An American man and a British woman spent years addicted to drugs and alcohol. After committing to fight for sobriety, the pair met in an online recovery group and fell in love.
Together, they marvel at the circumstances that allowed their love story to happen and have a message for others who might be struggling with addiction: There is hope, so don't give up.
Hunter Michael Shepard, of West Virginia, and Kyra Rosie Dawson, of Essex, England, shared their life journey with The Epoch Times, highlighting the inevitable tragedies of substance abuse and the unwavering might of one's willpower to break the fatal trap of addiction.
"It's so strange how love works. We are two people from completely different sides of the world who probably never would've met in any other circumstances," Hunter told The Epoch Times.
Despite an amazing childhood, Hunter said his use of marijuana and alcohol began at the age of 12 amid a mental health crisis. Kyra started drinking alcohol at 15.
"For both of us it really started as experimenting," Hunter said.
"When you grow up being bullied and feeling like an outcast—we both experienced this—it makes it easier to feel like you 'fit in' if you're using with other people."
Reflecting on his childhood days, Hunter said being overweight, he used to feel different from his peers; smoking weed and drinking became his social lubricants. However, doing drugs from an early age landed Hunter in one of his biggest traumas: going to jail at 12.
"Going to jail at such a young age made me feel like even more of an outcast. Growing up in a small town it's very uncommon to go to jail at that age," Hunter said. "It introduced me to people who felt the same way as me, and were interested in drugs just as much as I was."
Losing his best friend to a drink-driving accident shortly thereafter left Hunter feeling hopeless and guilty. He spent years in and out of jail, selling drugs to support his habit. Hunter progressed to using heroin by the age of 16.
Hunter was severely addicted to heroin and methamphetamine by his 20s and kept going in and out of rehab for six years until a drug-induced psychosis made recovery imperative. Even the birth of his daughter in 2013 didn't rouse Hunter from his addiction.
Meanwhile, Kyra, at age 10, was adopted out of foster care by a woman named Marie Dawson, a prize-winning author and journalist. The mom-daughter pair were inseparable, even throughout Kyra's addiction.
During those days, Kyra skipped school, was expelled multiple times, and gained significant weight from binge drinking alcohol and junk food, but Marie's support never wavered. When Marie got diagnosed with cancer, Kyra returned the love and support to her ailing mother until she passed away in July 2018.
Kyra, then 25 and never having recovered from early abandonment issues, was left alone in the home she was raised in. She numbed her pain with alcohol.
"Alcohol is a drug," Hunter said. "Often people mistake it as not being one because it's legal, but for Kyra alcohol had a close to a death grip on her."
Kyra was in and out of rehab for four years before achieving sobriety.
The couple first connected through an online recovery group and spent a year getting to know one another from afar. Hunter acknowledges that it is recovery, and not addiction, that brought them together.
"Recovery is all about building connections," Hunter said. "We understand each other on a deeper level than most."
"We can be brutally honest with each other without judgment. Being in recovery doesn't mean your problems go away and we understand that," he said.
"Together as a team, we not only provide each other the support we need individually, but we also provide anyone else that contacts us the support they need."
Describing addiction as a chronic, progressive brain disease, Hunter lamented that addiction almost cost him his life.
"It's a disorder that causes obsessive and uncontrollable use of drugs," Hunter said. "Once someone with addiction disorder experiences something that triggers this part of their brain it's like a snowball effect. It often starts something innocent but turns into something much darker."
"A lot of addicts die because they think they found the solution to their problems in drugs. The real solution is to deal with your trauma and find healthy coping skills to handle your emotions," he said.
Hunter and Kyra credit each other, their friends, and their families for helping them maintain their sobriety.
"Now that we're clean and we have experienced this side of life, it would be hard not to have faith," said Hunter. "We are blessed beyond measure."
Hunter now works as a business development specialist for a treatment facility, and Kyra is a licensed beauty therapist. The couple is now happily engaged, and life looks different these days.
At the time of writing, the couple is bound to England by travel restrictions owing to the pandemic. However, they are planning to relocate to the United States as soon as possible. Hunter cannot wait to return to his 7-year-old daughter, Tatem, who is staying with his parents.
"If you're still breathing, there is still hope for you," Hunter said. "It won't be easy but getting clean is totally worth it."
"Also shout out to all the moms, dads, siblings, and loved ones of addicts that are suffering too. Just know there is hope. Don't give up!" he said.