Where it all started
Kohlbrenner grew up in southwest Philadelphia and was no stranger to addiction, as many of his family members had used substances during his developmental years. At a young age, he became immune to the impact of substances and didn’t know what life could look like without them.
At 16 years old, after years of using substances, Kohlbrenner was hit by a drunk driver. His injuries gained him access to a new world of opioid use, and when his prescriptions ended, he started buying pills off the street. From 18 to 25 years old, Kohlbrenner had an opioid addiction.
“I got to the point that I did whatever I could get my hands on,” he said. “The drugs always came first because you’re either feeling sick or you’re high.”
Kohlbrenner’s first experience in rehabilitation was at 25. After living with an ex-girlfriend and selling everything they owned for substances, he became homeless. His mom found him and helped him get into a facility in north Philadelphia.
“It was really difficult for me since I had been using since I was so young,” he said. “I was eventually put into a psychiatric ward because of it. I was extremely violent, homicidal and suicidal. It wasn’t a good situation.”
Finding value in escaping Philadelphia, his rehabilitation team offered Kohlbrenner a plane ticket to Florida to complete a 90-day program at another facility. There, he met the girl who brought him to northwest Colorado.
With $20 and a backpack, he moved to Colorado to recover with the help of her family, but they inevitably broke up. Suddenly, Kohlbrenner was alone in a state in which he knew nobody, leading him to relapse.
Reality sets in
Kohlbrenner met a girl while attending college for his bachelor’s degree. At the time, he was struggling with his substance use disorder. They began dating then eventually got married, and although she never had a SUD, she stayed with him.
Kohlbrenner remembers a specific moment in which he realized his life needed to change.
His wife had planned a pleasant day for the two of them in Rifle Falls State Park for his birthday, and instead of enjoying it, he was miserable from the side effects of his substance use.
“It tore me up,” he said. “We got home and I felt like I had ruined the day. “
When they got home, his wife left for work, and Kohlbrenner was alone with his thoughts. Walking around his house, he stumbled across a photo of their wedding day, in which he looked discolored and sick.
“Every time I looked at that photo, I wanted to throw up,” he said. “I felt terrible. It was like this moment of reality set in for me. When you’re using, you comfort yourself with denial and different lies so you can sleep at night. You justify why it’s OK. I just couldn’t lie to myself anymore.”
Kohlbrenner calls it a spiritual experience. He broke down and cried for hours, then when he picked his wife up from work later that night, he told her everything.
“I purged and I was really afraid she would leave me,” he said. “She kept me alive and I’m really grateful for that.”
Kohlbrenner immediately got a sponsor and worked the steps he needed for rehabilitation. To this day, two years later, he attends substance use disorder meetings daily. He credits the friends he made in rehabilitation for supporting him and getting him to this point. He gives most of the credit, though, to his wife.