Here’s the thing about getting shot.
It’s not like in the movies.
By the time my body started tingling and I felt the blood streaming down the back of my neck, I was completely freaking out. Like full-on, “I’m about to die” panic mode.
But a few moments earlier, when the first gunshot rang out, I’d just woken up and was still groggy. So I wasn’t sure it was real.
Is this a dream?
Was that my alarm?
A friend and I were camping out on his folks’ property up in Napa. This was back in October 2007. We’d graduated from high school a few months earlier, and summer baseball was over. There wasn’t much going on. So even though I’d never been hunting in my life, when he asked if I wanted to stay overnight and shoot some deer with him in the morning, I guess I was just bored enough to say yes.
That night at around 10 we took a four-wheeler up this huge, steep hill out behind his house to a big field. The ATV had a flatbed, wooden trailer hitched to the back that we could sleep on, and we’d tossed in some blankets and two 22-gauge deer rifles. After we’d made it to the top of the hill, we had some beers and called up a few girls we knew to see if we could get them to join us. After they all turned us down, we just went to sleep under the stars.
When I woke up with the sun, I opened my eyes and realized that I was all alone.
My friend had disappeared.
Same for the guns.
Here’s the thing about getting shot. It’s not like in the movies.
Confused, I sat up and noticed that my phone was also missing. So I started to put on my shoes to look for it. That’s when the first shot rang out. It immediately set my mind racing.
Did someone kidnap my buddy?
Am I next?
Is someone trying to kill us?
Within seconds there was another shot, and I noticed some straw kick up on the ground about three feet away. I dove down inside the wooden trailer and immediately heard another gunshot.
In an instant, everything got really hot, and I experienced this huge adrenaline rush.
That was when I reached back behind my head and touched the blood. And saw it on my hands. And felt it moving down my neck.
I’ve been shot!
All I could think about at that point was running.
It was only about a half mile back down the hill to my friend’s house. But it was super rocky. We never walked it. Always took the four-wheeler.
I didn’t care. I just took off.
And I’ve never run so fast in my life. Just sprinting down that rocky hill. I was basically numb to everything. Both shoes came off, but I just kept on going. I didn’t even notice my feet getting all cut up, or the blood soaking through my socks as I ran.
When I reached the house, I banged on the door as hard as I could.
“Help! Help!!! Someone shot me!!!!”
My friend’s dad came running and asked me what had happened.
“I don’t know!!!!”
He started talking about some crazy neighbor of theirs with a gun, but I couldn’t even really follow what he was saying. In my head it was just like….
I AM ABOUT TO DIE!
A couple minutes after that, I completely passed out.
When I came to, a few hours later, I was lying in a bed at Queen of the Valley hospital, genuinely surprised to be alive.
A doctor and two police officers were standing at my side, and almost as soon as I opened my eyes, one of the cops turned on a handheld tape recorder and started asking me questions. I answered his first one — “Do you know what happened?” — with a question of my own.
“I think I was shot … right?”
The officer pulled out a little baggie with a smashed up bullet inside.
It turns out they’d found it on the pillow next to where I’d been sleeping. The bullet had gone through the side of the wood trailer. And, luckily for me, it wasn’t what had caused the bleeding. It was actually a shard of wood from the blast that hit me.
“You’re fortunate to be alive,” he told me.
What he said next left me speechless.
“It was your friend who did it,” the officer told me. “That’s who shot you.”
It seemed impossible to me. That my good friend would do that. And….
No one could tell me why.
And, I mean, that’s just Part 1.
Somehow, my story … it gets even crazier from there. It actually somehow gets….
But before I go any further, and talk about what happened to me after the shooting, I just want to say two things.
First off, while most people who know me well do know many of the details from that morning in Napa, a lot of the other things I’m about to talk about here is stuff that almost no one — not even my parents — knows. My life after that shooting has taken some turns. Some of them have been wonderful and life-affirming — getting drafted by the Brewers, making it to the bigs, getting married, having kids. Others, though … I’m not proud of.
It’s gotten ugly for me. Straight up.
So for those family members and friends finding out about all this stuff for the first time, I just want to say that I am truly sorry for what you’re about to read. I hope that you’ll be able to forgive me.
The other thing that I want to be clear on, though, is, well … why I’m writing this.
To be completely honest, the main reason I want to share my story now is because I’m hoping to hear from folks who might be able to relate to it — or who have experienced similar things. I’ve been battling with a bunch of demons for so long now, and I can’t seem to overcome them completely. Nothing has worked. So I’m hoping that maybe I can get some advice or learn more about what is going on.
Because it’s … becoming too much for me.
