. She spent the summer after freshman year as a counselor at a church camp while Tyler studied abroad in England. After they both returned from their summers away, she told him that it was clear they were going in completely different directions in life. The break up devastated Tyler, and he found himself for the first time that he can remember using substances not with the intention to have fun but instead to self-medicate.

Around the same time, Tyler began using marijuana, which also became a daily habit. As a student with no job, he started selling drugs in order to support the rising costs of his growing addictions. Before long, a fraternity brother of his introduced him to OxyContin, a dangerous drug at the center of today’s opioid epidemic which is considered one of the most abused prescription drugs on the market. Early into his sophomore year of college, Tyler had gone from experimenting with alcohol in high school to becoming a drug dealer and daily user of alcohol, marijuana and OxyContin. Despite the frequency of his drug use, his high intellect prevented most of those close to him from noticing any red flags as his grades and other life responsibilities didn’t suffer as a result of his addiction. Tyler was a highly functioning addict. However, he didn’t understand the dangers of opioids and it was only a matter of time before his habit would no longer go unnoticed.

Home from school for Christmas break, Tyler experienced withdrawals for the first time. Described by medical experts as “the worst flu you can imagine,” coming off of OxyContin without medical assistance can be extremely difficult if not impossible for many addicts. Tyler’s parents knew something was wrong and Tyler eventually left home for a week without telling them where he was going. He doesn’t remember all of the events that occurred while he was away but his friends and family worried for his health and forced him to enter rehab for the first time at Clay Crossing on New Year’s Eve. He agreed to go to sober living for three months, but he began drinking again shortly before his time was up and bought a bong not long after leaving. His biggest takeaway from the experience was that there were certain people who would be hurt by his actions. “I learned how to hide what I was doing really well. I became an expert at showing people what they wanted to see.”

Another breakup left Tyler feeling hopeless and without the approval he so dearly wanted from those he cared about. He attempted suicide with a potentially lethal cocktail of drugs. He didn’t tell anyone beforehand, but woke up with friends by his side making sure he was breathing. Not long after that attempt, he was arrested for possession with intent to distribute which led to his second stint at rehab. The second visit was no more effective than the first and he found himself drinking and using OxyContin again soon after his release. His near-death overdose happened not long after as a result of using heroin for the first time after he couldn’t get ahold of his OxyContin dealer.

On probation, Tyler was failing multiple drug tests and constantly being ordered by the court into detox facilities only to get high as soon as he got out. A court date was set with an ultimatum; show up clean or his bail would be revoked and he would be sent to jail.  The increasingly likely reality of spending his life in prison was so anxiety provoking for Tyler that he stayed up for a week straight prior to his court date in a meth-fueled bender, a drug he had begun mixing with heroin to counteract some of the effects. Coming off the high the day before his scheduled court date, Tyler planned to skip town with a fake ID, a stash of money and a getaway house. But he realized the underlying reason that he wanted to run was to find a clean start. “I was tired of my life and I wanted to break free from it. But, I knew I would never break free if I was running from the police my whole life.”

He called the head of the first sober living house that took him in years before who agreed to vouch for him in court as long as Tyler committed to doing everything he said for the next two years. Without hope and no other options, Tyler agreed. It was the first time that he voluntarily reached out for help and committed to go to rehab on his own. On the second day, a pastor came in and sang a song called “When Momma Prayed.” In the song, Tyler heard his family’s story and had an intense emotional reaction to that moment. He committed to give over his entire life to God if God would help him get clean and sober.

After a year of sobriety, Tyler moved into a sober living facility by the name of Hope Is Alive. A year after that, he began working for the organization eventually rising to manager of the men’s program. Tyler had finally found his place. He was accepted here for who he was and he no longer craved the approval of others at any cost. He discovered a passion for sharing his story with anyone who would listen and realized that much of what he went through as a drug addict are things that other non-users go through as well. His ability to connect with people and his commitment to God led him away from his job at Hope Is Alive to become the youth pastor at Canadian Valley Baptist Church in Yukon, OK where he remains today. On top of his service there, Tyler is also planning to graduate this May from OU with his degree in Chemical Engineering. His next step is to pursue seminary school before starting a church.

 

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Overview: Hope Is Alive is a Christian-based sober living facility offering men’s and women’s programs that sets out to provide the tools necessary for addicts early in recovery to build a firm foundation that will guide them throughout the rest of their lives.

Program Details: HIA provides a specialized three-phase program for over 70 individuals focusing on spirituality growth, leadership development, group / community service work, intentional mentoring, life skills training and family restoration.

Ways to Get Involved: House supplies, furnishings and program related needs are in constant need with wish lists provided on the organization’s website as well as other volunteer opportunities. In addition, HIA Helps offers the ability to employ residents of HIA to complete basic clean up, repair or labor intensive jobs in the Oklahoma City community.

Get in Touch: To inquire about the organizations services, volunteer opportunities or to donate please visit www.hopeisalive.net.

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4 thoughts on “Youth Pastor Reflects on His Path to Sobriety

  1. Missy Denae Barlor says:

    You are such an example for so many people of all ages! I think you are well on your way to making a huge impact in so many lives! God bless you. And, may your humble gift of sharing your struggles fulfill your life with so many blessings! Glad our paths crossed! Keep trucking!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Debbie Albright Cannon says:

    Tyler, that’s an amazing story to read. I’m thankful that you and your mind made it through to a fruitful life. Chemical engineering is a tough school curriculum. I’m wondering what avenue you will take with your education. Will you have a career using your college skills? Chotsie is my great-niece. I’m happy for both of you. Debbie Albright Cannon

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: After Years of Pain, Woman and Mother Find Hope in Their Shared Struggle with Alcoholism | The Complete Short Stories of Ryan Thompson

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