When I reached out to talk to local author Kevin Barhydt about his new book, “Dear Stephen Michael’s Mother,” Barhydt and I had a brief, pleasant conversation and seemed to click quickly.
I told him I wanted to push the interview a bit further out so I could read the book beforehand, and he graciously sent over a digital copy. I had heard from preliminary reviews that Barhydt’s story was intense, but after reading books like “A Child Called It” by Dave Pelzer, I wasn’t too concerned.
That night, I swiped open my iPad and finished “Dear Stephen Michael’s Mother” in just under three hours — for the record, I’m an incredibly fast reader. In those three hours, my brain couldn’t reconcile the Barhydt in the book with the man I had briefly chatted with earlier that day.
You see, Barhydt looks boring; he even admits it. He’s well educated, a spokesman for mental health and addiction recovery. He’s a senior learning and inclusive technology analyst at a local college. He’s smart as a whip and articulate — our later conversation was full of abstract thoughts and concepts that are normally hard to talk about.
However, Barhydt’s past is dark. Within the around-250 page book, Barhydt graphically details his dark past with drug addiction — one that eventually leads him to prostitute himself to support his habit — and his journey to find the birth mother that abandoned him not long after he was born.
“As I was working on my search, my support network kept telling me I needed to put this journey in a book,” Barhydt said. “Many people do not realize the intense emotions and milestones that come with this search.”
Barhydt is open about the compounding traumas that lead him into addiction. Despite having a loving adoptive family and resources many would dream of, he found himself experimenting with alcohol, and then drugs, at a young age. It started with beer, then marijuana, then harder drugs like opioids and narcotics. At one point, he overdoses in school and ends up in the hospital. The lack of understanding about his past and not being able to reconcile why his birth mother gave him up served as the foundation; as he found himself falling deeper into the throes of addiction, the traumas that came with that lifestyle only accelerated the building of the house that would be Barhydt’s downfall.
One thing is for sure: readers will hate the Barhydt they read about in the book. As I turned page after page, I was aghast at the decisions he made and the selfishness he portrays. Barhydt’s visual writing throws you right into the room he’s using in. However, I found myself wanting to hug this broken young man. As he snorts another line of cocaine and his nose bleeds yet again, I want to slap him across the room, but then sit down and ice the bruises.
“The biggest thing I want to clarify is I’m not trying to demystify these actions or make them seem acceptable,” Barhydt said, “but I want to get these conversations going and hopefully break some stigma. I want to create a community of healing and understanding of how trauma can affect the very soul of a person.”
Now almost 36 years sober, Barhydt is healing. He said his compounding trauma came with compounding healing, something he animatedly said is blossoming around him in his everyday life. He has four wonderful children and a beautiful wife. He’s completed his search and is working with the results of it; Barhydt explicitly asked me to not spoil the ending, as he wants people to read the whole story and trust the journey he’s on.
Barhydt now works with those suffering from addiction and in recovery. His sponsees have read the book. He credits his deep relationship with his higher being as the pedestal for his recovery. He starts each day with prayer and meditation, hoping to find the answers to some of life’s continuous questions.
“I find myself looking for the blessings in each person because if I start looking at flaws, I’ll have to look in the mirror,” Barhydt concluded. “I’m hoping in many ways, by looking for blessings in each person, I’ll be able to see the ones in me.”