OCONOMOWOC (WITI) -- Drug-related deaths now outpace traffic fatalities in Waukesha County, with heroin being the most common culprit. Oconomowoc parents know all too well of the dangers of drugs. Their son became an addict in middle school.
“Addiction is like, the worst possible storm you can imagine -- just sweeping through your life. It’s like a tornado going through a trailer park. There’s nothing left," 28-year-old Tyler Lybert said.
Thankfully for Lybert, there is something left. He battled addiction for 11 years.
“It went from alcohol in sixth grade, to smoking pot in seventh grade, to pills at 15 years old to heroin by 16 or 17 years old. I wanted friends. I wanted people to like me. I had these older people that I knew and they introduced me to it. From that first sip, it made me feel different," Lybert said.
The result left Lybert's family broken.
“As long as I was getting high -- that was the only thing important in my life,” Lybert said.
Lybert’s parents, Rick and Sandi, say they had no idea the extent of their son’s addiction until he hit rock bottom.
“I thought if I loved him enough it would go away,” Sandi Lybert said.
Rick and Sandi's other child, Ashleigh, became caught in the middle -- torn between her love for her brother and her parents' denial. She moved out as soon as she turned 18.
“[Tyler] would be able to manipulate them into believing it wasn’t what it really was," Ashleigh Nowakowski, who is now married with children of her own said.
After Lybert stole money from his parents and grandparents, did jail time after a DUI, and contemplated suicide, he finally saw the light.
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Lybert spent five-and-a-half months in rehab.
“I wanted to change for a long time. I just didn’t know how to," Lybert said.
What has helped the family heal is a program they’ve created together.
“We looked at each other and said, 'what can we do to help others?'" Rick Lybert said.
It’s a non-profit called “Your Choice.”
“It’s us as a family, talking about how it impacted and destroyed each one of us. 'Your Choice' takes all four members of the family on the road, sharing their story in high schools and public forums across the state and even into Illinois. The school year is not done with yet, and we have reached over 45,000 students, 10,000 parents and we’re in such demand we’re actually booking for next school year," Sandi Lybert said.
The Lybert family says “Your Choice” is an education in reality: a warning about a drug that has crept into suburbs and homes just like theirs. By being open about their experiences, the hope is others will be able to learn from their mistakes.
“We blamed each other for Tyler’s issues,” Sandi said, pointing to her husband, Rick. “He blamed me. I blamed him. So Tyler was out there using. Our marriage was falling apart. We say be united, come together."
“Your Choice” has special meaning for Ashleigh as well.
“I am the voice of the siblings who lived through it,” she says, noting the impact her brother’s addiction had on her. “We don’t have the counselor background – but we lived it. I wonder if there was a family like [us] when we were going through this, how things might have been different for us.”
“Your Choice” has been active for almost five years. There are no lectures here -- just a family who lived to tell their story.
“I don’t ever want to forget. Maybe that’s why we do this. As long as we are out there in public, we’re never going to forget what happened to us," Rick Lybert said.
“If I hadn’t gone through what I did, our program wouldn’t be here today. We wouldn’t be saving lives. I will take the sacrifice of my past to help more people in the future," Tyler Lybert said.
The family is compensated for their speaking engagements. They’ve also received a grant from Rosecrance, a treatment facility with more than 20 locations around Chicago and Rockford, Illinois.
“Your Choice” also has corporate sponsors like Kohl’s Cares and Qdoba Mexican Grill. The Waukesha County Community Foundation, Waukesha Service Club and Oconomowoc Area Foundation are also a few of two dozen or so partners.