In retrospect, things started going south for me almost as soon I left the hospital.
After I’d regained consciousness, they kept me around for a few hours and then it was like, See ya later!
From there, I spent the next two or three months at home. I wouldn’t leave the house. I was just anxious and worried all the time. I also started experiencing night terrors. I’d have these really bad dreams where I’d be falling through the sky. I’d hit the ground and wake up in a cold sweat, scared out of my mind.
I didn’t really pay any of that stuff too much mind at the time, though. It’s not like I had a ton going on, or had anywhere I had to be. Plus, I was 18. Invincible. So I rode it out until baseball season.
As a high school pitcher, my fastball had maxed out at about 85 mph. But after the shooting, and having surgery to address a lingering hernia issue, and then not picking up a ball for eight months, I tried out for the team at Napa Valley College in 2009 and was hitting 90 on the radar gun. When the season rolled around that spring, all of a sudden I was unhittable.
Everything was great. The nightmares had disappeared. The anxiety was gone.
I got drafted later that summer in the 17th round by the Brewers, and it seemed like I was about to take off. That morning up on the hill in Napa was the furthest thing from my mind.
I was a professional baseball player.
Everything else was in the rearview. Old news.
I was the Opening Day starter for my first professional team, and I had high expectations for myself. I was ready to show the baseball world what I could do.
Unfortunately, I realized pretty quickly that pro ball was nothing like taking the hill every few days for Napa Valley College. I mean, my first full season of rookie ball, 2010, in Helena, Montana….
Talk about nightmares? That right there was a nightmare.
On the field, I got hit around seemingly every time out. Then, when the games were over, I just … I don’t know. I just really struggled.
It was my first time being away from family and friends. I lived in a one-bedroom studio apartment with a former teammate’s older brother who was working as a member of the Helena Brewers front office staff. We hardly saw each other. It was like I was living alone. Plus, there wasn’t a whole lot to do in Helena. So it was a culture shock.
And when everything began piling up on me, the anxiety started to creep back in.
I came to opioids in a completely innocent way.
After nearly every start I made in Helena, my arm would get really sore. So I had started taking a few Advil before every game I pitched. One afternoon at the ballpark, a teammate of mine came up to me and said he had a better alternative.
He opened up his hand and showed me some little green pills.
“It’s OxyContin,” he said. “It’s basically like your Advils. But it works a lot better.”
I had no idea what he was talking about.
I just had no experience with any pills before that point. So when he said he’d gotten them from a teammate of ours, who could get as many as he needed from a family member who worked as a pharmacist in his home country, it was like….
Well, these ARE in a prescription bottle with his name on it. I’m sure it’s safe.
That first time I took an Oxy … I can’t say I pitched any better. But I’ll tell you this much: My arm sure as hell didn’t hurt after the game.
And any anxiety I was feeling about my performance, or anything else? That all went away, too.
Before long I was asking for a pill a day. After maybe three or four weeks, I was completely hooked. From there, things snowballed fast.
This one afternoon the teammate with the pills came up to me and asked how my arm was feeling. When I told him it was barking, his response wasn’t to just offer up a pill.
“You know,” he said, “these things work a lot better if you snort them.”
So, of course, I looked at him like he was insane.
Up my nose????
That’s ridiculous. Come on!
That’s the kind of s*** addicts do.
I’m not gonna do that!
Thirty seconds later, I was snorting a line of white powder.
My guy was right. Within two or three minutes, I was already feeling the effects of what I’d snorted.
The drugs made my anxiety totally disappear. Which was great.
But at the same time they basically turned me into a zombie.
It got to the point where I needed to snort a line in the morning, one in the afternoon, and then one last line at night. And it was like I was on autopilot all day, so I’d really have to work to hide it.
What I’d do is, every time I’d snort a line, I’d slam a Red Bull right after so that I wouldn’t pass out. Then I’d just try to act as normal as I could. That was basically my whole plan. It wasn’t overly complicated. And I’m honestly surprised that, as far as I could tell, no one ever caught on — no coaches, no trainers. No one knew.
So I just kept doing it.
I didn’t want to stop. Didn’t feel like I could stop.
Then one day in the summer of 2011, the teammate who had been supplying me with the pills got moved to a different level in the Brewers system. I’d been hooked for a full year and a half, and without any warning at all I got cut off from my source.
The withdrawal was worse than I could’ve ever imagined.
Almost immediately, I found myself throwing up constantly. It was like having a really bad flu 24/7, and that was actually the excuse I always used with the guys. A few times, it got so bad that I had to curl up in a ball on the team bus, just shaking and convulsing.
