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There is Hope After Addiction

It is challenging to maintain sobriety in a sea of booze, beer pong and perpetual hash-bash culture. Having a recovery center on campus to turn to in my fledgling days of recovery would have provided the crucial spark needed to ignite my efforts into something sustainable.
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There is hope after addiction.

I wish I knew this in college when I started using heroin. I may have also been an intern at the White House, but I was not immune to addiction. Now my mission is to make sure others understand recovery is the promise of a better future.

My parents sent me to treatment several times, but it took four additional years until I could successfully embark on a life of abstinence-based recovery in part because I couldn't find support on my college campus.

Each time I left treatment and set foot back on campus -- without other peers in recovery to connect with and look up to -- I automatically took a step backwards. My campus didn't have a staff person designated for students who were struggling. There was no one to help me build a support system or develop a higher vision of myself as a student in recovery. Had there been, I might not have spiraled so terrifyingly into darkness that led me to life on the streets and jail.

I have been in recovery, free from alcohol and drugs, for 10 and a half years now. But I can't forget the need for support during my college years. The need for community. It is challenging to maintain sobriety in a sea of booze, beer pong and perpetual hash-bash culture. Having a recovery center on campus to turn to in my fledgling days of recovery would have provided the crucial spark needed to ignite my efforts into something sustainable.

People -- especially youth -- yearn to have their culture reflected to them in society. Recovery was not available on campus. I interpreted it to mean I didn't deserve to be there.

After almost four years of sobriety, I went back to school to pursue a master's degree in social work at the University of Michigan. It took me that long to understand I could protect my recovery and simultaneously go to school. Initially, I was almost felled by the lack of support for recovery on campus, but realized it was an opportunity to be of service to the generations of students in recovery going to school there. It was up to me, my fellow students in recovery and our allies to create change and leave campus better than we found it. We created a group called Students for Recovery, which led to the formalized Collegiate Recovery Program that exists on campus today, to support college students healing from alcohol and drug addiction and living productive, healthy lives of recovery. Students for Recovery has supported hundreds of students in their recovery journey and is shifting campus culture to that of wellness and transformation.

Carly Keyes, a senior at University of Michigan, is one of the students in recovery we had in mind when we created the group in 2009. Carly and I -- like so many others with substance use disorders -- struggled multiple times before we found long-term sobriety. Ten years ago Carly was at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, recruited to play Division I soccer. But by the end of her freshman year, Carly quit the team because soccer was getting in the way of her drinking. She left Wharton soon after. Like many, her attempts to get sober often ended when she left her support system of sober living and treatment centers. Carly worried life wouldn't be fun without alcohol. But when she got her second DUI, Carly knew she needed on-campus support for recovery in her life.

When she returned to the University of Michigan, Carly joined Students for Recovery. "I used to tell myself, 'I'm a smart and intelligent person. I can do this,'" says Carly on a recent summer day as she finishes up a videography job with the university. "But I couldn't do this. I needed a support system." With the group, Carly found more than just a support system; she found out that a life free from alcohol and drugs was full.

Carly now advocates for other collegiate recovery programs while juggling school and recovery meetings in between class and her budding music-and-filmmaking career. Carly tells other students who are finding their way through the early days of recovery to ask others how they got sober. "People need to speak up for addiction," she says. "Recovery is palpable to the masses when you frame it the right way."

Sometimes students feel they must choose between recovery and education. But there are programs that give students and families the opportunity to say "we can do this, there's no need to hide, we can be sober and have a fulfilling academic experience." By supporting the growth of collegiate and high school recovery programs nationwide, we validate these students' identities, and help them feel like they belong, thus reinforcing their daily commitment to healing and recovery.

If there's one thing Carly and I learned, it's that recovery is a promise for a better future.

Ivana Grahovac, a former model, became addicted to heroin, served jail time and entered treatment. She has been in recovery for nearly ten years and is the Executive Director of Transforming Youth Recovery, a nonprofit founded by Stacie Mathewson which provides grants and technical assistance to 100 collegiate recovery programs around the country.

This post is part of a series produced by facingaddiction.org, in conjunction with their event Unite to Face Addiction (Sunday, Oct. 4, National Mall, Washington, D.C.). The blogs are also part of The Huffington Post's "What's Working" solutions-oriented journalism initiative. For more information on facing addition, visit www.facingaddiction.org.

The UNITE to Face Addiction Rally will begin live streaming on Sunday October 4, 2015 at 4pm EDT on Huffington Post.

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