Tyler Smilo is a local Erie, Pennsylvania artist who has gone through the recovery process multiple times throughout his life. He has started a podcast, “Sink, Swim, or Fly“, which has already been recognized locally after only a handful of episodes featuring a variety of guests. He can be found in the tri-state area playing live shows either solo or with his band, “Smilo & the Ghost“. Here is his story.
Q: What is addiction in your own words?
A: What addiction is to me is an obsessive and compulsive disorder. And in active use, I think it takes over the forefront of what survival is. It completely takes control of all instincts and puts addiction at the forefront and the need to get high in front of any other life responsibility.
I always got that thought “oh I can control it…I can go out, you know have a few drinks, smoke a little weed and I’ll be fine”. And that might’ve been the case for a few months (or even several months) but eventually I ended up in the worst possible place.
Q: Tell us about your childhood.
A: So yeah my biological father has been out of my life since I was two years old and from what I understand now, he as well is an addict and has spent majority of his life in prison (in a penitentiary in Texas) for drug use and manufacturing drugs – specifically methamphetamine. But my childhood, I was adopted at like five or six by my father and there was some…. there was some abuse and, you know, some…It wasn’t the perfect family all around. But I think that I was genetically…. you know, there was something attached to it there.
Q: When did you realize you were an addict?
A: Well I didn’t….I probably did – I got into drugs when I was about twelve years old and started using marijuana and I didn’t really see it being a problem until I was living in Pittsburgh in about 2006 when I was basically homeless, addicted to heroin, and uh, all my belongings were in a vehicle and I – I packed up my things, well, they were in the vehicle, and I went to my grandmas in Ohio and the first time I ever I guess fully detoxed out of about a year or two of consistent heroin use I went thru a five or six day detox that just shook me; I mean it was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Super physical pain and mental panic. And then I struggled with heroin for several years after that.
Q: When did you truly accept who you are, and how did you come to terms with it?
A: Over the years I’ve accepted I was an addict, and then with not regularly going to meetings or regularly staying in contact with support groups or staying in treatment, I would forget those facts it seemed like. I would put them in the back of my head and id try drinking again or try smoking weed again and every time I did those things, it ended up exactly the same place. You know – me with nothing, with all my bridges burnt and just sick. You know? So, I think when I got clean last October in 2018, I truly accepted that in no variation that I could successfully use. You know I couldn’t successfully use alcohol, I couldn’t successfully just smoke marijuana; it was any drugs was an issue for me. And that I think that was true acceptance. That I no longer could use any sort of drugs in any combination.
Q: When did you hit “Rock Bottom”?
A: I’d say rock bottom for me was having no place to go, no place to call, no money, and living in my car basically in a parking lot of a country fair. I’d done music for; I had been clean and done music and built up a reputation and positive things in the region…and done it professionally…. but it got to the point where I was missing shows, I had no… basically nobody on my team and was living out of my car. And that was about rock bottom for me.
Q: Tell us about your relapse experience
A: I guess for me relapse was always a progression. I always got that thought “oh I can control it…I can go out, you know have a few drinks, smoke a little weed and I’ll be fine”. And that might’ve been the case for a few months (or even several months) but eventually I ended up in the worst possible place.
Q: Tell us about the cycle patterns of relapse that you struggled with
A: So, every time I’ve ever relapsed it always was a progression. It started with me losing sight that I was an addict and I could drink successfully, or I could smoke weed or do other things and it was always (sometimes faster than others) it was always a downhill spiral. That’s happened like five or six times…I’ve done treatment maybe five…five to seven times over the last twelve years. But it was always a progression.
I think initially in 2009 I had- I had gotten a year of clean time and relapsed and eventually ended up back on opiates. 2010 I went to treatment and got on suboxone program. I would just use suboxone for two years, ended up getting off suboxone and was clean for almost five years and then in 2015 or 2016 I relapsed and then got clean again in 2018. So, I had a year, and then four and a half/five years, and now a year. Clean.
A: For me self-acceptance is an ongoing process. I truly believe in the twelve-step program. I truly believe that in depth step work with a sponsor is the ultimate guide to self-acceptance. I don’t think it’s anything that I have down today, but it gets better each day that I don’t pick up.
Q: Tell us about your road to recovery.
A: The recovery is definitely ongoing. I know that this disease or disorder or whatever you want to call it is ongoing and it’s going to be a process that Ill deal with for the rest of my life. But so far, this last 13 months of being clean has been some of the hardest time in my life. Not every day was easy, it does seem to get easier every day. And I know if I don’t pick up – if I don’t use today, that I’ll just get a little bit better. But uh…it’s definitely going to be a journey and I’ve accepted that and trust in the process of where I’m at in this moment…but yeah, I don’t know what’s in store.
Q: How did your podcast come about, and what do you hope to achieve with it?
A: so, I started a podcast called “sink, swim, or fly” and it focuses on the two things that I know most about: which is addiction and art/music in the region.
It’s pretty open ended – we talk a lot about whatever is going on with the guest or addiction, recovery, music, local arts. I hope people will hear that and see that you shouldn’t be ashamed to be an addict and good things can come from addictive people and that there’s others out there like you.