Chemical Dependency is the ultimate expression of existential vacuum; a state of habitual unconsciousness to the exclusion of all meaningful activity and relationships. In existential terms, it is necessary to discover some greater sense of purpose in order for the dissolution of such a painful state of emptiness to occur. The great existential theorist, Victor Frankl stated “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with any ‘how’.” In this case, the ‘why’ is the meaningfulness that the recovering person ascribes to their sobriety. However, many young clients arrive in treatment confused, fragmented, resistant or unwilling.
Traditional chemical dependency treatment models tend to focus on the ‘how’ of recovery, placing emphasis on skills building and didactic instruction in such areas as relapse prevention. Insight driven process is usually directed toward the identification of one’s consequences, while recovery is viewed as the process by which one avoids incurring new consequences. While these clinical elements often contribute to successful treatment outcomes, in existential terms, they are incomplete. An exclusive focus on behavioral cause and effect undermines the individual’s ‘will to purpose’ and fails to consider the values driven self-determination that is the client’s motivation to change. There is perhaps too much emphasis on moving away from a past filled with regret, and not enough emphasis on moving toward a future filled with limitless possibility.
Adolescent and young adult substance misusers, with shorter substance misuse histories, tend to be less fearful of consequences than their elder counterparts. Very often this population views the prospect of an abstinence based recovery as more painful than life during substance misuse. The existential approach to this dilemma focuses on matters of values clarification and identity development in order to assist the client in discovering what in fact is meaningful to them. This is an exploration of the ‘why’ of recovery, where the client is able to formulate a vision of realistic possibilities that may unfold as a result of sobriety, leading to a more self-determinant perspective of the recovery process.
The additional coupling of education and treatment helps to bring about a tangible sense of forward movement toward established goals, as grades and credits are measurable. The simple act of being able to self-identify as a student may represent a significant paradigm shift for an individual who had previously identified with less encouraging labels such as ‘drop out’ or ‘failure.’ The developmental goal of adolescence and young adulthood is identity development and individuation from one’s family of origin. Education, when coupled with recovery helps to bolster one’s sense of self-efficacy. The client, through repeated successes can begin to develop a cognitive schema of an idealized adult self that is sober, independent and moving toward success.
Why am I going to Unite to Face Addiction on October 4th in Washington, DC? I’m going because nobody should have to choose between recovery and a college degree. I’m going because I don’t want to see another drug-related death from one of my friends, neighbors, or classmates. Most importantly, I’m going because it’s my obligation to give back the gift of recovery; and I won’t be silent anymore.
I was born in Palo Alto, CA before moving 3,000 miles east to Wilmington, DE. I grew up with a supportive family, great education, and a loyal group of friends. I was always a troublemaker and attempted to be the tough guy, but was broken down in 8th grade when I was faced with expulsion and my parents’ divorce in the same week.
Moving to a new school and new home for the first time in 10 years, I felt alone. I wasn’t the star athlete or class clown anymore. In a room full of people, I felt like the only one there. I fantasized about suicide and knew it was the best option. I drove at high speeds around my hometown in Delaware without a seatbelt, hoping death would happen on its own. I could never look in the mirror, and damn well couldn’t look in the eyes of any of my family members.
Transitioning into college is not an easy task for anyone. Transitioning into an abstinence hostile environment like a college campus as a person who has recently entered long term recovery can be much harder, at least one would think. Thankfully, this is not always the case. Student recovery programs are sprouting and thriving at academic institutions everywhere.
They differ in size, name, and scope. Some are called a Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP) and some are called a Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC). Many have dedicated staff and a space on campus. Others are limited to student organizations. Some institutions offer sober living options for students in recovery.
Although they are not all the same, student recovery programs have a common goal. A goal of making recovery possible while perusing an education. They provide a medium for students to give and receive support. They depreciate the stigma associated with substance abuse and substance use disorders. They enable students in recovery to feel like students, not an outsider who isn’t supposed to be there.