Trish Kinkle knows what it is to text her husband frantically to learn if he is still alive. How it feels to scour the bank account to see if he has drained it to buy heroin. What it’s like to find him overdosed. How to tell three toddlers daddy has to go away to get help.
For all these reasons and more, the Kinkles left their suburban neighborhood on a miserably cold and wet March night to go back to the place where they fell in love years ago — and where Bill Kinkle hit rock bottom so recently. They sat with their old neighbors at a community center in Kensington to tell their story, and take a position they knew might anger people they care about.
But first Bill shared how grateful he is to be in recovery for five months, and about the support that helped him get there.
Then the chief source of that support got up to share a side of the story not often aired — the partner who suffers, too. Trish talked about the two years when she knew that nothing and no one mattered to her husband like the next dose. In the end, it took Bill 16 stints in rehab to get sober, testament to how precarious sobriety — especially when it’s so new — can be.
So please, she asked the city health officials leading the meeting, open a place where people in addiction can use drugs safely, under the supervision of medics who can reverse an overdose.
Because if it came to it, she’d rather have Bill alive.
‘From day one’
She chose Kensington. The quiet but strong-minded daughter of a police chief from Roanoke, Va., Trish Kinkle came to Philadelphia on a mission trip with her church and fell in love with the city and the families she worked with in a neighborhood long scarred by drug epidemics and economic blight. She got a master’s in social work at Temple University.
She met Bill, with his swoop of salt-and-pepper hair and a sweet, strained smile, about seven years ago at a church at Frankford and Allegheny. She worked in a children’s ministry, and his recovery house was affiliated with the church. She was drawn to his gregariousness, to the way he felt called to help people — he had been a paramedic and a nurse — just as she was.
She liked the frank way he talked about his past, including the three years he spent homeless and addicted to heroin in Kensington, where he’d grown up. When he first got hooked a decade ago, he took refuge in his childhood home, though by then it was just an abandoned shell. He even found childhood photos and his bronzed baby shoes left in the basement of the rowhouse, which was demolished years ago.
He was a year and a half into recovery when they met.
“I said I was going to marry her from day one,” Bill, now 45, said last week, laughing. “And I did.”
They moved to a house on Emerald Street, and then, three years ago, north to a duplex in Glenside so Bill could be closer to the theology school he attended. Trish had a job advocating for children in foster care; Bill was studying and working part-time, counseling people in addiction at a Center City church. They were raising a son, with twins on the way.
More and more, they were attending funerals. Friends from Bill’s recovery house who had danced at their wedding were dying of overdoses. Money, never abundant, was tight. Then it got tighter.
A couple of years ago, Trish noticed cash was disappearing from their joint bank account. Bill was leaving the house for long stretches. It took months for Trish to face that he was using again, and had been for longer than either of them could admit. She realized he likely had never seen their twins, now 2 years old, with sober eyes. That every time he left the house might be the last.
“What kept him alive in the addiction was knowing he had a family that was still there,” Trish said. “But at some point I would have had to say we can’t do this anymore. Our children can’t.”
She told Bill that as long as he kept fighting, she would stay.
Bill tried counseling. He tried quitting cold turkey, and writhed in agony in an upstairs bedroom until Trish couldn’t bear it, and sent him to Kensington to get the drugs he needed to dull the pain.
When he was at an inpatient detox program, Trish could breathe for 72 hours. She knew where her husband was. But on the fourth day — and it happened over and over again — Bill would split. He had made it through withdrawal. He felt so much better.
He would go straight back to Kensington. The longest he ever held out after leaving detox was three hours.
Yet again, Trish would text him and call him and check the bank account.
“I’d never been that person before, but I became that person — the one who constantly asks, ‘Where are you, what are you doing?’ ” she said.
“I’m still like that, five months out. If he’s in the bathroom too long, I’m knocking on the door.”
Finally, they told the kids — who were never left alone with Bill before he was sober — that dad needed to go away for a longer time. He received treatment that included Vivitrol, a drug that blocks a person from getting high.
He believes he would have died without Trish. And as they piece together the timeline of two lost years, he sees what his family went through.
“I don’t just see myself in recovery,” he said. “I see my family in recovery.”
Addiction is a uniquely isolating disease for sufferers as well as families, said Jerry Stahler, a clinical psychologist and professor at Temple University who specializes in addiction studies.
“Trust is a really big thing in marriages, and when someone is going through addiction, it just goes right out the window,” he said. “It puts a tremendous strain on people, and that’s why it’s critical that a spouse gets some support and help, too.”
The Kinkles leaned on family members during the worst of Bill’s addiction, and consider themselves privileged to have that emotional and financial support. But even now, Trish said, the kids still ask if their dad will have to leave again. “It’s OK if he has to go away,” their daughter told Trish last week, “because he always comes home.”
“Him being better and being able to be the husband and the father — the man I married — changes everything,” Trish said. “It’s not just about him. Now there are three children that have their dad back.”
‘I heard the anger’
In the community center, Trish listened as people spoke about their own family members in addiction. “I heard it in their voices — I heard the anger that I felt when my husband would leave the house to buy drugs,” she said.
She heard them speak about walking their children to school past the heroin encampments that litter Kensington, just down the block from the house she and Bill bought as newlyweds.
She nodded in agreement as neighbors pointed out that it’s only now that white people are dying that the city reacts with compassion.
“We’re tired of our kids being exposed to the same environment over and over,” said Cecilia Ortiz, who has lived and raised a family in Kensington for 42 years. “I want to praise the other speakers who have recovered successfully. But not everyone has those same opportunities.”
Other speakers said a safe-injection site might be good for the neighborhood. It could get people into treatment. It could save kids from having to see drug use and overdose on the streets.
Trish listened to all this, and thought of all those long nights waiting for Bill to come home. About how they will always measure their lives by how long he stays sober.
She took a deep breath, and stepped to the microphone.