CUBA CITY—The Lybert family— Sandi, Rick, Ashleigh, Tyler—of Waukesha spent a day at the Cuba City schools on March 26 to share their personal experiences of dealing with drug abuse. Presentations were made to the middle and high school students as well as a parent group.
“We are a family that personally lived through the devastation of what drugs and alcohol can do,” Sandi said. “Tyler was a bright, fun-loving, energetic, wonderful young child that dissolved in front of our eyes into a drug addict by the age of 17.”
Sandi said she didn’t know where to go or what to do. After living through her son’s drug addiction for 11 years, Tyler decided to get treatment and the family started educating others on drug and alcohol abuse to help others dealing with similar cases. They created "Your Choice to Live," a drug and alcohol awareness program.
The drug addiction wasn’t a simple process to live through. The family’s relationships were tested by the stress, fear, theft of money, late night calls from police and neglect.
“To be honest, I don’t know why we still have Tyler,” Sandi said. “We have worked and dealt with many, many families who have lost their children and loved ones to drugs and alcohol.”
Sandi said she and her family at times feel survivor’s guilt because there are so many other families less fortunate than them in very similar situations.
Rick told the parents attending the presentation, “Don’t let your kids do drugs and alcohol, because, trust me when I tell you this: you will not want to spend one single day of the hell that we went through.”
“I started experimenting really young, in sixth grade,” Tyler said. “It was introduced to me by my friends’ older brothers and sisters. Honestly, the only reason I started was because I wanted friends. I was pudgy when I was a kid and I wanted to be accepted, I wanted friends.”
By the time he was in high school, Tyler said he was already drinking and smoking marijuana on a regular basis. He started experimenting with prescription pills and eventually turned to heroin, which he used for eight years. When he turned 15, it wasn’t about the friends and partying anymore; it started to turn into a necessity to feel normal and confident.
“That’s how I started to grow up and learned to deal with all of my problems,” Tyler said. “I never intended for this to happen.”
He got to the point where he didn’t care about anything, nothing phased him.
“Drugs and alcohol took over every thought in my head,” Tyler said. “I turned into a monster. I didn’t have any of my old self in me.”
Because of all of the choices he made, he ended up pushing all of his family away.
“It got to the point where everything I made from working wasn’t enough to cover my addictions,” Tyler said. “I started stealing cash and checks, anything I could get my hands on to make some money.”
Eventually, nobody could take it anymore and he was kicked out of the house. He moved to Milwaukee and lived in a drug house for a while.
“My feelings kept getting worse and worse,” Tyler said. “I hated my life and everything I was doing and I couldn’t stop myself from doing it. I figured my only way out was death. I didn’t see any other way out. I didn’t think help was possible.”
He said his mom called him and gave him two options: he could keep doing what he was doing but he would be cut off from any contact with his family or he could get help and they would support him 100 percent. The next day he started a five-month in-patient treatment program.
“When you start using alcohol and drugs at a young age, you stop growing mentally,” Tyler said. “So I was an 11-year-old kid trapped in a 21-year-old’s body and I had no idea how to live life normally.”
In treatment they taught him how to deal with feelings, express feelings, cope with problems and go out for the rest of his life and stay sober. He’s been sober for over five years.
“I love my life now,” Tyler said.
He’s got a 4-year-old son and a close relationship with his family that he thought he would never have.
“I used to think that freedom was being able to do what I want when I want with who I want,” Tyler said. “Freedom to me now is being able to live with the choices I make on a daily basis. I don’t have to worry about cops or getting arrested or going back to court or jail. I don’t have to worry about my mom crying or my dad hating me because I can’t do anything right or my sister not wanting to talk to me. I don’t have to deal with that anymore. I enjoy the choices I make and I can live with what I do.”
Ashleigh had a completely different story than her brother’s. She battled with the social image of being the sober one throughout high school. She made that decision when she was 16 and a friend of hers died in a car accident. Her friend had been drinking at a party, knew not to drive home herself, but let someone else drive, he went too fast, crashed and she didn't survive.
“For me, when that happened sophomore year and I had to go to my friend’s funeral, that was it. It’s not worth the risk,” Ashleigh said. “I made the decision sophomore year that I was going to stay away from all of it.”
She made excuses when her friends would ask if she wanted to drink at parties and eventually they stopped asking her.
