His Recovery Honors Those Who Died
By Kerry J. Bickford, VOICES Editor
It is almost 7 p.m. on a Tuesday evening, and I’m sitting in a room so full of adults that people are now pulling chairs in from surrounding rooms. The air is abuzz with energetic chatter, and I notice a young man who appears to be in his 30s high-fiving and hugging people as they arrive. His appearance is somewhat of a contradiction: while he is wearing a shirt, tie and dress pants, his hairstyle is decisively mohawk, and there are tattoos peeking out from every part of his body that isn’t covered. My first impression is that I may finally have arrived at the right meeting.
Kristoph Pydynkowski is a nationally recognized, award-winning addiction specialist whose credentials are only one indication of just how good he is at what he does. He is close in age to my own sons, and he is *Gosnold Cape Cod’s not-so-secret weapon in the war on drugs and overdoses.
While most people might be impressed by the accreditations and affiliations that distinguish his work, I am more impressed, at this moment, with the revelation that he is also in long-term recovery. To me, that is the ultimate credential.
Kristoph begins to facilitate the support group for parents and others who are struggling with a loved one’s addiction, and there are no holds barred. He shares grim snippets of his own story when appropriate, including nine overdoses, an attempted suicide in jail, and multiple failed attempts to overcome the disease of addiction over a long period of time. You understand the absolute miracle of his recovery when he describes waking up in a field in the middle of nowhere and deciding he had had enough. Somehow he ended up at *Gosnold, where he recalls sitting in filthy clothes as former CEO Ray Tamasi patted him on the shoulder and said, “It’s gonna be OK.” (Years later he and Tamasi would work side by side creating the Young Adult Opiate Treatment Program, which would take addiction treatment for young people nationally to a whole new level.)
It doesn’t take long to realize that Kristoph is one of the lucky ones and that he doesn’t take this for granted. He works his butt off every day to maintain his sobriety and encourages others to do the work necessary to survive and thrive. The rules are hard, the feedback is honest, and there is no room for squeamishness. It’s a do or die disease.
It’s been more than five years since I walked into that meeting, and a lot has happened in between. The overdose epidemic has exploded and Kristoph is currently working with a National Institutes of Health research team that is investigating overdose deaths in Massachusetts. He is also in private practice, and no longer at Gosnold.
My own focus has shifted to include recovery and grief support, since so many have lost loved ones in this battleground. I caught up with Kristoph recently and asked him about what keeps him so laser focused and committed to recovery, especially when he is surrounded by people who have died from this disease.
In his 13th year of recovery and having previously tried “everything” to conquer addiction, Kristoph firmly believes that “mutual support groups have helped me live the life I dreamed of. This is a chronic disease; so I have a support team and daily meetings that are part of my long-term treatment plan.”
“The most Important thing in recovery is making connections with other human beings. There is a huge value in connecting at the deepest level that cannot be underestimated or replaced. Mixed with other healthy lifestyles, it creates a unified, unspoken, deep-rooted connection.”
I couldn’t help wondering how he deals with grief in the face of the overdose crisis, so I asked him about self-care.
“It’s hard –don’t get me wrong — but for every death, I see four people who recover. That doesn’t mean it isn’t painful. It is, but I have a ton of support around me to fall back on.”
“When somebody I work with or someone from the community we know dies, really, I try to honor them by staying clean. At the end of the day, I go to a meeting and then I go to another meeting. I try to help another person, another family, because it’s gonna happen and it sucks. It’s heart wrenching, but I try to stay focused and honor them by doing what they couldn’t do.”
“This is a chronic disease, and to use means to die.”
He’s right about that. To use means to die, and we have certainly seen our share of this over the last decade. So has Kristoph, but he has an ironclad focus that includes at least one meeting a day combined with a healthy lifestyle of exercise and physical fitness balanced by an army of friends, a recovery community, colleagues, and family. He calls upon all of them to keep his disease at bay and to fall back on in times of need and sorrow. His mantra is “human connection,” in good times and bad, and he is all in. You begin to see why he is surviving in a time when this disease is killing so many others. He has intentionally surrounded himself with a virtual safety net of human support to get through the highs and the lows of being a recovery coach in recovery. His positive attitude and determination are contagious.
He must be on to something because 13 years multiplied by 365 means he is at least 4,745 days into his own recovery, which he has leveraged to help countless others.
In addition to this, he is married to his best friend, and together, they recently welcomed a fourth child into their family. “In fact”, he shared, “we attended a Zoom meeting while we were in the delivery room; that’s how important it is to us.”
As Kristoph succinctly put it, “I am living the life of my dreams.”
It’s a powerful story and serves as a good reminder that peer support, human connection and hard work can have an astounding impact on a devastating disease and its aftermath.