And all I could do was just grind through it. I had no desire to go out and find some pills on my own. That just wasn’t gonna happen. I’ve always been a very introverted person, and there was no way in the world I was going to go and ask people around Helena, Montana, if they knew where I could buy some Oxy.
So I ended up quitting cold turkey, completely on my own. In secret.
I had become a shell of myself, a full-on addict.
And I knew it.
I guess the positive news — if there’s any to be had here — is that I dropped opioids for good at that point. I’ve not done them since.
In addition to quitting the pills, I started working out more, ate better, and improved my overall fitness level. And, wouldn’t you know it … I started pitching a ton better. I moved up to Double A in 2014, and from there I was lights out.
But after I got off the pills, I had nothing at all to help curb my anxiety. And out of nowhere a new stressor popped up to smack me right in the mouth.
Later that year, I was on a flight with my winter ball team down in Venezuela and the plane ran into some turbulence. It was nothing out of the ordinary or too extreme. But for some reason I noticed myself getting very uncomfortable. I’d been on hundreds of flights before that, and never once had turbulence been an issue with me. On that day, though, something inside of me seemed to have been triggered.
From that point on, I was scared to death of flying.
Any time a plane I was on experienced some bumps, my whole body would respond with panic, and my brain would be telling me — screaming to me….
This airplane is going down! It’s gonna crash!!! You are about to die!!!!!!
In a lot of ways, it took me back to the day I got shot.
The team psychiatrist tried to give me some breathing exercises. He had me download a few cognitive behavioral apps on my phone.
None of it worked.
When things got really bad, the psychiatrist started prescribing me antianxiety drugs — fluoxetine, alprazolam, that sort of thing. But because of my past history with pills, I never wanted to take them. I just felt like I couldn’t risk a relapse.
So I continued to suffer in silence.
I’d be a mess before every flight. I’d go down rabbit holes online and be on weather apps searching for any storms we might hit in the air. Whenever I could, I’d just get in my car on my own and drive.
Denver to Des Moines? Sure.
Memphis to Oklahoma City? Yup, no problem.
Sometimes, I’d board a plane and all of a sudden have a terrible, terrible feeling come over me. So I’d get up and walk off. I’d head straight to the rental car counter, grab a car and hit the road. If it was nighttime, I’d drive straight through till morning.
I was pitching well overall, but when I’d be on the hill after one of those marathon road trips? More often than not I’d get lit up.
It was brutal.
One time, after I got called up to the big leagues in 2015, my girlfriend (now my wife) and I drove straight through from Phoenix to Milwaukee — 1,829 miles, 26 hours — with no stops other than to get gas.
And as miserable as that might sound, I absolutely loved every second of it … because it was one less flight that I had to take.
When driving wasn’t an option, though, that next flight would always be my main focus, regardless of what else was going on. Late in the 2015 season, I remember warming up at Wrigley Field for a start against Jake Arietta.
It should’ve been the pinnacle of my career … if not my life, to that point. But all I could think about was the upcoming flights on that road trip. Next we were set to go to St. Louis, which I figured I could grind through. But after that it was on to San Diego. I was terrified of that trip.
It was like, San Diego is all the way across the country. And, We’re going to be flying in the dead of night. And, There have got to be at least a dozen storms that we’ll run into on a trip that long. And … on and on.
You won’t be surprised to hear that I pitched like crap that day against the Cubs.
That’s just how it went with me.
Throughout my entire big league career, I’d always be thinking about the next flight, no matter who we were playing or how locked in I wanted to be.
And even though the anxiety that I experienced would subside the second we landed somewhere, there would always be another flight a few days down the line.
There’d always be a new nightmare looming.
I never talked with my coaches or teammates about everything that had been going on with me. I never opened up to the team psychiatrist, or talked about where my anxiety may have been coming from.
That guy knew nothing of the shooting, or the opioid abuse, or really anything other than the fact that I was a baseball player who didn’t like to fly on airplanes.
I never explained that every time I got on a plane, or experienced an anxiety attack, what I felt was pretty much the same feelings that I had experienced after the shooting.
I just tried to keep moving forward and, I don’t know … power through.
But you can only do that for so long. You know what I mean?
Eventually things are going to break down.
Every time I got on a plane, or experienced an anxiety attack, what I felt was pretty much the same feelings that I had experienced after the shooting.
With me, that breakdown seemed to happen at warp speed.
I got demoted prior to the 2017 season and responded with some regrettable comments about the Milwaukee front office. Then I pitched poorly at Triple A with Colorado Springs. After the season I became a free agent and went completely unsigned. Almost before I knew it … that was that.
I was done.
Age 29 and just … done.
By that point I was a newlywed with a newborn daughter.
