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After connecting with Kyra Rosie Dawson through a Facebook group, Hunter Michael Shepard used coronavirus lockdowns as an excuse to send her a message that ultimately led to a trip across the globe, a marriage proposal and a bun in the oven.
Hunter, a business development specialist from West Virginia, became ‘obsessed’ with the use of drugs after first trying a substance at the age of 12. His usage progressed until his 20s, at which point his addiction to heroin and meth was ‘crippling’ and took a ‘huge toll’ on his mental health.
In the UK, beauty therapist Kyra began drinking when she was 15 years old, with her habit getting ‘progressively worse’ throughout her later teenage years.
Kyra’s adoptive mum, Marie, encouraged her to recover from her alcohol addiction and consistently loved and supported her as she attempted to stop drinking. However, the now-26-year-old was driven ‘deep into her addiction’ when Marie passed away in 2018.
Kyra described her mum as her ‘rock’, and losing her made Kyra ‘spiral out of control’. She was taken ‘captive’ by the alcohol and depression, and was ‘on the verge of death’ when people close to her reached out to help her get sober.
Knowing Marie wouldn’t want her to live her life addicted to alcohol, Kyra chose to get into recovery and ‘deal with the pain in a healthy way’.
Meanwhile, Hunter tried for years to stop his drug abuse, checking in to six different private rehab facilities as he attempted to tackle the addiction. After five months sober, he relapsed and lost 45lbs in three weeks.
He was ‘covered in meth sores’ and barely sleeping when he unknowingly injected himself with flakka, a synthetic drug considered to be more dangerous than cocaine. Hunter thought the drug was something else, but feels the person he got it from was trying to ‘hurt or kill’ him by giving him flakka instead.
Recalling the experience, Hunter told UNILAD:
For three days straight I hallucinated. I didn’t know my own name. I didn’t know where I was. Plus it was extremely physically painful. I made the choice that I never wanted to use again.
Hunter joined a drugs anonymous group, found a good treatment facility to help improve his mental health and turned to the gym to help aid his physical recovery. Similarly, Kyra joined an alcoholics anonymous group and began utilising the gym to facilitate her recovery.
As Kyra and Hunter each embarked on their individual journeys to overcome addiction an ocean apart, they joined the same recovery Facebook group. Despite being aware of each other online for almost a year, they didn’t spark up a conversation until May 2020, when Kyra posted a joke about being single during quarantine.
Hunter saw the post and decided to reach out, though he told UNILAD that neither he nor Kyra believed the conversation would ‘ever grow to be something serious’. Of course, the pair lived in different countries and, as they had both experienced failed relationships, he said it was ‘hard to believe that something as beautiful as what we have would come from it’.
It soon became clear that they wanted to pursue a relationship, but the coronavirus outbreak ‘put some obstacles’ in the way as it made it difficult to travel. The outbreak also prevented the pair from taking part in their usual recovery activities, bringing support group meetings to a halt and forcing the closure of gyms.
With their regular lives thrown into disarray, the pair were ‘determined to overcome anything’ so they could be together. On September 15, Hunter made the trip to the UK where he met Kyra in person for the first time at London’s Heathrow airport.
After months of video calls and online messages, Hunter said the moment he set eyes on Kyra in real life was ‘overwhelming’. He added: ‘We had waited months just for that and we were both flooded with emotion. It was incredible.’
The 26-year-old said he ‘knew what [he] wanted’ when it came to the relationship, and on September 27, his birthday, he asked Kyra if she would marry him.
Hunter commented: ‘I didn’t waste any time. There was no doubt about it.’
Though both Hunter and Kyra had already committed to overcoming their individual addictions, they found an ‘immeasurable amount of love and support’ within each other as they were able to understand one another ‘on a level that people who have never experienced addiction could’.
The pair both spend a lot of time using their experiences to support other people struggling with addiction, with Hunter saying that ‘being of service to those who are suffering is the what recovery is all about’.
After four months in the UK, Hunter had to return to the US to take care of responsibilities at home. However, coronavirus restrictions permitting, the 26-year-old plans to return soon, as he and Kyra are set to welcome a new baby into their lives in June.
Discussing the situation, Hunter said:
I’m scared I won’t be able to make it back to see our baby be born. We have faith that things will be okay but the coronavirus has made it hard for us in all aspects. We refuse to give up though! We will keep pushing and hope for the best.
We have maintained and remained solid through all of this. Thankfully we are able to remain connected to other people in recovery virtually. We can also share our experience, strength and hope virtually to those that are still struggling as well.
After having overcome addiction and refusing to let coronavirus keep them apart, both Hunter and Kyra say they now feel ‘amazing’ and are ‘so grateful for the life [they] have today’.
It wouldn’t be possible if we weren’t on the road to recovery. Obviously we still have days where emotions are high. We have to live life on life’s terms now. We don’t even think about getting drunk or high anymore. That just isn’t an option.
When it comes to overcoming addiction, especially at a time when support and recovery methods may seem out of reach, Hunter urged people to remember that ‘there is always hope’.
He stressed the importance of finding a community to join on your journey, whether that be in real life or online, noting: ‘We know from experience that there are recovery communities all over the world.’
As for going the distance – in both senses of the phrase – in relationships, Hunter and Kyra pointed out that sticking with someone ‘through the ups and downs’ is ‘totally worth it’ if it means you can enjoy true love.
If you want friendly, confidential advice about drugs, you can talk to FRANK. You can call 0300 123 6600, text 82111 or email via http://www.talktofrank.com/contact 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, or livechat at http://www.talktofrank.com/livechat from 2pm-6pm any day of the week.
If you want to discuss any issues relating to alcohol in confidence, contact Drinkline on 0300 123 1110, 9am–8pm weekdays and 11am–4pm weekends for advice and support.
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