After a softball game, Tyler Hansen was introduced to the pain reliever, Lortab, and six months later, he found himself addicted to heroin and on his way to serving a three-year prison sentence.
On the latest episode of ‘Project Recovery,’ Tyler details his path into addiction, as well as his unprecedented journey to recovery.
Growing up as the ‘Golden Boy’
Tyler’s story starts in Orem, Utah, where he grew up in an athletic family, with his older brother, Tyler Hansen, playing in the National Basketball Association, and his two younger sisters both playing for Brigham Young University.
“I had a wonderful childhood, wonderful parents and life was awesome,” Tyler explained.
At the age of 19, Tyler was serving a mission in Japan for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he was told that his mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which led to his return to the states.
The sudden news had shaken Tyler’s family to the core and doctors estimated Tyler’s mother had only three months left to live
“I sat down and had some incredible conversations with my mother,” he described. “She just essentially said, ‘I love you, everybody here is falling apart. I want you to go back and finish your mission.'”
He went back to Japan to continue his mission but, unfortunately, his mother passed away three months later while he was still away.
The steep slide into addiction
Tyler’s loss of his mother while serving a mission ultimately led him to question his faith and he decided that God owed him for his service.
“A year later, I’m trying to grieve and work through these things and God owes me and I’m not being paid my due,” Tyler said. “I’ve done this wonderful thing for Him and all I’m going through is this pain and resentment.”
As Tyler was experiencing those intense feelings of pain and resentment, he was also playing softball in a recreation league, and still recalls the moment someone introduced him to the opioid pain reliever, Lortab.
“I can remember the warm blanket of relief to all of my problems to this day,” he said.
After his first experimentation with opioids, he quickly began his journey into addiction at a rate that both Casey Scott and Dr. Matt Woolley had never seen before.
“My transition to addiction was swift and I went from Lortab to Percocet to Oxycontin to shooting heroin and cocaine, all within about a six month period,” he described.
Tyler’s addiction had completely taken over his life and those decisions to use drugs ultimately came to a turning point when he was arrested for a DUI and sent to the Utah State Prison and was forced to serve a three-year sentence.
Tyler begins navigating life through prison
Tyler says his addiction caused his wife to leave him, he lost his job, got into debt, and ended up in prison where he would serve his sentence for a DUI.
“In the beginning, when you get in there, you’re put in [a separate pod] for 60-90 days, where they watch you, see who you are, asses you, do some psych [evaluations],” he said. “The first day you get there, you sign a piece of paper that says where would you like your body sent if you die when you’re in prison.”
Tyler was forced to not only address issues that had been building up for so long but he was forced to do it sober while attending therapy.
“I got to be…in the leadership there and I learned a ton. They really helped me with all of my resentments, all of my fears, all of my griefs with my mom.” Tyler added. “I really got a good clean sober look at my life and I learned to love therapy.”
He was allowed to be in a leadership role for the prison’s program between the inmates and therapists and learned a lot about human dynamics.
“Whenever there were issues, they would have mediations and they would bring in the two parties that were going to stab each other because they were rival gang members and they would set boundaries, ” he said. “I remember watching that and thinking, this is magical.”
A sliver of light in a dark room
Tyler’s newfound passion for psychology gave him hope for a clean and sober life after prison.
“There was a psychology section and I read everything I could get my hands on in those sections and began to learn about therapy and psychology,” Tyler described.
Once Tyler had served his time at the Utah State Prison, he was back in the real world with a new passion and decided to enroll back into school.
“I ended up graduating with a degree in Psychology and the ability to be an Advanced Substance Use Disorder Counselor and that has made a huge, huge impact in my life,” Tyler said.
He’s now working for Steps Recovery Centers and he is also on the Board of Directors for Utah Harm Reduction Coalition where he’s still leading programs in the state prison working with inmates.
Tyler’s love for learning is also leading him to BYU in the fall to continue his education and he’ll begin pursuing his master’s degree in Social Work.
For more information on the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition, you can visit the non-profit community-based organization’s website by clicking here.
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