I had no job. No college degree. No trust fund or family money to pull from. And no idea what I was going to do to keep us afloat.
We’d just bought a new house down in Arizona. So it was like, How am I going to pay for this thing now?
All of a sudden, I had a new thing to stress about.
I played for an independent ball club up in Pennsylvania for a bit, and then went to spring training for a team down in Mexico, but those opportunities didn’t pan out. I took a job at a gym in Scottsdale as a glorified janitor, mopping the floors. I was a car salesman for a bit.
Then we added our son to the family, so everything got even more real. And my fear of not being able to do what I need to do for my wife and kids just continued to build.
I’m now working at a health-care staffing agency, trying to make ends meet. I enjoy it, and going home to my family every night keeps my spirits up. I thank my lucky stars that I don’t have to fly anymore, and that I’m no longer hooked on pills. But beyond those positives, my day-to-day life is a struggle.
Some days I’ll feel fine, and everything will be O.K. But most days there’s just this lingering anxiety inside of me that I cannot escape. And something that has popped up recently is that I’ve been heading over to the hospital a lot, out of fear that I might have a terminal illness.
I’ll get a headache, or some weird muscle pain, and I’ll find myself thinking the worst almost immediately. It’s like….
Could this be a brain tumor?
I bet this is cancer.
Could I be having a stroke?
And on and on.
I’ll start googling symptoms and scare myself, and then, more often than not, I make a visit to the E.R.
It’s become a truly exhausting cycle, and, obviously, it’s had a huge impact on my loved ones. I am the polar opposite of the person I used to be, and it kills me.
At this point, I really am starting to think that maybe there’s some sort of chemical imbalance in my brain that is triggering all this stuff. And I honestly don’t know where to turn.
Because of my past addiction, I’m not sure that I want to start taking meds, and I’ve not been able to open up to a therapist. I come from an extremely religious family, so for as long as I can remember my King James Bible has been my only form of therapy.
Clearly that’s not working for me. It’s kept me from falling off the edge, but I need more help.
So I’m not sure what to do.
But I know things are getting serious right now, and that I have to do … something.
The most common version of the story about what led to that shooting 13 years ago — the one that I was told eventually, and have chosen to accept — is not all that difficult to believe.
It basically goes like this: On that cold October morning up in Napa, my friend was trying to prank me by shooting in my direction and accidentally got a bit too close.
That explanation makes perfect sense — s*** happens, it was just a joke, an accident.
But I’d be lying if I said that the incident — whatever it was — hasn’t impacted how the rest of my life has played out to this point.
And something not a lot of people know about the shooting is that I haven’t heard from that friend since the day he pulled the trigger of that deer rifle.
He hasn’t spoken to me.
We’ve never had a conversation about it.
He’s never explained anything or said he was sorry or let me know for certain what really happened.
He was arrested, and I had to appear in court. But after that I’m not sure where things went. And I never heard from him again.
So questions like: What was he thinking? Why would he do something like that?
I never got those answers.
Those questions have just been sitting there in my head for more than a decade.
And, you know what? There’s no sense in hiding anything about the reality of my situation at this point, so I can tell you for a fact that it wasn’t long after the incident before some really dark thoughts began piling up.
Was my friend actually trying to kill me?
Did I do something to get him angry?
Was I almost murdered that morning?
I’ve told myself over and over again not to think those thoughts. It’s not stuff I want to think about.
But you can’t always control what’s coming into your head.
Through it all, I guess the one thing that I’m grateful for is that I’ve never at any point lost my will to live.
In fact, with me it’s been just the opposite. And, to be honest with you, that’s one of the things that continues to give me some hope for the future. If anything, I’ve always been super afraid of my life ending. The thought of me taking my own life has always struck me as the absolute worst option possible.
I basically want to do whatever I can to make sure that my life doesn’t end.
I want to be here for my wife and our kids. I want to be someone they can count on — someone who is able to find happiness, so that I can help each of them feel happy and secure.
To get there, though, I’m now absolutely certain that I need the help of others. Thinking that I can simply continue forward on my own, in my own head, just me and my Bible? That’s not realistic.
So before I get out of here, let me just say again … if you can relate to anything I’ve talked about here, or have experienced similar things and have come out the other side, and have some insights about what may help, I’d love to hear from you.
My Twitter DMs are open: @TylerJayCravy.
I’m happy to listen to your stories, and to share more of mine. I’d love to hear about new methods or strategies that may help me to live a better, happier life. I’m open to learn, and to try new approaches.
At this point, I’m desperate.
But I want to get better. And I can’t do it on my own.
Who knows? Maybe you can help me.