Is Sobriety at College Possible?

Is Sobriety at College Possible?


Obviously, college age has a reputation for partying, heavy drinking, and exploring drug use. But is that really necessary for every person who is attending school, to get wrapped up in this stereotype?

The Chicago Tribune says that “schools are developing “collegiate recovery programs” (CRPs) that help students stay sober and remain in college.”

One of the hopeful trends that we see around the United States in the last decade or so is the proliferation of AA and NA meetings for younger people on college campuses.

This can be fairly important because a lot of cities and towns have an AA meeting hall in which you are very likely to find several “old timers” and maybe a group of younger people who are court ordered to be there. But that is not necessarily a group that the typical college alcoholic can relate to.

And while it may all be about the solution, the reality is that someone who is just starting out in recovery needs to be able to relate to others more than anything else.

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After a year or so in sobriety, sure–you can walk into any AA or NA meeting in the world and you can relate to the people there based on recovery principles. They are speaking your language because you have been in the program for a year or so and you have been living the recovery principles in your daily life and you can now relate to pretty much anything that is being said or going on.

But when you have one week sober and you walk into an AA meeting, you have nothing to really go on. You are lost and just starting your journey and you know nothing. So if people are telling their stories and you cannot really relate to those stories, or you are saying in your mind “these people are not really like me, their stories are completely different from mine” then that creates a barrier to recovery for you. It makes it much, much harder for you to sink your teeth into sobriety and get a new start on life.

Therefore, if a college attendee is struggling with substance abuse then it is fairly important for that person to be able to reach out and get help from their peer group–not from a completely different cohort, but from their own peers that they can understand and relate with.

At some point, in order to be successful in AA or NA, you have to be sitting in a meeting and suddenly realize “hey, that guy over there….is telling my story!” You have to connect at some point that deeply so that you know that the program worked for them, and they are just like you in the most important way possible, and therefore you get some hope from that exchange. If that connection never happens, if you never hear your own story being told and somehow get hope from it, then going to AA meetings is basically just random talk therapy that doesn’t really amount to much. AA is effective because we identify with each other and get hope from the success of each other. There is no real magic in the steps–those 12 steps are based on the assumption that you don’t take a drink or a drug no matter what. That is the baseline for success in an abstinence based program–the rest is just details and support from your peers. Now granted, some of the details can be relevant, and certainly some of the support that you get in recovery matters as well, especially identification with your peers. But the real “secret” of AA is simply to maintain abstinence while you work on personal growth and self improvement. That’s it.

Having said that, college age is about as good a time as any for a kid to get into recovery.

If you happen to be college age and you go to an AA meeting, you will hear the same theme over and over again, which is: “I am an old timer, and I wish I would have discovered AA at your age, my life would be so different now.” If you are under 40 and attending AA meetings then you will hear that sentiment over and over again. The average age at an AA meeting is generally over 50, and most of those people did not sober up in their twenties or thirties.

I was lucky enough to start fairly early, and my alcoholism progressed rapidly enough that I found myself walking into rehab at the college-ish age of 25. Actually, I had already dropped out of college and I went to rehab twice before and had failed to “get it.”

When I was 25 I hit a very dark bottom in which I questioned whether it was even worth living any more, and decided to give it another try. So I asked for help and my family sent me back to rehab again. This time it clicked, I stuck around, and I did everything that the therapists and counselors told me to do, which was to dive into treatment, rehab, meetings, sponsorship, and all of that recovery stuff.

So when they tell you to do all of those things, you should dive in and do it all. The younger you are the more this decision is going to pay you dividends later, because you simply have more time to reap the benefits of recovery.

As a mostly functional alcoholic, I was decent at holding it all together while staying out of jail, holding down a job, and then completely handicapping my life by drinking and taking drugs every day.

Now if I could pull that off for several years and keep it all going, just imagine the potential that I would have if I were completely clean and sober? It did not take long at all in my early recovery journey for me to realize that, while I was clean and sober, I had the potential to move mountains. I am not saying that to brag, I am not trying to gloat about how great my life is, what I am saying is that I have experienced this incredible transformation in my recovery, and now I can create just about anything that I want. The sky is the limit for me now, so long as I am working a real program of recovery and trying to “use my powers for good.”

Part of that has to do with the power of the fellowship. When you are “living right” in recovery, people want to help you. And so it is not that I am this amazing and powerful guy, because I really am not. But because I am clean today and I want to help others and I want to create good things in the world, I have almost unlimited power and potential thanks to the power of the fellowship. I could probably, if someone was in desperate need, go assemble a team of recovering alcoholics and addicts right now that would build an entire home. This is of course because it would be the right thing to do, it would be for the right cause, and it would be something amazing where all of these people would be giving something back. And again, that is not because I am powerful or smart or anything, it is simply the potential that recovery offers, and it is a very powerful fellowship.

And you can tap into this power right now, and move on from the world of drugs and alcohol and “partying,” and you can start to live this amazing new life. And you can do it while you are quite young. All it takes is the willingness to walk into rehab, to walk into AA, and to say to the world “Show me how to live. I am ready for something new.”

Are you ready for something new?

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