PROVIDENCE,R.I. (WLNE) — The battle with opioid addiction begins, for many people, as a way to escape physical or emotional pain. For Paul Kandarian, an Army veteran from Taunton, it was both.
Paul first started using opioids when his high school girlfriend convinced him to steal his grandfather’s prescription. He quickly became addicted and was spending $100 a day on drugs.
He had been in and out of rehab and arrested for unarmed robbery trying to get money for drugs, when he decided to detox on his own. He locked himself in his room for two weeks and experienced withdrawal symptoms he described as “the flu times 100.”
"After those two weeks were up I marched down to the recruiting station and said 'I want the infantry," said Paul. He joined the Army on the spot and went to Afghanistan about a year later.
While on deployment, three of his friends were killed and multiple others lost limbs.
"My squad leader told us, 'Accept that you will die here, accept that you're not going to go home and this will be easy.' And it did, it made it very easy to distance yourself,” said Paul. “It made it easier to know that you won't have to deal with them at home because you're not going home. And then you do go home...and that's a whole other battle."
Paul remained clean in the Army, but when he came home he was medically discharged and going through a divorce. He felt his whole life had changed.
"I had no job, no money. The only two friends I had back in Massachusetts didn't want to deal with me,” Paul said.
So he turned to the only way he knew how to deal with his pain: opioids.
Within two months of being home from the Army Paul was using heroin. His entire $1,500 disability check from the Army was going to by drugs and he says it “wasn’t nearly enough.”
So Paul began stealing from his jobs and even his family to fund his habit.
"Breaking into my grandparents' home. My grandfather was still living at home and it's just, it's disgusting what you have to do to make money,” said Paul. “My grandfather was my hero and I loved him to death, but it was a way to get money and I did it.”
Paul’s father became aware of what he was doing when he found a slip from a pawn shop showing that Paul had pawned his father’s camera for money.
That’s when his father saw the horrible infections in Paul’s injection sites. He took him to the Providence VA Hospital.
"If I waited any longer the chances of me dying were pretty good, or getting gangrene and losing my arm,” said Paul.
He was visited by a nurse, Lynn Deion, who had been trying to get him help for years. This time Paul was finally ready.
“Finally after about 4 or 5 days in that bed, I just looked at myself in the mirror and I was just like, 'I can't believe this is who I am,'" said Paul. “And at that point I accepted that I couldn't do this. I couldn't do this by myself, get clean, and I just couldn't do this to myself anymore. I was dying.”
Lynn helped get Paul into a recovery program that made sense for him and his life.
She says an addict has to be ready to help themselves and have a goal in mind. As for those trying to help addicts, Lynn says you need to be patient and strike a balance between offering help and backing off when they’re not ready.
She also says it’s important to remember addicts do not choose to become addicted and can’t “just stop” without proper help.
"Society, unfortunately, puts moral judgments, sometimes, on individuals about having an addictive disorder. And I never met anyone who intended to become addicted,” said Lynn. "Yet we don't put that same judgment on 'Gee, I never expected to have high blood pressure, even though I exercise and I don't smoke."
Paul is now about to get his Bachelor’s degree in psychology and is going for his Doctorate. Once he’s stable in his own recovery he wants to help other veterans facing similar issues.
"It's possible. It's so possible. It's corny and it's cliché, but I mean if I can do it. I was injecting into my neck, I was wishing I would get hit by a car, I didn't want to live,” said Paul. “But I did. I did it. I'm here. I'm pursuing what I never thought I would.”
Paul now speaks about his addiction and recovery to help other addicts and their loved ones struggling to help them. He also shares his story at area schools to try and prevent kids from ever using opioids in the first place.
If you would like to book Paul as a guest speaker email email@example.com.