How education helped bring him out of darkness
Editor’s note: Reprinted from the August 2020 issue of GCU Magazine. To read the digital version, click here.
Story by Mike Kilen
Photos by David Kadlubowski
As a toddler, Kevin McCausland sat on his mother’s lap at 12-step recovery meetings. By 11, he was drunk for the first time on bourbon after a relative thought he needed to learn to hold his liquor at home.
“I grew up in an Irish Catholic family. I love my family, but drinking was always there,” he said of an otherwise typical Mays Landing, N.J., household with a police officer dad and nurse mom.
By the time he was a teen, his mom saw his beer in the refrigerator. Decades sober herself, she warned him of the family addiction tendencies – to no avail.
On a Phoenix summer day years later, McCausland texted a friend that it was all over. He popped six anti-anxiety Xanax pills in his mouth and waited to die.
“It’s a miracle,” said his mom, Kathaleen.
Thanks to God, self-awareness, determination and an education at Grand Canyon University, McCausland is now closing in on his second master’s degree.
“I saw him in his addiction, and it was ugly,” his mom said. “To come to where he is today is amazing.”
McCausland, 35, tells his story as rapid fire as the fastballs he threw in high school, the pitches that became his purpose and part of his downfall. The left-handed pitcher was stellar at Holy Spirit High School but needed painkillers to endure an injured arm before earning a scholarship to Penn State University.
“I blew that drinking,” he said. “There were days I was so drunk I’d pass out on a stairwell or in a bathroom. Even my teammates were like, ‘Dude, you’ve got a problem.’ Then one day I get a call: ‘We’re revoking your scholarship.’ I went through a deep depression.”
He tried pitching at a Florida junior college, but drugs caught up with him there, too. He moved to Arizona and was a Tempe bartender who tried one last time to make it in an independent baseball league. His arm injuries were so bad that he took more painkillers yet couldn’t feel his hand.
He was let go.
Baseball was his downfall, said his mother: “When that crumbled, he crumbled.”
“When you are on top of that game and it’s gone, it’s one of the hardest things,” Kevin said. “You lose your identity. Now I became a normal person. Now I struggled.”
He managed to finish a bachelor’s degree and meet a woman, whom he married in They soon had a child, yet he brought along his addiction and deep funk.
“I wish I could go back in time and I could do it for my wife and child. I was not a good father. I was not a good husband. They weren’t my priority and they should have been,” he said.
He was a teacher who came to school high – “They couldn’t smell pills on my breath.”
It wasn’t going well. On June 24, 2014, instead of taking his 3-year-old daughter to a movie, he texted his friend, sat on his bed and took those six pills before his wife and child walked in to find him.
He woke up in a mental health facility in Glendale. He was supposed to be at a gender reveal party with his wife, who was pregnant with their second child. Instead, he was transferred to a rehabilitation clinic for 30 days, where he said he was served divorce papers.
“God, I can’t do this anymore,” he said.
A pastor there asked him if he ever said an honest prayer, really talked to God like he would a friend. So he got on his knees and prayed: “God, I don’t know if you’re (expletive) real, but I need help.”
“It was my first prayer.”
McCausland surrendered. He began to work the 12-step program. And three days out of rehabilitation, he started graduate school in Educational Leadership at GCU, mostly to try to keep his mind off booze and pills.
It was tough. Many days, he wanted to quit. He said he was talked through it by university counselor Nick Loutzenheiser.
“It has been awesome to see his drive and success as he’s conquered his challenges,” Loutzenheiser said. “I’m glad that I could provide some small encouragement for Kevin.”
McCausland wept at his graduation in 2016. The woman next to him asked if he was OK.
“A year and half ago, I was dying of a drug overdose and here I am getting my master’s degree,” he told her.
She began to cry, too.
With new confidence and a new job at a behavioral health facility in Phoenix, McCausland enrolled at GCU for his second master’s degree, in Health Care Administration.
He’s on schedule to graduate in the fall, he said, while growing his relationship with his two daughters, ages 9 and 5.
Thanks to God, his recovery program and GCU, he learned to be grateful and honest with himself and has been sober for six years when he couldn’t do it for a day before, McCausland said.
“I could feel sorry for myself and not do anything. But nothing changes if nothing changes,” he said. “If you want to stop the (nonsense), you got to change something. I want to show people you can turn your life around.
“One of the things I tell people is God didn’t put you here to exist. God didn’t put you here to be sad and depressed. There is a reason why you are here. The greatest thing I ever did was get clean.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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