Every time I picked up, it was because of dissatisfaction with my life. Using substances allowed me to do what I was great at, and that was to avoid my miserable life. My rock bottom presented itself in such a way that I am terrified to ever return to, and I entered long-term recovery on February 1, 2012.
Attempting college again was something that I thought was forever out of reach.
This time had to be different because it was all or nothing. We are taught to live ‘just for today’, but I knew that this was going to be the course of the remainder of my natural born life, and it was up to me to make the best of it. Education is something I have always valued, even as a child. It is a concept that is held of the highest value in my family, and learning is also enjoyable for me. Attempting college again was something that I thought was forever out of reach, but I heard countless success stories of others, and those stories offered me hope. So, at around 4 months clean, I began talking about how I wanted to go back to school.
There was one giant problem, and that was a handful of people in my support system told me various things, such as: “humble yourself, not yet”, “wait until you get a year substance-free”, “you need to focus on your recovery”. All of those responses were so confusing to me! I mean, I was told to believe in myself, but then I was told I couldn’t. I was also taught the difference between being humble and being humiliated. Humbling is walking to my job at the ice cream shop because I didn’t have enough saved to buy a car, humiliated is working 40+ hours a week at an ice cream shop knowing that I am capable of so much more. I also learned that I am responsible for my life and recovery. I didn’t let the ‘no’s’ deter me because I was determined. Recovery was something that was supposed to help me flourish, and I was headstrong on creating a life worth living.
I signed up, I stayed committed, I followed through, and I did well! It also did not negatively affect my recovery, it further empowered me.
With 4 months in recovery, to get my feet wet in the academic world I enrolled in a CBHT course. Upon completion of the course, I had to take a 100 question final exam at Union University. I was terrified, but I believed in myself, and I ended up getting 100%. I will never forget how extraordinary earning that 100% felt. Of course, I played it down, but it was a big deal! I signed up, I stayed committed, I followed through, and I did well! It also did not negatively affect my recovery, it further empowered me.
After this experience, I was even more motivated to pursue school. My parents were on my side, but when talking to the clinical professionals in my life, they were told almost the same things that I was. They were told to stop pressuring me, and that I needed to focus on my recovery. Sometimes it did feel like pressure, but in those moments I would look deeper, and what I felt was pressure was actually my fear of failure. What was really awesome about the whole situation is that my parents didn’t think I was as worthless as I felt.
In my substance use, I thought that I was never going to achieve academic excellence, and in recovery, I was inducted into the National Honor Society.
July 2012 I applied to Broward College, on August 2012 I began taking classes at Broward College, and on December 2013 I graduated Broward College with highest academic honors. Many things happened for me during that year and a half. In my substance use, I thought that I was never going to achieve academic excellence, and in recovery, I was inducted into the National Honor Society. Going back to school taught me to show up, I was taught to follow through, I was taught that I am completely capable of anything that I set out to do. What also happened during this time, was that school did not hold me back from my recovery in the slightest. While I was at Broward College I had service commitments in my 12 step fellowship, I had daily meeting attendance, I was just as diligent with my step work as I was my course work, I was actively involved in both of my treatment center’s alumni programs, and I had a paid job.
Successfully completing Broward College, while remaining abstinent, the time came to pursue a 4-year university again. Still struggling with belief in myself, I took other’s suggestions to apply to the University of Miami. I applied, I was accepted, and I started classes August 2014. While enrolled at UM, I found out about collegiate recovery. It was this nationwide movement of peer-led support structures in the collegiate realm. What collegiate recovery does, is provide students in recovery with a supportive infrastructure in a sometimes problematic environment. I was pumped about this, for many reasons! First, collegiate recovery completely discounted anyone’s notion that one should abstain from college until years in recovery, there is support on the campus level to aid students in recovery, and to help navigate ‘triggersome’ situations. Next, I was about to be connected to a network of peers who are going through, or who have circumvented, the same issues I have as a student in recovery – like tailgating sober, writing my first 10+ page research paper without a substance, and balancing acts. All and all, because of collegiate recovery, I was finally supported and empowered as a student in recovery. Collegiate recovery has allowed me to walk across the graduation stage at the University of Miami, with my proud parents in the audience, and my heart filed with gratitude. Upon completion of my summer classes, I received my degree and have again attained university honors.
“Yeah, well you did all of that successfully because you are unique”- wrong!
Now, even after all of this, I still hear various comments. “Yeah, well you did all of that successfully because you are unique”- wrong! As stated before, there are thousands of students nationwide that have successfully attended and completed college in recovery, at all lengths of recovery. Often heard comment #2 “That’s nice, but my school doesn’t have a collegiate recovery community.”- awesome, start one! As empowered students in recovery, one is given a voice. When I began classes at the University of Miami, UM did not have a CRC. I was determined to establish one for myself and fellow peers, and that is exactly what I did. My co-workers at Life of Purpose, the Association of Recovery in Higher Education, Transforming Youth Recovery, and the CRC peer network nationwide, provided me with the support to achieve such venture. I was told 17 different times, through various levels of administration, that UM did not need a CRC and that there wasn’t a fit. I did not give up, and on the 18th time, there is now a group on campus called URecovery: A Collegiate Recovery Community at the University of Miami.
There is academic hope for someone still struggling, someone early in recovery, or someone with years of recovery. There is no need to put higher education on hold any longer than one already has, the time to move forward with academic goals is now. Higher education has allowed me to find meaning and purpose in my life. Buck the system, I can say with complete confidence that it has been absolutely worth it.
Clinical Outreach Coordinator
Life of Purpose Treatment
3848 FAU Boulevard, Suite 100
Boca Raton, FL 33431