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‘Recovery is my hobby today’

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Dave Kuhn

Dave Kuhn | Benjamin Weatherston

By Lynn Monson

Dave Kuhn was 50 years old and things were going well.

He had a house on Grosse Ile in the middle of the Detroit River, which is where he had grown up with eight brothers and sisters. His father, a doctor, had left him a nice inheritance.

Five years earlier, Kuhn, a union construction worker, had quit drinking because he was worried he would lose his driver’s license and not be able to get to his work sites.

Quitting drinking tested his willpower since he’d been drinking since his high school days. He still smoked marijuana occasionally, but he was glad he no longer had to worry about drinking and driving.

Then things changed.

“You’ve probably heard this before,” he said. “I went to the dentist and he gave me Vicodin for some dental work.  And I thought, ‘I have arrived.’ I found this new drug that made me feel superior, gave me energy, made me feel wonderful. It just led me on a path of destruction.”

In an amazingly short time, he went from the dentist’s office to the drug houses of southwest Detroit.

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To get more Vicodin, he found people who were smoking crack. He joined them but ignored their warning to stay away from heroin. Crack makes you jittery and heroin mellows you out. He used that cocktail to balance out while he was still working construction. At first he had others make the buy, but it became more convenient for him to stop at the drug house on the way to work, use on his lunch hour, and pick up some more on his way home.

“It got to the point that I was going in there, and that’s pretty brave for some old guy from Grosse Ile. It gets to the point where your addiction has such a hold on you that you don’t care. Who would have thought I could walk into this abandoned apartment building, in the back door, and there’s a guy with a gun there? I say, ‘Give me my crack, that’s all I want.’ He’s holding a gun on me. I say, ‘Here’s my money, just give me my stuff. You’re not going to shoot me. Just give me my stuff so I can come back tomorrow.’  He sets his gun down and gives me my stuff and I leave.  In today’s world, I’d (ask myself): ‘Whattaya doin’?’ But in my addiction I’m not thinking like that.”

He eventually switched entirely to heroin and his life began to revolve around his next fix. He lost his job, racked up debt on his house, drew down his inheritance, stopped paying his bills and eventually sold his house for a fraction of its worth in one of those legal scams where companies take care of your debt for a big cut.

“Things started collapsing around me,” Kuhn said. “I always picture it as like the Indiana Jones (movie) when the walls are tumbling down behind him and he’s running forward. Well, I saw those things happening. I could see that I was losing everything, but my disease had such a grip on me that I was not willing to stop. I figured I could catch it later.”

He eventually teamed up with another heroin addict, a woman, who became his platonic partner in “scrapping” for copper and shooting heroin. He lived out of his truck for about a year, then her apartment. He tried rehab several times, with help from some of his siblings, but couldn’t make it stick. His family finally adopted a tough-love approach with him, refusing to give him money, even when he claimed truthfully that he needed it for food.

After four years as an addict, he finally gutted out a 30-day stay at a treatment center in Canton. From there, he went to Dawn Farm transitional housing in Ypsilanti.  He wanted to restart heroin as he had during all his other attempts at rehab, but his roommate threatened to report Kuhn if there was even a hint that he might be using. It was Dawn Farm policy that roommates monitor each other. Kuhn would have been kicked out. “That means I gotta get this,” Kuhn told himself. “The only one I’m screwing is me, if I use.” He didn’t want to once again break the heart of his sister who had done so much to help him.

He did more relapse prevention and recovery support sessions than most, because it helped him stay sober. He also began to volunteer, at first with Dawn Farm and later with the Home of New Vision Engagement Center, where he became popular as the breakfast cook three days a week. He liked his work with other recovering addicts so much that he came in on his off days. Home of New Vision eventually offered him a part-time job as a counselor, which he considers his calling.

“Recovery is my hobby today. It’s what brings joy to my life. (I tell the clients) there’s always hope. We can do this.”

His message is to make it to the next marker — today, tomorrow, then one month, then two, then three. Kuhn, now 59, is past the five-year mark of recovery.

“Every day is better than yesterday. It’s just amazing.”

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