A little over two years ago, I penned a piece titled "How Collegiate Recovery Saved My Life." Now, as I stand on the precipice of graduating, I realize how true the piece really is.
As a student, and person, in long-term recovery, the last three years of my life have been immensely rewarding, challenging, scary, and empowering. In "How Collegiate Recovery Saved My Life," I detailed at length my journey into recovery, and the ins and outs of the Collegiate Recovery Program at the University of North Texas that I, faculty, staff, and most importantly other students built together. Thanks to recovery, the CRP, and hard work I will be entering into graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice this summer, becoming a candidate for a Masters of Social Work. Would I be here if collegiate recovery wasn't in my life? I know for a fact that answer is a resounding "NO!"
My time at UNT has been marked with successes and failures, as any young students' undergraduate career should be. While I traded in the parties for peer-based substance-free social activities (like sober tailgating), being in recovery and involved in the collegiate recovery program did not preclude me from many of the same trials as any other student. Full course loads, mid-terms, finals, relationships, professional development, bills -- all of these things still came at me full force, recovery or not. The difference though was that I had a naturally occurring support network that not only helped me persevere through these obstacles, but helped me sustain and thrive in my personal behavioral health recovery.
I spent a lot of time, before writing, wondering whether I would be as successful as I finish my undergraduate without the collegiate recovery program, peers, and mentors/faculty that I had access to. While ultimately, I think the answer would be yes (to a lesser degree), I do not think that I would be on the trajectory I am on now without those protective factors in my life. I owe much to the collegiate recovery program at UNT, the students involved in its creation (and to this day the successful continuation of the program), and all the faculty and staff that put up with my often obtuse approach to changing the campus culture. What I have learned through this introspection though goes deeper than just being able to attribute my success to it.
It could be said that most successful students (whether marked by assimilation, GPAs, or successful graduation) find something or someone who provides the same functionality and purpose that the CRP did for me. However, due to my behavioral health concerns and circumstance, I and so many other students like me, was at a unique disadvantage to finding a healthy or supportive peer group and "safe place" on campus that would allow me to overcome and succeed. When we look at the landscape of collegiate recovery programs and recovery high schools in the United States, we know for a fact that they are growing in popularity, quantity, and in the sustainable funding they receive. With continuous calls to recovery related research by groups like Life of Purpose, the academic minds of our time will continue to discover and publish evidenced-based outcomes that offer the framework for the inclusion of these programs at all levels in society, educational or otherwise. However, the philosophical reason that collegiate recovery programs should exist is for that one simple premise: every student deserves a chance to succeed, by any means necessary. For me, and my cohort of students in recovery, that means providing for the resources and connections that allow us to not only protect our recovery by providing substance free social activities, but for allowing the time and space to persevere through the human-student condition: navigating learning and graduating while simultaneously paying bills, working, growing, falling in and out of love, and all other matter of activities that make us just like every student on the campus, traditional or otherwise.
There will always be a time and place to justify outcomes related to graduation rates, GPA and retention increases, recovered tuition costs, but perhaps more importantly is the time and place to say what needs to be said; recovery programs save lives, and more than just by keeping drugs and alcohol away. They protect recovery, sure, but they also give meaning and purpose for students like me... and without those, sobriety is but a transient event. Today, when I say my collegiate recovery experience saved my life, it's only half correct. The truth is it didn't just save my life, it gave me one worth living.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.