“I’m really glad that I made those decisions in high school because I’m not an addict. I don’t have to work at being sober the rest of my life. I graduated high school, went to college, am married, have two kids and another on the way. I’m where I want to be in life,” Ashleigh said. “I also don’t have a record, so I don’t have to worry when applying for jobs. I’m glad I made those choices in high school, because I think I have a better future because of it.”
Ashleigh is three years older than Tyler. She was still living at home when Tyler was going through his addiction to drugs and alcohol.
“Growing up we were really close,” Ashleigh said. “As I was doing well, he started to get into trouble, drinking and doing drugs.”
She said she started to hate her brother because their parents were stressed out, their mom was always crying, their mom was tired all of the time from getting up throughout the night to make sure Tyler was still breathing, the cops would show up at the house at all hours and there was always the possibility of getting the phone call that Tyler was never coming home.
“I was neglected by my parents,” Ashleigh said. “They were so focused on him [Tyler] and where he was that they forgot about me. For almost 11 years we lived in constant day-to-day fear of Tyler never coming home again. When we gave him that ultimatum to go into treatment, it took me a good year to actually talk to him and want to be around him. I’m lucky today that he’s here and he’s sober and is doing well, because there are families that aren’t as fortunate as we are.”
It took many years, but they have become best friends again.
Rick said Tyler was tearing the family apart. He and Sandi were always fighting. They became so focused on Tyler’s use that they neglected Ashleigh when she needed her parents.
“I was scared because I knew what could happen,” Rick said. “I was mad at Tyler because he just wouldn’t stop. No matter what I did, Tyler just kept on using. I didn’t realize that Tyler couldn’t stop.”
Tyler had crossed that line of addiction where the drugs and alcohol had taken over. The Lyberts learned that they had to change as a family in order to help Tyler.
“We did change as a family and we did start to see a little change in Tyler and saw a little hope,” Rick said. “Quite honestly, there was a point in our lives where we didn’t think Tyler had a tomorrow."
Sandi had Tyler’s funeral planned. He was unhealthy, weighing only 80 pounds.
“The drugs and alcohol had sucked the life right out of him,” Rick said. “But today we feel very fortunate as a family because we still have a son.”
“As you can tell, the 11 years affected each of us very differently,” Sandi said. “For myself, as the mom, I felt very responsible. I was riddled with guilt because I missed the signs that I should have known about, and when I did see the signs, I ignored them because it was easier to ignore them than confront it.”
Sandi said Tyler received three DUIs before he turned 21. He had 27 friends under the age of 25 that were buried.
“After all of that, I thought Tyler would hit his own rock bottom,” Sandi said. “I didn’t think we could create it. What actually happened after each incident was that his drug use got worse.”
She said she lost who she was as a mother, wife and person.
“Rick and I are very lucky that our marriage made it,” Sandi said. “Most families aren’t as fortunate.”
She was consumed with keeping Tyler alive and trying to fix or stop the problem, that she protected him from the consequences he should have had. All she was allowing him to do was continue to use.
Things started changing when the family united and they became proactive instead of reactive.
“We finally realized what we needed to do, and created that rock bottom for Tyler,” Sandi said. “It was the hardest thing we ever had to do. We had given so much of ourselves spiritually, financially and emotionally that we knew it was that time to let him go and let him make the choice. I’m so thankful that he chose to go into treatment.”
The Lyberts stressed that alcohol and marijuana are gateway drugs to other drugs like cocaine, meth and heroin. If families suspect their child to be using a drug of any type, even prescription pills, they should take action sooner rather than later.
“The longer you wait, the deeper the hole, and the harder to climb out of it,” Tyler said.
Watching for certain items can help determine which drug is being used.
-Alcohol: look for water bottles, mint or vanilla extract, gummy bears (can be soaked with alcohol) or tampons.
-Marijuana: look for eye drops, cigarette packs, soda cans with holes, tin foil pipes, toilet paper rolls stuffed with tissue, socket from a socket wrench, e-cigarettes with hash oil, apple pipes or incense.
-Prescription pain killers: look for CD cases with powder on them, mirrors, pill cases, cut off straws, cut off pens, credit cards or IDs that are bent or scratched and pupils that won’t dilate or constrict.
-Opiates: look for constant itching, picking at the face and nodding off.
For more information, go to http://www.yourchoice-live.org.