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 pursuing 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.
My experience with collegiate recovery is common. I have talked to many other students and graduates that have been afforded the amazing feeling of graduating college sober. I used drugs and drank very heavily in my first two years of college. My problem was serious enough that the Office of Student Conduct recommended me to the Collegiate Recovery Community at Penn State.
I met with Jason Whitney, the program coordinator at the PSU CRC. People like Jason are what make stories like mine possible. Although the scope of the PSU CRC is to support students who are in recovery, Jason met with over 100 students who were recommended by someone else that year and not necessarily in recovery.
A few months and an intervention by the Centre County criminal justice system later, I was on my way to rehab. I called Jason before I went in and he assured me that it would be okay and that he was excited for me to come back to Penn State.
After a semester of online classes, I did make it back. It is important to note the work of the CRC behind the scenes that enabled me to get back into college and stay there. Jason had met with my adviser, the office of student conduct, and my parents. He wrote letters to the courts. Other Penn State professors vouched for me. The longer I stayed sober, the more precedents I set.
I think that I am the only student to ever schedule Penn State online classes from a payphone in rehab. The Office of Student Conduct made an exception and decided against kicking me out of school. I am not in jail for drug offences right now partly because students and faculty from Penn State sat in the court room with me and addressed a judge on my behalf. I have a criminal record littered with drug offenses, but have two college degrees and a full time job directly applicable to what I studied and on August 1st I will celebrate two years of sobriety.
Jimmy Hatzell (second from right) and Jason Whitney (Third from Right) on a ski lift in breckenridge colorado with two other psu crc members
I write about these things because they are the parts of Collegiate Recovery and Student Recovery Programs that people don’t see. It is more than the three student peer-to-peer support seminars a week. More than the spring breaks with other student recovery programs. More than living with other sober college students. More than showing the person who is in rehab that a college degree is still possible. More than the sober parties and tailgates. More than the sense of camaraderie and identity as a student in long term recovery. Student recovery programs are the change a group of humans who society often decides to write off as failures needed.
Colleges and universities are enormous institutions. It is nearly impossible to have your voice heard without a staff member vouching for you. The PSU CRC and student recovery programs alike humanize students effected by substance use disorders. Besides offering a normal college experience and safety in an abstinence hostile environment, they help deal with the wreckage of our past.
They give the student who failed out because they were shooting heroin before class a chance to get back in. They keep the guy like me out of jail and in school. The PSU CRC gave me an incentive to get sober and stay sober. Not to mention the fact that it enabled me to have a normal college experience that was enjoyable. It’s no secret that a big chunk of college students completely wipe out as a result of using drugs and alcohol. Universities who don’t have representatives for these people when they clean up their act are losing valuable students, graduates, and alumni.
I’ve seen what happens. Students come back to school sober and their 2.0 GPA turns into a 3.5 GPA. They become model students when they are given the opportunity. It is counter intuitive for a university to write off students who struggle with substance abuse and have cleaned up their act as failures. From an institutional perspective, the investment in the PSU CRC has translated into higher GPAs, more graduates, and better job offers at graduation.
The proof is there. I graduated with a petroleum engineer and an accountant. My roommates from last year both had dropped out of college and came back sober to nearly double their GPAs. One of my best friends came back to college for their second attempt after a few years of sobriety and the beginning of a career in construction to hold a 3.9 GPA as a mechanical engineer. I could literally speak for an hour about the miracles that have happened and the achievements earned by every student and graduate in my support network at Penn State.
Jimmy at gradution with his parents jim and silvia
Two years ago I was a mess of a person spiraling toward impending doom. Today I am a college graduate, a son, a brother, a cousin, a nephew, and the Director of Technology Life of Purpose, a substance abuse treatment center that offers academically focused substance abuse treatment. Penn State would have kicked me out if it wasn’t for the CRC. My parents would not have helped me financially to go back to school if it wasn’t for the CRC. I would be in jail right now if it wasn’t for the CRC. Instead, I get to pay my debt to society by paving the way for success for the people who come after me.
It is almost counter intuitive from an outsider looking in. Jason Whitney has pointed out more than once that common sense tells you that someone who used drugs and alcohol in excess would struggle to meet the potential of their peers when they get sober. This is simply not what happens. Students in recovery coming back to an institution that recognizes and supports them not only catch up to their peers quickly, but they surpass them.
It is important to understand that these successes could have easily been failures without institutional support. The relationship between support and success is not linear, but exponential. Simply acknowledging the existence of students in recovery may help some, but providing a space and a means to navigate the institutional machine that we see in large universities like Penn State are paramount for these exponential changes to take place in the masses.
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.
Life of Purpose Treatment is excited to announce that they will be the Platinum event underwriter for the 2015 North Texas Recovery Conference.
The North Texas Recovery Conference is a national three-day event that brings together students in recovery, future professionals, current professionals and industry leaders at the University of North Texas. Held in conjunction with National Recovery Month, the 3rd annual North Texas Recovery Conference runs from September 23rd – 25th, 2015. This year’s events plan to educate local students and communities, retain and recruit behavioral health professionals, and reduce stigma in the community, utilizing the 2015 conference theme: “New Paradigms in Recovery”.
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.