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 seat-belt, 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.
In the middle of my senior year, I knew I was going to die. I didn’t know if it would be from an overdose or suicide, but it felt like the only way out. Something told me it didn’t have to end that way, so I checked into detox at the start of spring break to try and get some help. I finished detox and entered outpatient treatment, but continued to use. It wasn’t until my senior year prom about a month later that I finally reached my bottom.
The last few months of high school were obstacles on their own, but years later I realized how much of a blessing they really were. With structured school and work time coupled with the support of my family and household, successful early recovery was a reality. I graduated high school just days before what would be my 2-month anniversary.
I arrived at college down in Washington in late August of 2011. I couldn’t imagine why the administration of The George Washington University took a chance on me, but I was determined to make the best of my time in the nation’s capital. I expected to meet dozens of other students in recovery, but met none. I soon met another student who was very interested in my recovery story, but also very consumed by drugs and alcohol. He came to several recovery meetings with me, and soon we began having our own meetings in my dorm room.
The best meetings of my life were those dorm room meetings, one on one with another student in recovery. The mutual aid support structure of most recovery meetings is what I’ve found especially helpful, but nothing can compare to connecting with other students dealing with mental and substance use recovery. He and I continued our recovery meetings into October of our freshman year, until his unfortunate relapse.
The student was checked into the psych ward of our hospital on campus. I visited him and saw how visibly distraught he was. When he was finally released, he struggled to pick himself back up with the lack of campus resources around us. Weeks later, He withdrew from the university and flew back home to Puerto Rico. I’ve never felt pain like that; it didn’t even compare to withdrawal. The next couple months I sunk into a deep depression and planned to drop out of the university myself. I eventually got to my breaking point, and planned out my suicide.
Something told me that it didn’t have to end that way. Something said “go through this now so others won’t have to later”. I picked myself back up, starting going to meetings again, improved my health and wellness, and made a commitment to my school and myself that this wouldn’t happen again. I met with university administration and eventually planned on the first organized recovery meeting at GW in February of 2012.
Since then, our program has had its ups and downs. Consistency, retention, and attraction have all been major obstacles for our collegiate recovery program. We learned to take things one day at a time, and finally began to develop into a consistent group that provided support for a critical mass of students. We are preparing for our 4th year at GWU and have more members and administration support than ever.
On Sunday October 4th of this year, tens of thousands of individuals will flock to our backyard here in DC as we Unite to Face Addiction. This is our time. This is the opportunity we have talked about for years, far before I was even born. When we show up to the national mall 100,000 strong, the major news networks will no longer be able to neglect our presence and our needs. Presidential candidates who are in the heart of their campaigns will not be able to ignore the massive constituency base in front of them.
Greg Williams at described the need for such a movement best in his recent Huffington Post Article,
“The time has come to end the silence around addiction — to help the more than 22 million people currently addicted, to stand up for the 23 million more in recovery and to urgently try to save the estimated 350 lives lost each day.
Some will say, “It’s about time!” Others might not understand why we must gather on the Mall. The National Mall is not just any national park. It is a symbol of equal citizenship, unalienable rights and unity — three things missing today from the lives of more than 45 million Americans, and their loved ones, impacted by addiction.
These symbols worked powerfully when civil rights activists made the National Mall our country’s platform for sweeping social change. They worked when anti-war protesters regularly took a stand there. And they worked when the LGBTQ community “came out” on the Mall in a big way leading to the ultimate unveiling of the unforgettable AIDS quilt — and opened our hearts to another health and human rights crisis.”
Our collegiate recovery program at The George Washington University could not be more excited about this historic event. Throughout Recovery Month this September, we hope to continuously build momentum towards the national moment for the recovery community. As a student in recovery, there’s no place I would rather be this October. Join me and thousands of my friends as we stand up for recovery and Unite to Face Addiction!
Life of Purpose Blog Contributor
GW Students for Recovery Founder
Association of Recovery in Higher Education Board Member