Tyler Hansen: From Incarceration to Inspiration

My name is Tyler Hansen and 8 ½ years ago I was incarcerated in the Utah State Prison. It was the result of 10 years of drug addiction, disappointment, and shame. I had stolen money and destroyed my family and reputation. I had finally come to a place I couldn’t talk my way out of. I had decided that when I finally ran out of money, I would kill myself rather than go to prison.

When was first incarcerated, I tried to fulfill that decision. I spent the night of October 25, 2011 tying up my bedsheets in my cell.

I waited for the strength to lean into the handmade noose and let my legs go, finally ending the years of pain and wreckage I’d left behind me.

I spent the entire night praying for that strength, and it never came. Two separate times, I put the sheet around my neck and waited and I just couldn’t let go. The voices in my head said, “You can’t even do this right.” So, I continued to live out my life in prison.

There, I met two men who helped me. Greg Hendrix, who is an MSW (Masters of Social Work) from Brigham Young University, was my therapist and a mentor. The second man, Desmond Lomax, was not my therapist, but was someone that would visit me on a regular basis. We had many powerful discussions that led me to where I am today. These two men saved my life and encouraged me to do better, be better, and listen. It was because of them that I got out of prison and have not looked back. They continued to tell this deeply broken and damaged soul that I was okay.

I remember thinking if the most amazing people I’ve ever met think that I’m okay, then maybe I am? Why would these people lie to me? But, they must be lying to me because I’m too far gone. Even still, they believed in me.

I was released from prison to the only friends in the world that would take me in. My family was done with me—too many promises broken and lies told. I was in arrears $33,000 with child support and $100,000 with restitution for my crimes. I could hear those same negative voices saying, “You’ll never get out of this hole. Nobody does. Go back to your old friend heroin.” I held out hope that I could build a new life.

I attended AA meetings and tried to put myself around good people. I attended Cirque Lodge in 2002 and met a good friend named Gary Fisher there, who is now one of my mentors. I enrolled myself in school and it was a saving grace. I had read 300+ books during the two and a half years I was in prison, which helped me have a good baseline of knowledge to build on. I was prepared to do well in school. Rebuilding the relationships with my family, however, proved to be more difficult.

I was told it takes just as long to rebuild relationships as it did to break them. That was very accurate. What made rebuilding these relationships especially difficult was that my little brother died from an overdose while I was incarcerated. We were all really hurting from that. Besides that, I had destroyed trust, and frankly, when I was using, nobody wanted to be around me. And they shouldn’t. But, the relationships I have today with my brothers and sisters, and especially my father now, are priceless. I talk to my dad every single day about life and he has been amazing.

I started with Steps Recovery Centers about 6 years ago and initially worked with the admissions team. I was encouraged at that time to go back to school and have loved and thrived in my education. I completed my bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Argosy University in Salt Lake City, and subsequent training to be an Advanced Substance Use Disorder Counselor. That education has really taught me so much about myself and also, I have really enjoyed to learning process. It’s become my new socially acceptable addiction.

It was so humbling but so wonderful to rub shoulders with kind and wonderful teachers and fellow students.My goal is to complete my MSW and continue on to my PhD. I have a life today that, through therapy and complete abstinence from all drugs and alcohol, I have been able to build, with 5 children and a wonderful wife. I love the ability to work and connect with people and share the sacred space of healing and recovery.

I want to give back to everyone that I can the gift of sobriety both mentally and physically that was given to me.

In the last 6 months, I have been given the opportunity to become the owner of Steps Recovery Centers here in Utah. I literally have gone from 8 ½ years ago sitting in a prison cell to becoming the owner of the largest substance abuse recovery center in the state of Utah. And starting next week on this journey with me is my new executive director Desmond Lomax. He retired from the state of Utah and now I can work with the man who saved my life to figure out the best possible way to save others. I also am now an employee of the Utah County Sheriff’s office, a jail that I frequented in my addiction. I get to walk in and out on my own and bring hope and healing as a counselor in their RISE or transition program.

In the words of Johan Hari, “the opposite of addiction is connection.” I live today in a space of love and gratitude and know that recovery exists, forgiveness is peace.

I was higher today listening to my 2 year old daughter sing “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman soundtrack than I ever was on heroin and cocaine.

For those struggling, I recommend that you reach out and learn to talk about what’s going on. There are people who can relate and help. They want to listen to you and guide you.

The truth is that we all struggle. I still have bad days, and hard things happen to great people all the time. It’s not where we stand when times are easy, but how we fight through the challenges that counts.

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